Melville “Mel” Shavelson, who wrote, directed and produced dozens of films with such stars as Lucille Ball, Jimmy Cagney and Frank Sinatra and was twice nominated for Academy Awards, died Wednesday at age 90.
Shavelson died at his Studio City home of natural causes, family spokesman Warren Cowan told The Associated Press.
Shavelson worked as a gag writer for Bob Hope’s radio show in the 1930s before going on to write or co-write more than 35 movies and direct a dozen.
He was nominated for best screenplay Oscars for “The Seven Little Foys,” the 1956 film that starred Hope as legendary vaudevillian Eddie Foy, and for the 1958 romantic comedy “Houseboat.” He also directed both films.
But making movies wasn’t always the glamorous business many people imagine, Shavelson related in an essay he recently completed commemorating what would have been Ball’s 96th birthday on Monday.
The two had a contentious relationship on the set of the 1968 movie, “Yours, Mine and Ours” about a couple raising 18 children, and Shavelson said that after the final scene was shot the actress asked how he liked directing her.
He said he replied, “Lucy, this is the first time I ever made a film with 19 children.”
“To my surprise, she started to cry,” Shavelson said. She wouldn’t talk to him for months.
The making of 1958’s “Houseboat” was also complicated, Shavelson said, because Cary Grant, who was married to someone else, fell in love with his co-star, Sophia Loren, who was in love with producer Carlo Ponti, who was splitting with his wife.
On the day she was filming a marriage scene with Grant she married Ponti by proxy in Mexico.
“And that’s how you make a successful family comedy in Hollywood,” Shavelson told columnist Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times.
The writer-director also had his share of run-ins with Kirk Douglas while directing him in the 1966 drama “Cast a Giant Shadow.”
After the movie was released, Douglas sent him a letter that read: “Mel, I think it was a good picture. It could have been better if I had paid more attention to you.”
Shavelson both wrote and directed “Cast a Giant Shadow,” as well as “The Five Pennies,” “It Started in Naples,” “On the Double,” “A New Kind of Love,” and “The War Between Men and Women.”
He served three terms as president of the Writers Guild of America, West, and was on the writing-program faculty at the University of Southern California.
He also wrote two novels and four nonfiction books.
His autobiography, “How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Really Trying, P.S. — You Can’t!” was published on April 1, his 90th birthday.
Shavelson is survived by his wife, Ruth; a son, Richard Shavelson; a daughter, Lynne Joiner; and three grandchildren.