Writer-Director Mel Shavelson Passes Away at 90

Shavelson also served as three-time WGA president.

by | August 9, 2007 | Comments

Melville Shavelson,
the prolific writer/director of the 1950s and 1960s and frequent president of the
Writers Guild of America West, died of natural causes on Wednesday at the age of
90 in his Southern California home.

Like Billy Wilder,
Shavelson was
one of the rare directors of the studio system era who personally scripted a majority of his films.  The Academy awarded Shavelson with an Oscar nomination for
scripting 1955’s
The Seven Little
(a Bob Hope
vehicle), and another in 1958 for writing
Cary Grant and
Sophia Loren).
Shavelson also directed both movies.  Shavelson’s most famous effort with
contemporary cinemagoers is 1968’s
Mine, and Ours
, which was remade in 2005.

He oversaw WGA West as
president on three occasions (1969-71, 1979-1981, 1985-1987), which bestowed him
numerous WGA  awards: the Morgan Cox Award in 1998, the Laurel Award for
screenwriting in 1984, and five WGA Award nominations throughout his five-decade

"He was part of a vanishing
breed of writers who came up in the pioneer days," said

magnate Larry Gelbart.
"There was never an occasion that came up where he didn’t have four or five
pages (of comedy material) prepared. He was always up for anything — any
assignment, anything to do with the guild. He was not so much a ‘can-do’ guy as
a ‘can-and-did’ guy."

Shavelson was also known for
his minor spats with actors he directed.  He recounted in an essay that
Kirk Douglas, who
starred in 1966’s
Cast a Giant
, wrote a memo to Shavelson that read: "Mel, I think it was a good
picture. It could have been better if I had paid more attention to you."

And Lucille Ball
whom Shavelson directed in Yours, Mine, and Ours, about two parents
raising 18 children — inquired how he liked directing her.  His reply: "Lucy,
this is the first time I ever made a film with 19 children."

In recent years, Shavelson
turned to cinematic philanthropy, establishing a film scholarship at his alma
mater of Cornel University, and contributing funds to the Shavelson-Webb Writers
Guild Foundation Library.  On his 90th birthday, April 1, Shavelson
published his autobiography, How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really
Trying, P.S. — You Can’t!
  He wrote five other books in his lifetime, two
fiction and three nonfiction.

Shavelson is survived by his
wife, son, daughter, and three grandchildren.