Top-selling novelist, Oscar winner


Sidney Sheldon, who won an Oscar, a Tony and an Edgar and whose best-selling books are the most widely translated in the world, died Tuesday of complications from pneumonia at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 89.

It is estimated that 300 million copies of his novels are in print, with many of them attaining No. 1 status as international best-sellers. Each of his books reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

His second novel, "The Other Side of Midnight," is one of the many that have become motion pictures, TV movies or miniseries.

Although his popularity as a novelist overshadowed his career as a screenwriter and playwright, Sheldon had won a Tony Award for co-writing the 1959 musical "Redhead" and an Academy Award for his original screenplay for "The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" in 1948 before he began his work as a novelist.

By age 25, he was the author of three hit Broadway musicals: "The Merry Widow," "Jackpot" and "Dream With Music." He also wrote "Alice in Arms," which featured Kirk Douglas in his first Broadway appearance.

Sheldon was an industrious contract writer at MGM and Paramount for 12 years. During that time, he was credited with 25 films, including "Easter Parade," "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Anything Goes." While at MGM, he also was a writer-director-producer.

After his studio career, Sheldon entered the fledgling medium of TV, where he quickly excelled.

He created "The Patty Duke Show," ultimately writing 78 scripts. While involved with "Patty Duke," he also created and produced "I Dream of Jeannie," starring Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman. At one point, the two shows overlapped, and Sheldon cranked out two scripts a day.

He received an Emmy nomination for "Jeannie," demonstrating a flair for comedy that he later employed to create "Hart to Hart," a "Thin Man"-like TV mystery starring an amateur husband-and-wife team played by Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers. In all, Sheldon is credited with more than 200 TV scripts.

Unlike other novelists who toiled over typewriters or computers, he dictated 50 pages a day to a secretary or a tape machine. He corrected the pages the following day, continuing the routine until he had 1,200-1,500 pages.

"Then I do a complete rewrite, 12 to 15 times," he said. "I spend a whole year rewriting."

His best-selling novels include "A Stranger in the Mirror," "Bloodline," "Rage of Angels," "Master of the Game," "Windmills of the Gods," "The Sands of Time," "The Doomsday Conspiracy," "Tell Me Your Dreams" and "The Sky Is Falling."

Sheldon served as executive producer on many of his book-to-TV projects, winning proprietary credit with "Sidney Sheldon's …" over the title.

He directed three movie projects: "Buster and Billie" (1974), "The Buster Keaton Story" (1957) and "Dream Wife" (1953).

Sheldon was born Feb. 11, 1917, in Chicago. He attended Northwestern University and, determined to become a screenwriter, moved to Los Angeles. Learning that the studios were looking for readers, he submitted a sample synopsis of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and garnered work at Universal for $17 a week. While reading, he began writing spec scripts. He soon wrote a number of B-movies for Republic, deriving his pronounced sense of craft from the experience.

Invariably, his works stoked controversy, being condemned as "immoral" by such figures as Jerry Falwell. Sheldon was an advocate for freedom of the press and donated to literacy charities. He served as national spokesman for the Freedom to Read Foundation and Libraries for the Future.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.