Born February 11, 1917, in Chicago, IL; son of Otto (a salesman) and Natalie (Marcus) Sheldon; married Jorja Curtright (an actress), March 28, 1951 (died, 1985); married Alexandra Kostoff, 1989; children: Mary Sheldon Van Dusen. Education: Attended Northwestern University, 1935-36.
Home—Bel Air, CA. Agent—Mort Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit, 445 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022-8628.
Novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. Former script reader for Universal and Twentieth Century-Fox Studios; screenwriter and director of films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount; creator, producer, and writer of television shows, Los Angeles, CA, beginning 1963, including The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Nancy, and Hart to Hart. Executive producer of films and mini-series based on his novels. Military service: U.S. Army Air Forces, 1941.
Freedom to Read Foundation, Coalition for Literacy (national spokesperson).
Academy Award for best original screenplay, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1948, for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer; Screen Writers' Guild Award for best musical of the year, 1948, for Easter Parade, and 1950, for Annie Get Your Gun; Antoinette Perry Award, 1959, for book of Redhead; Emmy Award nomination for outstanding writing achievement in comedy, 1967, for I Dream of Jeannie; Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first mystery novel, Mystery Writers of America, and New York Times citation for best first mystery novel, both 1970, both for The Naked Face; Prix Litteraire de Deauville Award, Deauville Film Festival, 1993; pictured on a "Great Authors of the Twentieth Century" stamp, U.S. Postal Service, 1999; recipient of star on Hollywood Walk of Fame; November 2, 2000, declared "Sidney Sheldon Day" by Chicago mayoral procla-mation; Literacy Lifetime Achievement Award, Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles, 2001; Will Rogers Memorial Award, 2002.
The Naked Face, Morrow (New York, NY), 1970.
The Other Side of Midnight, Morrow (New York, NY), 1974.
A Stranger in the Mirror (also see below), Morrow (New York, NY), 1976.
Bloodline (also see below), Morrow (New York, NY), 1977.
Rage of Angels (also see below), Morrow (New York, NY), 1980.
Master of the Game, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.
If Tomorrow Comes, Morrow (New York, NY), 1985.
Windmills of the Gods, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
The Sands of Time, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
Sheldon Boxed Set: Bloodline, A Stranger in the Mirror, Rage of Angels, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Memories of Midnight, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
The Doomsday Conspiracy, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
The Stars Shine Down, Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
Sidney Sheldon: Three Complete Novels, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.
Nothing Lasts Forever: The New Novel, Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
Morning, Noon, and Night, Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.
The Best Laid Plans, Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.
Tell Me Your Dreams, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.
The Sky Is Falling, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.
(Adaptor, with Ben Roberts) The Merry Widow (operetta), produced on Broadway, 1943.
Jackpot, produced on Broadway, 1944.
(With Ben Roberts and Dorothy Kilgallen) Dream with Music, produced on Broadway, 1944.
(With Ladislaus Bush-Fekete and Mary Helen Fay) Alice in Arms, produced on Broadway, 1945.
(With Dorothy and Herbert Fields, and David Shaw) Redhead (musical), produced on Broadway, 1959.
Roman Candle, produced on Broadway, 1960.
Gomes, produced at the Queen's Theater, London, England, 1973.
(Author of story, with Ben Roberts) Borrowed Hero, Monogram, 1941.
(With Jack Natteford) Dangerous Lady, Producers Releasing Corp., 1941.
(Author of story, with Ben Roberts) Gambling Daughters, Producers Releasing Corp., 1941.
(With Ben Roberts) South of Panama, Producers Releasing Corp., 1941.
(Author of story, with Ben Roberts) Fly by Night, Paramount, 1942.
She's in the Army, Monogram, 1942.
(With Ben Roberts) The Carter Case, Republic, 1947.
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, RKO, 1947.
(With Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich) Easter Parade (musical), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1948.
(With Adolph Green and Betty Comden) The Barkleys of Broadway, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1949.
Annie Get Your Gun (adapted from the musical by Irving Berlin), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1950.
Nancy Goes to Rio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1950.
(With Dorothy Cooper) Rich, Young, and Pretty (musical), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1951.
No Questions Asked, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1951.
Three Guys Named Mike, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1951.
Just This Once, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952.
(With Herbert Baker and Alfred L. Levitt, and director) Dream Wife, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1953.
Remains to Be Seen, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1953.
You're Never Too Young, Paramount, 1955.
Anything Goes (adapted from the musical by Cole Porter), Paramount, 1956.
Pardners, Paramount, 1956.
(With Preston Sturges) The Birds and the Bees, Paramount, 1956.
All in a Night's Work, Paramount, 1961.
Billy Rose's Jumbo (also titled Jumbo), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1962.
