Melville Shavelson

Active - 1941 - 2009  |   Born - Apr 1, 1917   |   Died - Aug 8, 2007   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance, Musical

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Educated at Cornell University, Brooklyn-born writer/producer/director Melville Shavelson first channelled his creative juices into the world of press agentry. Tired of blowing everyone else's horn, Shavelson and his agency boss Milt Josefsberg wrote some comedy material and submitted it to comedian Bob Hope in 1938. Hope hired them on the spot, and though the comedian was tight with both a dollar and his praise, Shavelson remained with Hope until the late '50s. It was the Shavelson/Josefsberg team that helped develop the Bob Hope "character:" the brave coward, the impotent lover, the braggart with nothing to brag about, the man who never speaks when wisecracking will do. Shavelson worked on several of Hope's best films, including Princess and the Pirate (1944), Where There's Life (1947) and The Great Lover (1949). By 1954, Hope's box office was drooping, so Shavelson suggested that the comedian try a straight dramatic approach for a change. The resultant films, The Seven Little Foys (1955) and Beau James (1957), were both written and produced by Shavelson. It was Shavelson's contention that Hope was an accomplished enough actor to continue successfully in this vein, but when Hope decided to return to his old formula Shavelson felt that his writing skills might be better applied elsewhere. He went on to write and direct such box-office attractions as Houseboat (1958), The Five Pennies (1959), On the Double (1961) and Yours Mine and Ours (1968); in many instances, he also functioned as producer. On two occasions, Shavelson was honored with an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing. In addition to his work with Bob Hope, Shavelson also concocted comedy scripts for Danny Kaye and Groucho Marx. Though he'd severed most of his professional ties with Hope by the '70s, Shavelson had a long-standing handshake agreement to write and direct a Hope/Bing Crosby "reunion" picture, The Road to the Fountain of Youth, a dream dashed by Crosby's death; he also negotiated with Hope to work up a comedy about the Vietnam war, but the US invasion of Cambodia put the kibosh on that. Melville Shavelson was the author of two humorous, revelatory books about the movie business: How to Make a Jewish Movie (1971), a memoir of his experiences while producing and directing Cast a Giant Shadow, and the Hollywood-based novel Lualda (1973).

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