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August 09, 2007

Prolific Writer Melville Shavelson Dies

Three-time WGA President Created Make Room for Daddy and More

Melville Shavelson

Studio City, CA — Melville Shavelson, a prolific writer of both feature films and numerous television productions, as well as a director, producer and three-time president of the Writers Guild of America, West, died Wednesday of natural causes in his Studio City home. He was 90.

Shavelson was born April 1, 1917, in New York City, and began graduated from Cornell University. He started out as a press agent in New York, then moved to Los Angeles to write for the radio program The Pepsodent Bob Hope Show, which led to film opportunities.

He earned his first screen credit for providing additional dialogue to the 1941 movie Ice Capades. Three years later he earned screenplay credit on The Princess and the Pirate, starring Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo.

He remained busy for decades thereafter, writing movies for Hope, Danny Kaye, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman and many other major stars. These credits include The Kid from Brooklyn, Sorrowful Jones, On Moonlight Bay, Double Dynamite and It Started in Naples, A New Kind of Love and Yours, Mine and Ours.

New Yorker Garners Oscar Noms, then
Makes Room for Television

Shavelson earned two Oscar nominations for screenplays—one with longtime partner Jack Rose for the 1958 romance Houseboat, starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, and the other for the biographical comedy The Seven Little Foys, starring Bob Hope as vaudevillian Eddie Foy. Shavelson also directed both films.

Other films Shavelson both wrote and directed include The Five Pennies, It Started in Naples, On the Double, A New Kind of Love, Cast a Giant Shadow, The War Between Men and Women and Yours, Mine and Ours.

Shavelson many television credits included the Danny Thomas sitcom Make Room for Daddy, which he created, as well as My World and Welcome To It, inspired by the works of author and cartoonist James Thurber. He also wrote the telefilms The Legend of Valentino, The Great Houdini and Ike.

Decades of WGA Service, Honors

A fixture at the Writers Guild of America West for decades, Shavelson served three terms as the organization’s preesident (1969-71, '79-'81, '85-'87). He also earned and a number of WGA commendations: the Morgan Cox Award (1998), the Laurel Award for screenwriting achievement (1984) and five WGA Award nominations.

Shavelson was similarly prolific as an author. He wrote two novels and four works of nonfiction, including the bestsellers Don’t Shoot, It's Only Me, a collaboration with Bob Hope.

Most recently, on his 90th birthday, he published his autobiography, How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying, P.S.—You Can’t!

USC Faculty Member, Active with the
Television Academy Foundation, More

In addition, Shavelson was active with numerous charitable, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions. He served on the faculty of USC’s Master of Professional Writing Program and started a film scholarship fund at Cornell.

He also endowed a special closed-circuit television network for the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home in California, contributed to the Shavelson-Webb Writers Guild Foundation Library and was active in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation as a member of its board of directors.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth Shavelson, as well as a son, daughter and three grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be sent to help animals via Defenders of Wildlife, the Hollywood Office of the Humane Society of the United States or the Pet Adoption Fund.

Archive of American Television talks with Melville Shavelson

On April 6, 1999, Archive of American Television director Karen Herman interviewed writer and former Writers Guild of America president Melville Shavelson.

During the four-and-a-half-hour interview, Shavelson spoke of his early work as a press agent with Milt Josefsberg in 1938, and his moved to Los Angeles the following year, with Josefsberg, to write for the radio show The Pepsodent Bob Hope Show.

He describes writing for the first commercial television program ever broadcast west of the Mississippi in 1947—for Paramount's experimental station W6XYZ, which we now know as KTLA. Plus, he talks of writing and directing the television movies: The Legend of Valentino, The Great Houdini and Ike.

Shavelson also discussed how he created the sitcom Make Room For Daddy in 1953, as well as critically acclaimed series My World and Welcome To It. The interview also covers his role with the WGA, and his terms as president.

The complete interview is available for viewing at the AAT office, located on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences plaza in North Hollywood. You may also view it view the entire interview here at Google Video. Contact the Television Archive at (818) 754-2800 for more information.

To learn more about this life and works of this American Archive of Television personality online, please visit the Archive of American Television Update blog.

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