Writer-director-producer-friend Mel Shavelson died at 3:30 ayem this morning. At 9:16 pm last night, he was still E-mailing his assistant Maureen Solomon about upcoming appointments, interviews, appearances and talks on his next film — “The Ballad For Americans” about Paul Robeson, which she would also produce with him. Shavelson and wife Ruth (Floria, who was the first Mrs. America) had just returned home from Art’s Deli and a dinner of stuffed cabbage, borscht, Dr. Brown’s Creme Soda–and a slab of halvah! He died peacefully in his sleep at 3:30 ayem. Wife Ruth allowed, “It was a gift to be thankful for. He had many wonderful atributes, but patience was not one of them and he could not have had patience with a lengthy illness.”
We celebrated Mel’s 90th birthday on April 1 at his estate in North Hollywood where he’d lived for decades. He’d converted his three-car garage into his office-ham radio studio now updated with hi-def computer gear with many monitors. On his call letters, W6VLH, Shavelson heard the initial report of the end of WWII and donated the tape to the Smithsonian. He set up Channel 22, a closed-circuit for residents at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital. He delighted in showing his “studio” to guests attending that 90th birthday party. The speakers and fellow writers-directors-producers included Sherwood Schwartz (90), Mort Lachman (89) and Hal Kanter (88). They’d all worked together with Mel, dating back to the Bob Hope radio (yes, radio) shows, TV shows, movies and assorted Oscar and Writers Guild Award shows, where their humor brightened those long nights.
At the 90th birthday party, Shavelson gave copies of his book, “How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying — You Cant” to his birthday guests, several of whom were in it. The book is a history of Hollywood with one-on-one stories about Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Clark Gable, Paul Newman, Angie Dickinson and many more. I enjoyed visiting several of those sets where Shavelson was directing. He’s now invited to the Santa Barbara HAM Fest, Aug.12, the Labor Day CineCom conclave where he was to receive the career achievement award with a screening of “The Great Lover” (although it’s a film for which he didn’t want any credit). Northridge U. is planning to screen seven of his films in Dec. I hope they include Shavelson’s favorite — “The Seven Little Foys.” The table top dance duet with Hope (as Eddie Foy) and Jimmy Cagney (as George M.Cohan ) is a film classic.
Thanks for the memories, Mel.