(With Mary Sheldon) The Adventures of Drippy, the Runaway Raindrop (juvenile), illustrated by Alexandra Sheldon, Dove Kids (West Hollywood, CA), 1996.
Also author of a children's book published in Japan. Author of more than 250 scripts, occasionally under a pseudonym, for The Patty Duke Show, 1963-66, and I Dream of Jeannie, 1965-70.
The Other Side of Midnight was filmed by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1977; Bloodline was filmed by Paramount in 1979, and was re-edited by Sheldon and shown as an ABC miniseries in 1982; Rage of Angels, for which Sheldon served as executive producer, became an NBC miniseries in 1983, and inspired a 1986 sequel which Sheldon also produced; CBS broadcast miniseries adaptations of Master of the Game in 1984, If Tomorrow Comes in 1986, and Windmills of the Gods in 1988; The Naked Face was filmed by Cannon in 1985; film rights to The Sands of Time have been optioned.
At age fifty, at the top of his profession as a film and television producer of hits like I Dream of Jeannie, Sidney Sheldon had no hint of another, even more successful, career ahead of him. Writing novels "never occurred to me," Sheldon told Detroit News reporter Ruth Pollack Coughlin. "I wasn't a novelist. I was writing for motion pictures and television and Broadway. For me, writing novels was an unnatural next step." Why then, would the winner of Oscar and Antoinette Perry (Tony) awards turn to fiction? As the author explained to Washington Post contributor Sarah Booth Conroy, "I got an idea that was so introspective I could see no way to do it as a television series, movie or Broadway play, because you had to get inside the character's mind. With much trepidation, I decided I'd try a novel." The result was The Naked Face, which despite winning the Edgar Allan Poe Award as the best first mystery novel of the year, initially sold only 17,000 copies. "I was horrified," Sheldon told Conroy, "because 20 million people watched Jeannie." Nevertheless, Sheldon persisted in his efforts, and his next work, The Other Side of Midnight, sold over three million copies in paperback. Since then, Sheldon has published a steady stream of bestsellers; by 2000, his seventeen novels had sold more than 300 million copies in 180 countries and had been translated into fifty-one languages, including Urdu and Swahili. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Sheldon is the most-translated author in the world.
Begins Writing for Musical Theatre
Sheldon was born in 1917 in Chicago, Illinois. It seemed unlikely that he would become a writer; Sheldon noted on his Web site that "both my parents were third grade drop-outs. My father never read a book in his life and I was the only one in the family to complete high school." After graduating from high school, Sheldon attended Northwestern University, but economic hardships forced him to drop out. He then traveled to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a screenwriter, eventually landing a job as a reader at Universal Studios. During his time there, Sheldon first tried his hand at writing scripts, collaborating with Ben Roberts on a number of minor films.
After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Sheldon journeyed to New York City, where he penned the hit Broadway musicals Merry Widow, Jackpot, and Dream with Music. Returning to Hollywood, he established a reputation as a talented screenwriter, garnering an Academy Award in 1948 for his screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Shirley Temple. At Grant's suggestion, Sheldon even auditioned for one of the lead roles in the film. As the author noted on his Web site, "Since I had written the script, I felt confident that I knew all the lines and could do justice to them. But when Cary fed me my cue, I looked up and saw all the fellows up on the catwalks and behind the cameras, and froze." Despite the setback, Sheldon later signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, working as a writer, producer, and director during his twelve years there. He earned a pair of Screen Writers' Guild Awards for his efforts on the celebrated musicals Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, and Annie Get Your Gun.
Makes Move to Television
In the late 1950s Sheldon again tackled Broadway, collaborating with Herbert and Dorothy Fields and David Shaw on Redhead, which earned four Tony Awards, including best musical. He transferred to the medium of television in the early 1960s, after ABC asked him to create a show for Patty Duke, who played Helen Keller in the acclaimed film The Miracle Worker. Debuting in 1963, The Patty Duke Show featured the young actress in dual roles, portraying identical cousins who often exchanged identities. Sheldon wrote all of the scripts for The Patty Duke Show, a monumental effort considering the studio filmed thirty-nine shows per year.
Sheldon also wrote and produced the popular situation comedy I Dream of Jeannie, starring Barbara Eden as a charming but innocent genie and Larry Hagman as the harried astronaut she serves. Premiering in 1965, I Dream of Jeannie had an initial run of five years and has been seen in reruns ever since. Sheldon credits the success of the show to the fact that he "put an extraordinary lady, a magic genie in a bottle, in everyday situations—that's where the comic situations arose from." In 1967 Sheldon received an Emmy Award nomination for outstanding writing achievement in comedy for his work on I Dream of Jeannie. In the 1970s Sheldon had another ratings hit with the ABC series Hart to Hart, starring Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers as a husband-and-wife crime-solving team.
