Wed 31 Jan 2007
As you will have read in every newspaper in the country today, author, screenwriter and playwright Sidney Sheldon died yesterday at the age of 89.
In all likelihood, the average person (not you), having glanced at the headlines and the first few paragraphs without reading further, will think of Mr. Sheldon as an author of powerful blockbuster bestsellers a lot more than they’ll remember him as a writer of crime fiction.
If that is the case — and who knows, I may be wrong — I suspect it’s because that same hypothetical average person, when confronted with the phrase “crime fiction,” thinks primarily of “detective fiction,” and of Agatha Christie, Perry Mason and Spenser: For Hire, for example, but none of which (or whom) were Mr. Sheldon’s model, style or forte.
No matter. Sidney Sheldon was a crime fiction writer. Most of his novels were strongly based on criminous activities of all sorts, including (and especially) murder and its aftermath, often dealing with the rich and famous, beginning with his very first novel, The Naked Face, which earned him the Edgar for that year’s Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America.
From the wikipedia website is a synopsis of the story line:
“Two people closely involved with Dr. Stevens have already been killed. Is one of his patients responsible? Someone overwhelmed by his problems? A neurotic driven by compulsion? A madman? Before the murderer strikes again, Judd must strip away the mask of innocence the criminal wears, uncover his inner emotions, fears, and desires-expose the naked face beneath…”
From Allen J. Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV is a list of Mr. Sheldon’s work that correctly belongs to our field, ignoring all of the work he did as a screenwriter. (The hyphen before two titles indicates marginal crime content.)
* Redhead [with Herbert Fields, Dorothy Fields & David Shaw] (play) Chappell 1960 [London; 1905 ca.]
* The Naked Face (n.) Morrow 1970 [New York City, NY]
* The Other Side of Midnight (n.) Morrow 1974 [Catherine Douglas]
* Bloodline (n.) Morrow 1978
* Rage of Angels (n.) Morrow 1980 [New York City, NY]
* If Tomorrow Comes (n.) Morrow 1985
* Windmills of the Gods (n.) Morrow 1987
* The Sands of Time (n.) Morrow 1988 [Spain]
* Memories of Midnight (n.) Morrow 1990 [Catherine Douglas]
* The Doomsday Conspiracy (n.) Morrow 1991
* -The Stars Shine Down (n.) Morrow 1992
* Nothing Lasts Forever (n.) Morrow 1994 [San Francisco, CA]
* Morning, Noon and Night (n.) Morrow 1995
* -The Best Laid Plans (n.) Morrow 1997 [Dana Evans]
* Tell Me Your Dreams (n.) Morrow 1998 [California]
* The Sky Is Falling (n.) Morrow 2000 [Dana Evans]
To which I can add the following books published after the year 2000:
* Are You Afraid of the Dark? (2004)
Two books, Catoplus Terror (a novel about a former spy attempting to apprehend Carlos the Jackal) and The Pavid Pavillion, are not written by Sidney Sheldon but are said to have been done by someone else who published them under his name. (Someone will have to enlighten me on these two books, as I cannot find copies of either of them offered for sale on the Internet.)
From today’s obituary for Mr. Sheldon in the New York Times, I offer this excerpt about his writing:
“I try to write my books so the reader can’t put them down,” he explained in a 1982 interview. “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.”
Analyzing why so many women bought his books, he commented: “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.”
For Mr. Sheldon’s credits in the world of TV and movie entertainment, I will send you to IMDB. Of the various series and films he worked on, the one for which I’d remember him most is Hart to Hart (1979-1984)the TV series he created starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, with made-for-TV movies continuing on through 1996. Fluff, perhaps, but high-powered (and highly enjoyable) fluff, and they did solve crimes.
For even more on Mr. Sheldon’s long career, you could not do better than to start with his own website, then head to a February 2006 interview with him by Kacey Kowars from which the following excerpts are taken:
SS: I thought it was a failure. The publishers were pleased. It won The Edgar Award for best first novel. But my television shows [I Dream of Jeannie], were being watched by 20 million people every week.
SS: Yes, no question. When you write a screenplay you write in shorthand. You don’t say that your hero is tall, lanky, and laid-back. You might be thinking of giving the script to John Wayne and they give it to Dustin Hoffman. So you generally characterize it. In a novel it’s just the opposite. If you don’t put those things down your reader won’t know what you’re talking about.
KK: Is there one thing you’re proudest of as a writer?
SS: Finishing a novel when I was certain I didn’t have the talent to be a novelist. That was THE NAKED FACE.
UPDATE [02-01-07] On his blog, which you should visit every day, Ed Gorman gives a blunt but hugely accurate assessment of Mr. Sheldon’s career, then compares the comments he’s received on his death with those given Harold Robbins. Two writers whose fictional work took place in the same strata of society, two wholly different reactions to their passing.