Mel Shavelson, a noted screenwriter, producer and director who worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest, brightest and most temperamental stars, died on Wednesday at his home in Studio City, Calif. He was 90.
Mr. Shavelson died of natural causes, his wife, Ruth, said.
A specialist in comedy, Mr. Shavelson earned two Oscar nominations for his screenplays. The first, in 1955, was for “The Seven Little Foys.” Written with Jack Rose, the film told the story of the celebrated vaudevillian Eddie Foy.
Mr. Shavelson’s second nomination, in 1958, was for “Houseboat.” Also written with Mr. Rose, it featured Cary Grant as a man susceptible (both on screen and off, as Mr. Shavelson would learn) to the charms of Sophia Loren. Mr. Shavelson also directed both pictures.
Among Mr. Shavelson’s other credits are “Beau James” (1957), “The Five Pennies” (1959), “It Started in Naples” (1960) and “Yours, Mine and Ours” (1968), all of which he directed and helped write, and “Cast a Giant Shadow” (1966), which he wrote, directed and helped produce. Based on the 1962 biography of the same title by Ted Berkman, “Cast a Giant Shadow” starred Kirk Douglas as Col. Mickey Marcus, an American officer who died in the Israeli war of independence in 1948.
Melville Shavelson was born in Brooklyn on April 1, 1917. (His mother adored the author of “Moby-Dick,” Mrs. Shavelson said.) He earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell in 1937 and afterward went to work as a gag writer for Bob Hope’s radio show. With “The Seven Little Foys,” which starred Mr. Hope, Mr. Shavelson moved into directing.
Mr. Shavelson’s first marriage, to Lucille Myers, ended with her death in 2000. Besides his wife, the former Ruth Florea, whom he married in 2001, he is survived by a sister, Geraldine Youcha of Manhattan and New City, N.Y.; two children from his first marriage, Richard, of Menlo Park, Calif., and Lynne Joiner of Washington; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Shavelson wrote several books, including, with Mr. Hope, “Don’t Shoot, It’s Only Me: Bob Hope’s Comedy History of the United States” (Putnam, 1990), and “How to Make a Jewish Movie” (Prentice-Hall, 1971), a memoir of the big-budget fiasco that was “Cast a Giant Shadow.”
While making the film, according to many accounts, Mr. Shavelson fought repeatedly with Mr. Douglas over the script. (Afterward, The Associated Press reported this week, Mr. Douglas sent the director a conciliatory note: “Mel, I think it was a good picture. It could have been better if I had paid more attention to you.”) In addition, as Mr. Shavelson recalled in his memoir, the Israeli Defense Forces insisted on reviewing his footage. (From their critique: “In Scene 327, the girl with a flowery skirt doing the hora is completely out of step. Change this.”)
At home, Mr. Shavelson fared little better directing “Yours, Mine and Ours,” a comedy about a widow (Lucille Ball) and a widower (Henry Fonda) raising 18 children together. When Ms. Ball later asked Mr. Shavelson how he enjoyed directing her, The Associated Press reported, he replied, “Lucy, this is the first time I ever made a film with 19 children.” Ms. Ball was not amused.
On “Houseboat,” a romantic comedy, Mr. Shavelson had to contend with unscripted romantic intrigue so acute, he later said, that it gave him an ulcer. Mr. Grant, who was married, fell deeply in love with his co-star, Ms. Loren. Ms. Loren was deeply in love with the producer Carlo Ponti, also married, though not for long.
On the day Mr. Shavelson shot the fictional scene of Ms. Loren’s marriage to Mr. Grant, Ms. Loren simultaneously married the newly unmarried Mr. Ponti in absentia in Mexico. Mr. Grant was not amused.
And that, Mr. Shavelson told The Los Angeles Times in May, is “how you make a successful family comedy in Hollywood.”