Writer-director-producer Melville “Mel” Shavelson, a stalwart player in the film and TV comedy biz and three-time prexy of the WGA West, died Wednesday of natural causes in his Studio City home. He was 90.
New York City native earned two Oscar writing noms in his long career, one with longtime partner Jack Rose for Cary Grant-Sophia Loren starrer “Houseboat” (1958), which he also directed, and the other for Bob Hope starrer “The Seven Little Foys” (1955), which he directed as well.
Besides doing double duty on “Houseboat” and “Foys,” he wrote and directed “The Five Pennies,” “It Started in Naples,” “On the Double,” “A New Kind of Love,” “Cast a Giant Shadow,” “The War Between Men and Women” and Lucille Ball-Henry Fonda starrer “Yours, Mine and Ours.”
In addition, he wrote or co-wrote the screenplays or teleplays for “The Princess and the Pirate,” “The Great Houdini” and “The Legend of Valentino.”
Shavelson’s credits also included a range of work for the smallscreen, notably as creator of Danny Thomas’ 1950s and ’60s sitcom “Make Room for Daddy” and the 1969-70 NBC comedy “My World, and Welcome to It,” inspired by the work of humorist James Thurber.
Shavelson served three terms as prexy of the Writers Guild of America West (1969-71, ’79-’81, ’85-’87) and was awarded several WGA kudos: the Morgan Cox Award (1998), the Laurel Award for screenwriting achievement (1984) and five WGA Award noms.
In addition, he wrote two novels and four works of nonfiction, including the bestsellers “Don’t Shoot, It’s Only Me” in collaboration with Bob Hope. His autobiography, “How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying, P.S. — You Can’t!” was published on his 90th birthday, April 1.
Recently, Shavelson served on the faculty of USC’s Master of Professional Writing Program; he funded a special closed-circuit television network for the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home in California; he established a film scholarship fund at Cornell U. (his alma mater); and he was acclaimed for his contributions to the Shavelson-Webb Writers Guild Foundation Library.
“He was part of a vanishing breed of writers who came up in the pioneer days,” said multihyphenate 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.”
Gelbart recalled that Shavelson was an avid ham radio operator and generally kept ahead of the curve on technological developments in production. “It was testament to his far-ranging interests,” Gelbart said.
Survivors include wife Ruth Shavelson; a son and daughter; and three grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be sent to help animals via Defenders of Wildlife, the Hollywood Office of the Humane Society of the United States or the Pet Adoption Fund.
A memorial gathering to celebrate his life is pending. The Writers Guild indicated it will pay tribute to its past prexy, but plans were still in flux.