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Sidney Sheldon's Biography

Updated on July 16, 2018

Sidney Sheldon's Biography

Sidney Sheldon was a well known American writer whose career life spanned three areas. He was a Hollywood TV and movie screenwriter, a Broadway Playwright and a best-selling novelist. He was also a well loved husband and father.

Sidney's success in the world of movie and TV production and as a writer, came through sheer persistence, and through a genuine skill for his craft. Like a diamond in the rough, it took some time and application before Sidney saw his hard work pay off.

While working as an usher in a movie theater, Sidney would always see the same films being shown over and over again. He became convinced that he could write better stories than those he was seeing in the theater.

He subsequently moved to California where he worked as a reader. His role entailed reading and evaluating scripts and script proposals that came through the transform. This was a low-level job, but Sidney made the best of his position and soon started writing his own scripts. His first film to be shown in a theater was the thriller known as South of Panama. The production was done on a very meager budget, and there were no stars.

One of the best summaries you can have of a parent is through the eyes of their children. In her tribute to her father, Mary spoke of her childhood memories of Sidney telling her bedtime stories. She regarded him as a great storyteller. She did not fear or despise bedtime as many kids normally do. Instead, she would have already kissed her mother goodnight, and be in her nightgown tucked in bed with teeth that were hurriedly cleaned, waiting on her father to come and tell her stories.

Sidney's novels are read mainly by women. He seemed to take special interest in the female libido. This led critics to label his book as trashy or melodramatic. He enjoyed writing his novels so that they would appeal to this sex and it worked. This is evident in the huge sales, and his novels constantly rising to the top as best-sellers. Sidney achieved all this in spite of the negative ratings from critics.

In his view, women possess such power through their femininity because men cannot live without them. The author preferred to write novels as opposed to movies. For him, the collaborative efforts required to make a movie allowed for others to second guess a writer's ideas and decisions. When writing a novel there is no one to second guess you as you are on your own. He was a great lover and respecter of women, but he especially admired women of a certain strength and character.

Sidney had a special place in his heart for all the women in his life. He continued to mourn the loss of his deceased wife, Jorja, and one of their daughters, yet he was able to love and appreciate those who were still alive. Calm and strong are the two words that Mary Sheldon used to describe her father in her tribute to him. She was fourteen years old when her father made the switch from TV to writing novels and considers Sidney's first novel, The Naked Face, which became her favorite "Papa story," to be the story by which her father lived his life. Mary also recalls witnessing her father's enthusiasm turning to disappointment when no publishing house was willing to publish his first book.

Sidney's Background and Upbringing

Sidney Sheldon was born in Chicago Illinois on February 11, 1917. His birth name was Sheldon Schechtel, and he was born to parents of Russian Jewish ancestry. His mother's name was Natalie Marcus, and his father, a jewelry store manager, was Ascher "Otto" Schechtel. His family was poor and hard working.

Sidney revealed that his father had never read a book in his life and that he (Sidney) was the only one in his family to have completed high school. He won a scholarship to Northwestern University where he wrote short stories for drama groups, but only spent six months there, as due to poverty and the onset of the Depression he had to go and work to assist his family. Sidney worked at jobs such as theater usher, shoe salesman, and night-club attendant. He later spoke of his mother working at a retail store during the Depression and continued to do so until age 70.

He sold a song he had written to the club's bandleader then went to New York to pursue his ambition to write song lyrics. This ambition changed, and he took an interest in the movie industry. His move to Hollywood came next and, over the passage of time, he became famous through his work. In his twilight years, at age 83, Sidney revealed that he still harbored thoughts of being a songwriter. He was planning a trip to Nashville to rekindle that old desire.

If Tomorrow Comes - Sidney Sheldon

Sidney Sheldon's Major Accomplishments and Awards

Although he spent 20 years in TV, Sidney only rose to fame when he began writing after he turned 50. His best-selling novels and well known pieces include, Master of the Game (1982), Rage of the Angels and The Other Side of Midnight. His best known work during his years in TV include, Hart to Hart (1979-84), The Patty Duke Show (1963-66) for which he wrote almost all the episodes, and I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70).

Sidney Sheldon's writing career really began during childhood. He made his first earnings from his writing when at age 10, without his knowledge, his father submitted one of his poems to the Wee Wisdom magazine in the name of his uncle. His uncle did not know what Sidney's father had done either, so he was surprised when he received a check for $10 from the magazine. They became aware of the payment for the poem when his uncle mentioned the strange check to Sidney's father two weeks later while they had lunch. Sidney earned his first ten dollars as an author under the name of his uncle, but this would later grow into huge earnings from many more writings. Sidney was not to see this level of success without some failure, frustration and even an attempt at suicide.

After earning his first ten dollars as a youth, Sidney continued writing and submitting stories to publications such as The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. All he received in return for those pieces were rejection slips. Feeling dejected, Sidney was about to commit suicide by ingesting whisky and sleeping pills, but his father talked him out of it. He was in his late teens at that time. "At the age of 17 working as a delivery boy at Afternow's Drugstore in Chicago was the perfect job, because it made it possible for me to steal enough sleeping pills to commit suicide." Sidney struggled with bipolar disorder, an aspect of his life that was shared in detail in his autobiography, The other Side of Me.

