Prolific Best-Selling Novelist Sidney Sheldon, 89

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sidney Sheldon, 89, whose life of achievement as a writer and producer for the stage, the movies and television seemed no less eventful and dramatic than the plots of his best-selling novels, died Jan. 30 in California.

Mr. Sheldon, who was born in Chicago, contemplated suicide as a teenager, was forced out of college by the Depression and won Hollywood's Oscar and Broadway's Tony. It was estimated that as many as 300 million copies of his 18 novels are in print, in a total of 51 languages.

His publicist told the Associated Press that he died at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage of complications from pneumonia.

One of his major television hits was "I Dream of Jeannie," which he created and produced. The Emmy-nominated fantasy, which starred Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden, ran for five seasons in the late 1960s.

"The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer," a 1947 movie with Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple, won Mr. Sheldon the Oscar for best original screenplay. As a co-author of "Redhead," a Broadway show that featured Gwen Verdon, he won the Tony.

Mr. Sheldon's novels, though carefully researched and plotted, were known less for literary merit than for their reader appeal and for the hard work that went into them. The chief characters were often strong women.

"I try to write my books so the reader can't put them down," he once said. That seemed to fit such works as "Rage of Angels," "The Other Side of Midnight," "Bloodline," "If Tomorrow Comes" and "Master of the Game."

"Usually," he once said, "when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep. I deliberately write my books so when the reader gets to the end of a chapter, he or she must turn one more page."

Born into a family whose schooling had stopped by the sixth grade, Mr. Sheldon spent a few months at Northwestern before lack of funds forced him out and into odd jobs.

Following a failed effort to write and sell songs in New York, he went west. Deploying the confidence that was one extreme of his self-described bipolarity, he broke into Hollywood as a script reader and soon was writing and selling scripts of his own.

After Army Air Forces service in World War II, he burned the candle at both ends, churning out movie screenplays while preparing musicals for Broadway. TV work followed. There were low points, but also big hits and huge audiences.

His first novel, "The Naked Face," was published when he was 53. His second novel, "The Other Side of Midnight," soared to the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

Once, fire threatened his California home. Told to snatch his most prized possessions and prepare to flee, he spurned everything but pens and paper.

"Any talent is a gift," he told an interviewer. "We're obligated to work as hard as we can at whatever talent we're lucky enough to have."

Survivors include his wife; a daughter; a brother; and two grandchildren.

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