Melville Shavelson, a comedy writer, producer and director who worked with stars such as Cary Grant, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball and garnered...
LOS ANGELES — Melville Shavelson, a comedy writer, producer and director who worked with stars such as Cary Grant, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball and garnered two Academy Award nominations for his original screenplays, died Wednesday. He was 90.
Mr. Shavelson died of an undisclosed cause at his Studio City home, said Warren Cowan, Mr. Shavelson’s longtime friend and publicist.
A self-proclaimed writer by choice, producer by necessity and director in self-defense, Mr. Shavelson was a triple threat, writing more than 35 feature motion pictures either alone or in collaboration, directing 12 and creating two Emmy Award-winning television series, “Make Room for Daddy” and “My World and Welcome to It.”
Kirk Douglas, who acted alongside John Wayne, Yul Brynner and Frank Sinatra in the 1966 film “Cast a Giant Shadow,” which Mr. Shavelson wrote, produced and directed, remembered him as “a great guy” and “an excellent juggler.” “He never dropped an actor. I loved working with him,” Douglas said in a statement released Wednesday.
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Mr. Shavelson told Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein this year that he and Douglas bickered so much on the Israeli set of that film that the director walked off for a day, prompting Douglas to send him a letter after the movie wrapped that Mr. Shavelson still had hanging on his office wall.
“Mel, I think it was a good picture,” the letter read. “It could have been better if I had paid more attention to you.”
Mr. Shavelson famously loved recounting the antics of Hollywood stars — claiming, for example, that Grant’s pursuit of Sophia Loren on the set of their 1957 comedy, “Houseboat,” caused the director to develop an ulcer.
“Very often the people who have the most talent are the most troublesome to deal with,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1978. “Maybe trouble and talent are interconnected. Maybe it takes a strong, demanding personality to stand in front of a camera and recite lines.”
Mr. Shavelson began his career in Hollywood as a gag writer for Hope’s 1938 “Pepsodent Show” on the radio. In 1947, he would write for Hope’s first foray into television.
The relationship between the two was long-standing, with the friendship earning Mr. Shavelson the opportunity to make his directing debut on “The Seven Little Foys,” a 1954 film in which Hope played vaudevillian Eddie Foy.
Mr. Shavelson’s screenplay for that film earned him his first Academy Award nomination; he received another for “Houseboat.” Sherwood Schwartz, creator of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch,” began a lengthy friendship with Mr. Shavelson while the two were working for Hope in 1938.
“He was a good, bright guy; dependable. He was quite something,” Schwartz said Wednesday. He credits Mr. Shavelson with playing a key role in the success of “Gilligan’s Island”: He allowed Schwartz to record the show’s iconic television theme song at his home studio on a Sunday when other recording studios were closed. The song clinched the deal with CBS, Schwartz said.
Mr. Shavelson, born April 1, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y., began crafting jokes while working at his father’s general store. In 1937, he graduated from Cornell University, where he was a humor columnist at the campus paper and produced a radio program for the school station.
Shortly after leaving college, he was hired by a Broadway agent to write jokes for syndicated humor columnists. He moved to Hollywood in 1938, and that year married his first wife, Lucille Myers. She died in 2000; he married Ruth Florea in 2001.
Among the films that he both wrote and directed were “It Started in Naples,” “On the Double,” “Yours Mine and Ours” and “The War Between Men and Women.”
Mr. Shavelson wrote several books, including “How to Make a Jewish Movie,” “Don’t Shoot, It’s Only Me: Bob Hope’s Comedy History of the U.S.” (co-authored with Hope) and an autobiography released on his 90th birthday this year, “How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying: P.S. — You Can’t!”
In recent years, Mr. Shavelson served on the faculty at the University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing Program.
In addition to his wife, Ruth, he is survived by children Richard Shavelson and Lynne Joiner, and grandchildren Karin Salim, Amy Kurpius and Scott Joiner.