Writer Sheldon no more
Legendary author Sidney Sheldon di-ed on January 30 from pneumonia after a prolific career that saw him pen Oscar-winning screenplays and sell over 300 million books. He was 89.
The novelist died at the Eisenhower Medical Center, California, his publicist Warren Cowan said. “Sidney passed away this afternoon,” Cowan said. Sheldon’s wife Alexandra and daughter Mary Sheldon were by the author’s side.
“He was in every sense a first-class human being,” Cowan said. “I was his friend and publicist for over 25 years. I never heard anyone speak ill of him. I would travel all over the world and hear only good things about Sidney. He was a wonderful man.”
Born in 1917 to a German Jewish father and a Russian Jewish mother, Sheldon’s writing career began in Hollywood at the age of 20 where he worked on scripts and movies, earning $17 a week. It was the start of one of the most successful literary careers of the 20th century that would see him become the most translated writer in the world, his works available in 51 languages and sold in 108 countries.
Sheldon would also become the only writer to have won an Oscar, a Tony and an Edgar.
He served as a pilot during World War II and found time to write successful musicals before the war was out. In 1942 he had three hits on Broadway simultaneously — Merry Widow, Jackpot and Dream with Music. After the war, he returned to Hollywood to begin a career writing for MGM and Paramount.
His greatest success as a screenwriter came in 1947 when he won an Oscar for best original screenplay for The Bachelor and The Bobby Soxer.
He also earned a Screen Writers’ Guild Award in 1948 for Easter Parade, and in 1951 for Annie Get Your Gun. He won a Tony for co-authoring the musical Redhead in 1959.
But it was his work as a novelist that catapulted him to worldwide fame starting with his debut novel The Naked Face in 1969. It was mauled by critics but earned him an Edgar award for best new mystery.
Although he regarded the book as a failure, Sheldon described the first novel as his proudest achievement. “Finishing a novel when I was certain I didn’t have the talent to be a novelist was my proudest achievement as a writer.”
The Naked Face’s success provided the launch pad for a career that saw Sheldon top the best-seller lists, his books invariably populated by plucky female characters. His second novel, The Other Side of Midnight, stayed top of the New York Times best-seller lists for a then-record 52 weeks. Seventeen of his books were top best-sellers.
Sheldon said he had never consciously sought to use women as his central characters. “The fact that my female characters have strong personalities but are physically attractive reflects the women I have known,” he had said in a recent interview.
Sheldon also attributed the success of his novels to a desire for realism. “I will not write about any place unless I’ve been there to personally research it,” he said. “On a lonely mounta-in road in Switzerland, I asked my driver where a good place might be to dump a body. I’ll never forget the look on his face!”