Pens String of Popular Novels
Thanks to books like A Stranger in the Mirror and Bloodline, Sheldon's career as a novelist has been equally successful. The typical Sheldon story features a beautiful and determined heroine enacting revenge on her enemies; as Conroy puts it, in Sheldon's novels "the beautiful but often poor and pure heroines are raped, sodomized and defrauded, and go on to avenge themselves by questionable, often illegal, but ingenious methods." These works, with their rapid momentum and mass appeal, "evidently satisfy … everyone except most literary critics, who regard popularity and quality as incompatible," Los Angeles Times arts editor Charles Champlin commented. Indeed, Sheldon's work has not fared well with critics, who often fault his plots and characters as unbelievable, and his prose as "staccato [and] lackluster," as New York Times Book Review contributor Mel Watkins stated.
Some reviewers, however, have found merit in Sheldon's work; as Carol E. Rinzler noted in the Washington Post, "there aren't a whole lot of writers around who can be depended on to produce good junk reading time after time; Sheldon is one of the few." Washington Post reviewer Joseph McLellan similarly observed that in the 1980 work Rage of Angels, "craftsmanship is the keynote, as a matter of fact, in this novel that ticks along like an intricate, beautifully designed piece of clockwork, full of characters and incidents that are usually interesting even if they are slightly unreal." New York Times Book Review contributor Robert Lekachman commented, "Although this may be literary junk food, it is hard to put down once you get started…. Sheldon's smooth, serviceable, if unmemorable, prose carries one along, much like the movie serials of the Great Depression."
Windmills of the Gods, published in 1987, received similar mixed reviews. Rory Quick, writing for the Washington Post Book World, noted, "When it comes to novels, Sidney Sheldon is living proof that 'quality trash' is not an oxymoron. Sheldon may not be the Colossus of American letters, but he's clearly the Midas." A Time reviewer offered the opinion that "the Sheldon brand name guarantees a predictable mix of global gore and paperback psychopathology." Other critics, however, greeted the effort with less enthusiasm. "Windmills is a mercifully quick read, an ideal airplane book," wrote Daniel Akst in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Critic Su-san Spano Wells in the New York Times Book Review complained that "the grand master of commercial fiction seems to be coasting."
The Sands of Time fared somewhat better with critics. The tale follows four Catholic nuns whose calm is broken when their Spanish convent is leveled by a military leader who believes the sisters are sheltering Basque separatists. Joyce Slater of Chicago's Tribune Books called Sheldon "a storyteller in the oldest, best tradition," specifically praising his "unrelenting" action as well as the detailed background on the convent and the nuns themselves. David Murray, in a review for the New York Times Book Review, felt differently, calling the effort "a literary version of painting by numbers." But a critic for the Los Angeles Times Book Review noted: "One sometimes has the feeling that Sidney Sheldon could start out with four Cub Scouts, a dog named Spot and a West Los Angeles bag lady and, somehow, turn it into a torrid suspense novel." The critic concluded, "the man tells a whale of a story."
Master of the "Guilty Pleasure"
Despite critics' suggestions that Sheldon's fiction was, by the 1990s, beginning to grow stale, the veteran novelist remained as popular as ever, and his seventeenth novel, The Sky Is Falling, favorably impressed reviewers. Featuring TV journalist Dana Evans, who first appeared in The Best Laid Plans, the book focuses on her investigation of the mysterious deaths of several members of a wealthy and influential Washington family, the Winthrops. Dana's sleuthing takes her from western Europe to Alaska to Moscow as she uncovers evidence of the Winthrops' connections to a top-secret Russian plutonium operation. Library Journal's Margaret Hanes found the book thinly developed and unsurprising—but added, "Yet it works." Whitney Scott in Booklist deemed the novel an entertaining read with "the feel of a James Bond film … with a heroine instead of a hero." And a Publishers Weekly reviewer hailed it as "efficiently brisk and reliably suspenseful," with "tension [that] builds and holds right through to a seven-alarm finale."
If you enjoy the works of Sidney Sheldon
If you enjoy the works of Sidney Sheldon, you may also want to check out the following books:
Harold Robbins, The Betsy, 1971.
Judith Krantz, Mistral's Daughter, 1983.
Joan Collins, Hollywood Wives, 1983.
In Are You Afraid of the Dark? Tanner Kingsley plots to take over the world by gaining control of the weather. As the head of the evil think tank Kingsley International Group, he is the mastermind behind the simultaneous deaths and disappearances of four of the world's top scientists. Two of the widows, Diane, who is also being chased by mob thugs for recently testifying against their boss, and Kelly, a supermodel, team up to get to the bottom of things. Assassins are after them as they globetrot through Spain, France, and England to uncover the truth be-hind their husbands' murders. Though critics found the plot far-fetched, that did not prevent them from recommending the book. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called it an "airbrushed but goofily entertaining thriller," and Mary Frances Wilkens of Booklist deemed it "the best kind of guilty pleasure."
