|The Buster Keaton Story (1957)||$50,000|
Sheldon was born in Chicago on February 17, 1917. He began writing as a youngster and at the age of ten he made his first sale of a poem for $10. During the Depression, he worked at a variety of jobs and while attending Northwestern University he contributed short plays to drama groups.
At seventeen, he decided to try his luck in Hollywood. The only job he could find was as a reader of prospective film material at Universal Pictures for $22 a week. At night he wrote his own screenplays and was able to sell one called "South of Panama," to the studio for $250 in 1941.
During World War II, he served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. After the war he established a reputation as being a prolific writer in the New York theater community. At one point during this career he had three musicals on Broadway including a rewritten version of "The Merry Widow," "Jackpot" and "Dream with Music." Eventually he received a Tony award as part of the writing team for the Gwen Verdon hit "Redhead" which brought to the attention of Hollywood.
His first assignment after his return to Hollywood was The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947) starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple, which won him an Academy Award for best original screenplay of 1947.
In his 1982 interview he described his years under contract with MGM as, "I never stopped working. One day Dore Schary (who was then production head) looked at a list of MGM projects currently under production and noted that I had written eight of them, more than three other writers put together. That afternoon, he made me a producer."
In the early 1960s when the movie industry was hurting because of television's popularity, Sheldon decided to make a switch. "I suppose I needed money," he remembered. "I met Patty Duke one day at lunch and stated producing "The Patty Duke Show," (that starred Duke playing two identical cousins). I did something nobody else in TV ever did at that time. For seven years, I wrote almost every single episode of the series."
His next series was "I Dream of Jeannie," which he also created as well as produced, lasted five seasons, 1965-1970. The show concerned an astronaut, Larry Hagman, who lands on a desert island and discovers a bottle containing a beautiful, 2,000-year-old genie, played by Barbara Eden, who accompanies him back to Florida and eventually marries her.
According to Sheldon it was "During the last year of "I Dream of Jeannie," I decided to try a novel. Each morning from 9 until noon, I had a secretary at the studio take all calls. I mean every single call. I wrote each morning or rather, dictated and then I faced the TV business." The result was "The Naked Face," which was scorned by book reviewers but sold 21,000 copies in hardcover. The novel scored even bigger in paperback, where it reportedly sold 3.1 million copies. Thereafter Sheldon name would continually be on the best-seller lists, often reigning on top for months at a time.
Sheldon's books including titles like "Rage of Angels," "The Other Side of Midnight," "Master of the Game" and "If Tomorrow Comes," provided him with his greatest fame. They featured cleverly plots with sensuality and a high degree of suspense, a device that kept fans from being unable to putting his books down.
In a 1982 interview Sheldon told of how he created his novels; "I try to write my books so the reader can't put them down. I try to construct them so when the reader gets to the end of a chapter, he or she has to read just one more chapter. It's the technique of the old Saturday afternoon serial: leave the guy hanging on the edge of the cliff at the end of the chapter."
Explaining why so many women bought his books, he once commented that: "I like to write about women, who are talented and capable, but most important, retain their femininity. Women have tremendous power, their femininity, because men can't do without it."
Sheldon had few fans among highbrow critics, whose reviews of his books were generally reproachful of both Sheldon and his readers. Sheldon however remained undeterred, promoting the novels and himself with warm enthusiasm.
A big, cheerful man, he bragged about his work habits. Unlike other novelists who toil over typewriters or computers, Sheldon would dictate fifty pages a day to a secretary or a tape machine. He would correct the pages the following day and dictate another fifty pages continuing the routine until he had between 1,200 to 1,500 pages. "Then I would do a complete rewrite 12 to 15 times," he said. "Sometimes I would spend a whole year rewriting."
Sheldon prided himself on the authenticity of his novels. During a 1987 interview he remarked that: "If I write about a place, I have been there. If I write about a meal in Indonesia, I have eaten there in that restaurant. I don't think you can fool the reader."
For his novel "Windmills of the Mind," that dealt with the CIA, he interviewed former CIA chief Richard Helms, traveled to Argentina and Romania, and spent a week in Junction City, Kansas where the book's heroine had lived.
After a career that had earned him a Tony, an Oscar and an Emmy (for "I Dream of Jeannie"), Sheldon declared that his work as a novelist was his best work. "I love writing books," he once commented. "Movies are a collaborative medium, and everyone is second-guessing you. When you do a novel you're on your own. It's a freedom that doesn't exist in any other medium."
Several of his novels became television miniseries, often with the Sheldon severing as producer.
He was married for more than 30 years to Jorja Curtright Sheldon, a stage and film actress who later became a prominent interior decorator. After her death in 1985 he married Alexandra Sheldon, a former child actress and advertising executive, in 1989.
Sheldon died January 30, 2007 of complications from pneumonia at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California according with his wife, Alexandra, was by his side.
Along with his wife, Sheldon was survived by his daughter, author Mary Sheldon; his brother Richard and two grandchildren.