James Sheldon, Prolific Director for Television, Dies at 95

James Sheldon - H
Courtesy of Photofest

He worked on hundreds of series, including 'The Twilight Zone,' 'The Millionaire,' 'The Fugitive' and 'Batman,' pretty much any show you can imagine.

Director James Sheldon, who worked on hundreds of television shows, seemingly everything from Mr. Peepers and The Twilight Zone to Sanford and Son and Sledge Hammer!, has died. He was 95.

Sheldon, who once estimated that he directed 1,000 episodes ("I never stopped to count," he said a decade ago), died March 12 of complications from cancer at his home in Manhattan, his son Tony told The New York Times.

Sheldon directed one season of the sitcom The Bing Crosby Show; 44 episodes of The Millionaire; 10 of Route 66; eight of Room 222, Love, American Style and My Three Sons; seven of The Fugitive, That Girl and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color; and the pilot of Family Affair.

For The Twilight Zone, he helmed six installments in the series’ second and third seasons, including "The Whole Truth" (one of the few that was shot on videotape to save money), "It’s a Good Life," George Clayton Johnson's "A Penny for Your Thoughts" and "I Sing the Body Electric."

On Batman in 1966, Sheldon directed Julie Newmar as the Catwoman in a cliffhanger that riffed off the classic “The Lady or the Tiger?” tale.

He worked on Westerns (Death Valley Days, The Virginian, Wagon Train), anthology series (Armstrong Circle Theatre, Studio 57, Zane Grey Theater) and classics (Naked City, Perry Mason, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., M*A*S*H, The Waltons and Cagney & Lacey).

“I guess I want to be remembered as a guy who contributed to an industry that started and reached great peaks,” Sheldon said in a 2005 interview with the Archive of American Television.

A native of New York, Sheldon studied theater at the University of North Carolina and started out as a page and tour guide at NBC in the early 1940s. He directed an episode of the radio series We, the People, then moved with the show to television. In 1952, he got a regular gig on Mr. Peepers, which starred Wally Cox as a milquetoast science teacher.

A year later, Sheldon hired and directed James Dean in Harvest, a Thanksgiving family drama for the anthology series Robert Montgomery Presents, helping to launch the actor’s career,

Sheldon never directed a feature. He reportedly was asked by actor Anthony Perkins to helm the baseball story Fear Strikes Out (1957) but declined. Robert Mulligan took the job (his first on a movie) and went on to direct To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and many other films.