"While many critics dismiss Sheldon's work as 'potboilers' and 'airport novels,'" according to an essayist for Contemporary Popular Writers, "he succeeds in telling a fine, well-crafted story. Sheldon's novels are deliberately written to hook the reader. Once begun, the books are hard to put down, and his years as a writer of fast-moving plots for films and television are apparent in his fiction writing; his quick scene changes, interesting characters, and exotic locales are as addictive as salted peanuts." Speaking with Publishers Weekly interviewer Jeff Zaleski, Sheldon stressed the importance of character in his novels: "If there's one reason [that my books are so popular], it's because my characters are very real to me…. If I wrote a plot that was the most exciting plot in the world and the reader didn't care about the characters, you can forget it." Sheldon does, however, strive for a captivating effect in his books: "I have this goal," the author remarked to Rosenfield. "And it's for a reader to not be able to go to sleep at night. I want him to keep reading another four pages, then one more page. The following morning, or night, he's anxious to get back to the book." Sheldon told Bob Thomas of the Seattle Times that, even after some sixty years of writing screenplays, television scripts, and novels, "writing novels is the most fun I've ever had."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors in the News, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976.
Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction, Beacham (Osprey, FL), 1996.
Bestsellers 89, Issue 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Architectural Digest, March, 1994, p. 118.
Booklist, September 15, 1992, p. 101; August, 1995, p. 1911; September 1, 1997, p. 8; August, 1998, p. 1925; August, 2000, p. 2076; August, 2004, Mary Frances Wilkens, a review of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, p. 1872.
Chatelaine, March, 1989, p. 12.
Cosmopolitan, February, 1987, pp. 238-246; June, 1987, pp. 152-154; November, 1988, p. 48; December, 1988, pp. 226-230; October, 1991, p. 48; November, 1992, pp. 267-277.
Detroit News, February 8, 1987.
Entertainment Weekly, October 6, 1995, p. 58.
Esquire, July, 1989, pp. 82-89.
Fortune, December 30, 1991, pp. 136-138.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1991, p. 822; August 1, 1992, p. 945; June 15, 1994, p. 802; July 1, 1995, p. 894; July 1, 2004, review of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, p. 603.
Library Journal, March 1, 1987, p. 94; November 1, 1992, p. 133; July, 1994, p. 130; November 15, 1998, p. 111; October 1, 1999, p. 150; August 2000, p. 162.
Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1982; March 12, 1987.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 8, 1987; September 18, 1988; September 15, 1991, p. 6; August 21, 1994, p. 13.
New Statesman & Society, September 6, 1991, p. 35.
Newsweek, June 13, 1977.
New Yorker, July 11, 1977.
New York Times, July 24, 1947; July 1, 1948; July 22, 1979.
New York Times Book Review, January 27, 1974; May 2, 1976; February 19, 1978; August 29, 1982; March 10, 1985; February 8, 1987; January 8, 1989; October 15, 1995, p. 20.
People, January 23, 1989, pp. 27-28; October 8, 1990, pp. 23-24; September 16, 1991, p. 31; August 29, 1994, p. 32; October 21, 1996, p. 37; October 27, 1997, p. 33; September 7, 1998, p. 46.
Publishers Weekly, September 23, 1988, p. 58; November 25, 1988; May 5, 1989, p. 52; April 6, 1990, p. 94; September 6, 1991, p. 78; August 24, 1992, p. 62; July 11, 1994, pp. 61-62; September 5, 1994, p. 32; July 17, 1995, p. 219; September 1, 1995, p. 43; September 8, 1997, p. 57; August 17, 1998, p. 49; September 7, 1998, pp. 20, 32; August 14, 2000, p. 327; August 30, 2004, review of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, p. 31; October 18, 2004, "Sheldon Shines," p. 14.
Reader's Digest, November, 2002, Susan Christian Goulding, "The Accidental Novelist," pp. 69-71.
Seattle Times, March 5, 2003, Bob Thomas, "Age Doesn't Slow Author Sidney Sheldon," p. F5.
Time, June 20, 1977; February 23, 1987, p. 78; October 15, 1990, p. 86.
Tribune Books (Chicago), December 25, 1988; October 25, 1992.
W, September, 2004, Christopher Bagley, "The Bard of Beverly Hills," pp. 416-417.
Washington Post, July 12, 1982; February 19, 1985; December 6, 1988.
Washington Post Book World, February 18, 1979; February 22, 1987.
Writer, March, 1988, p. 7; December 1998, "The Professional Response," p. 7.
Sidney Sheldon, http://www.sidneysheldon.com/ (May 1, 2005).