Remembering Sidney Sheldon by

Laura Ruttan

“Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better.”  Sidney Sheldon

Author Sidney Shelton on December 7, 1997. (Photo/Joe Tabacca/AP)
Author Sidney Shelton on December 7, 1997. (Photo/Joe Tabacca/AP)

Sidney Sheldon was a famous successful American playwright, screenwriter, and best selling novelist. Sheldon was born ninety-nine years ago today. He grew up studious, an abnormality in his householdneither of his parents had been educated past the third grade. He attended Northeastern University, where his passion for writing began. While there, he began working with a local drama club for which he wrote short plays.

After serving as a pilot during World War II, Sheldon began his writing career on Broadway in the late 1940s. From Broadway, he then moved on to cinema. The first film he wrote was The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, staring Shirley Temple as the female lead. The film tells the story of a seventeen-year-old girl’s crush on a much older man. The film was highly popular, and won Sheldon an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1947.

With the rise of television beginning to hurt the film industry, Sheldon decided to give the new, popular medium a test. He wrote his first television show, The Patty Duke Show, in 1963. The sitcom ran for three seasons and was popular across the United States.

Following an already successful career in television and film, Sheldon published his first novel, The Naked Face in 1969. His next novel, The Other Side of Midnight, climbed to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List. The novel tells the story of a French beauty who falls in love with an American pilot, who eventually betrays her and marries another woman. The young girl vows to take revenge on her former lover by murdering his new wife.

Sheldon was considered an expert storyteller whose novels boasted elaborate settings, a brisk pace, and suspenseful chapters. His novels typically contained outrageously beautiful women, fame and fortune, murder and suicide, and unexplainable disappearances.

Most of Sheldon’s protagonists were women, resulting in most of his readers also being women. He was proud of this, and when asked responded, “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.”

After having a successful career with three different mediums of writing: television, films, and novels, Sheldon revealed that he liked writing novels the best. “I love writing books,” he 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.”

Sheldon was particularly known for his very unusual writing technique. Instead of slaving away over a keyboard, he dictated his novels instead. He would dictate around fifty pages a day to a secretary or via a tape recorder, and would make corrections the following day. He claimed that one can speak much faster than one can write, and that writing often leads to losing a train of thought due to moving so slowly. When typing, one also tends to constantly correct themselves, something Sheldon thought could be saved for the revision process.

Sidney Sheldon’s legacy includes eighteen novels, twenty-five major films, and six Broadway plays. He won an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy for his work on the stage and the big screen. His works are still widely watched and read today, with approximately three-hundred million copies in print.

End Notes:

Quotes pulled from: Thomas, Bob. “Author Sidney Sheldon dies at 89”. Washington Post. Jan 31, 2007.

Laura Ruttan is a Canadian pursuing an English degree at the University of Connecticut. She is the translations editor for the Long River Review.

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