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Jewish World Review
March 30, 2007
/ 11 Nissan 5767
Happy Birthday to Mel and Brian
Happy birthday to Melville Shavelson who turns 90 years old on April 1st! Melville Shavelson? Who's he? For most people Mel Shavelson isn't exactly a household name, but even if the name doesn't ring a bell with you, you've probably enjoyed his work for years, or maybe decades. If you're a Hollywood comedy writer, you've probably been stealing his work for years, or maybe decades. The fact is Mel Shavelson has been entertaining the whole world for over 60 years.
Born in Brooklyn, New York (who wasn't?) Mel started his career in radio writing gags for Bob Hope among others. His association with Hope led to movie script writing in the mid-forties with "The Princess and the Pirate," a Bob Hope classic. Mel went on to write, either alone or in collaboration, over thirty-five feature motion pictures, directed twelve of them, and received two Academy Award nominations for original screenplay with Jack Rose for "Houseboat," and "The Seven Little Foys" which he also directed. He also created two Emmy Award-winning series for television. He served three terms as President of the Writers Guild of America, West, and is the recipient of its highest honor, the Laurel Award for Screen Writing.
Some of the stars Mel has directed in feature films are - in alphabetical order, Lucille Ball, Yul Brynner, James Cagney, Vittorio De Sica, Angie Dickinson, Kirk Douglas, Robert Duvall, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Barbara Harris, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, Paul Newman, Lee Remick, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, and Joanne Woodward.
After "The Princess and the Pirate" Mel wrote "Wonder Man," "The Kid From Brooklyn", "Where There's Life," "Sorrowful Jones," "On Moonlight Bay," "I'll See You in My Dreams," and "April in Paris," to name but a few. Among the films he both wrote and directed are "Houseboat," "The Seven Little Foys," "The Five Pennies," "It Started in Naples," "On the Double," "A New Kind of Love," "Cast a Giant Shadow," "Yours, Mine and Ours," and "The War Between Men and Women."
Recently Mel served on the faculty of USC's Master of Professional Writing Program. He has also funded a special closed-circuit television network for the Motion Picture and Television Fund home in California. He also established a film scholarship fund at Cornell University (his alma mater) and is acclaimed for his contributions to the Shavelson-Webb Writers Guild Foundation Library.
Mel is the author of two novels and four works of non-fiction, including "How to Make a Jewish Movie," and the NY Times best-seller, "Don't Shoot, It's Only Me," this last one in collaboration with Bob Hope.
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His new book, an autobiography called "How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying, P.S. You Can't!" is being published by BearManor Media and will hit bookstores this summer with a limited number of advanced copies out this month to coincide with Mel's 90th birthday. The book will feature anecdotes of his life in show business and the many stars he worked with through the years.
I haven't seen the actual book yet, but it promises to be one funny read and should offer a real insight into Hollywood history and move making during the last of that wonderful "golden age" of film. One interesting tidbit concerns the movie "Cast a Giant Shadow" which Mel wrote and directed and was about the founding of an Army for the new state of Israel. The main character, Commander Mickey Marcus, played by Kirk Douglas in the film, was a distant relative of Mel's, whom he met one time when he was a kid.
It's shaping up to be a busy month or two for Mel with The Writers Guild honoring him on April 24th and the American Cinematheque honoring him April 25th with a screening of "YOURS, MINE AND OURS" at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. And on May 27th, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is honoring him by showing two of his films with a possible in-person filmed interview.
Mel has often said, "There are a lot of good things about growing older and I wish I could remember what they were." That's almost as good a line as when George Burns said, "It's good to be here Ö at my age it's good to be anywhere." Or when Mickey Mantle said, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." Or Bob Hope's quip, "You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake." That is, I think that was Bob Hope's line you know, it could have been written by Mel for Hope.
And before I forget, happy birthday to my brother, Brian, who also happens to be an April 1st baby. Brian never wrote or directed a movie, or even wrote a joke, but then he's not 90 years old yet either. He's still got time. Aside from their birthday, the only other thing that Mel and Brian have in common is the fact that neither of them are anyone's April fool. Happy Birthday boys!
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2006, Greg Crosby