At age 18, the teenager decided to see what Hollywood had to offer him, and his ambition to become a writer. He found a job at Universal Pictures as a reader of prospective film material. He learned of this job after being told by guards that he could not see anyone to speak to about his dream to become a writer. He wrote a synopsis of Steinbeck's book "Of Mice and Men" and sent it to all eight studios. Three days later he got the job at Universal Studio. He earned $17 per week at this job. Sidney took the opportunity to write his own screenplays at nights and eventually got one sold to the studio in 1941 for a total of $250. The name of that the screenplay was South of Panama.

Before his rise to fame, Sidney went to serve in the US Army Air Force in 1941 - 1943 during World War II, where he received training as a pilot. He was dismissed from the military due to medical reasons. After his stint in the war, Sidney returned to New York where he continued his writing, doing work for the New York theatre community, and it was then that he gained his reputation as a prolific writer. He wrote screenplays for MGM Studios and Paramount Pictures. Before his rise to fame and success as a best-selling author, Sidney copped several awards for his work in TV.

Upon his return to Hollywood, Sidney's first assignment was on the classic 1947 romance-comedy screenplay The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. The stars of that screenplay were Shirley Temple (the teenage school girl), Cary Grant (the teacher and bachelor on whom the school girl/bobby-soxer had a crush) and Myrna Lloyd, who played a judge. The production won Sidney an Academy Award for best original screenplay of 1947. Even before the first award came, Sidney had begun to see his hard work and persistence bear fruit, as he was able to enjoy knowing that three of his musicals had made it to Broadway. These included, "Dream Music," "The Merry Widow," (a rewritten version) and "Jackpot."

It was his work as one of the writers in the 1959 musical "Redhead" and his subsequent winning of a Tony award that brought him to the attention of Hollywood. The stars in the musical were Gwen Vernon who appeared as Essie Whimple and Richard Kiley as Tom Baxter. Still another award win came for the television sitcom I Dream of Jeanie, and this was the 1967 Emmy Award. In his TV career, he produced over 200 television scripts, in addition to 25 major motion pictures and all of six Broadway plays.

During his time as a writer Sidney produced a total of 18 novels of which 300 million copies were sold. Sidney's decision to write novels came during the final year of I Dream of Jeannie. The sitcom ended in 1970 after five seasons, and his first novel, The Naked Face, came in 1969. The novel is full of suspense and intrigue that engages the reader, so that they find it difficult to tear themselves away until the book is finished. In a 1982 interview, Sidney revealed that he writes his books with exactly this purpose in mind. He writes so that the reader feels they have to read just one more chapter before putting down the book, but the end of each chapter is constructed in such a way that before the reader know it they have completed the book.

Sidney's second novel, The Other Side of Midnight, made it to number one on the New York Times' bestseller list. This was to be the case with several novels that followed. A number of these novels were later made into motion pictures or fitted for TV miniseries. The main characters featured in Sidney's novels were usually women who embodied the characteristics of the women he admired. The women of his novels are usually women of strength, intelligence, determination and perseverance, who had to make it in a male dominant world.

Five Popular Quotes and Public Statements by Sidney Sheldon

Five of Sidney's most known quotes are:

1. In an interview with Empire:Zine, when asked what advice he would give to new writers Sidney replied, "Write!! Don't let anyone discourage you don't listen to the ones that say 'no'."

2. In response to a similar question during an interview with Book Browse, Sidney gave a similar answer, "Don't listen to people who try to discourage you. No one can stop you but yourself."

3. Sidney Sheldon seemed to enjoy doing little else outside of writing. In an interview with the Hatchette Book Group he revealed that this was actually true. "I work all day. That's my vocation, and my hobby. I love writing. If I could stay awake I would write 24 hours a day. I don't have any other hobbies. I like to travel, and usually, when I do, it's for research for a new book."

4. In a Harper Collins interview about his novel, Are you Afraid of the Dark, Sidney was asked which living person he admired the most. His response,"The Dalai Lama. He is a very wise man of great inner peace who believes that happiness is the purpose of our lives. Through his teachings and leadership, he continues to make this world a better place in which to live."

5. Another revelation of his true love and dedication to writing came during an interview with Kacey Kowar's show. Sidney was asked about his former written comment that his most treasured possessions where his pads and pens.

A fire had broken out in the canyon where he and his family was living, and he was asked to say what he grabbed before he left. To this query Sidney responded, "The police came around and said that if the fire came our way we should get ready and take the things we really needed. My wife grabbed our baby, and I grabbed two things; my paper and pens. And I was ready to go."

Sidney Sheldon's Personal Life

Sidney marched to the tune of wedding bells three times during his lifetime. His first marriage to Jane Harding Kaufman took place in 1945 only two months after they met and lasted for only two years. On mentioning his divorce in his book, The Other Side of Me, Sidney stated that "Regretfully, in less than a month, Jane and I realized we had made a mistake. Our interests and personalities were totally opposite." He goes on to admit that they spent the next nine months trying to make the marriage work, although in vain. For Sidney, the decision to get divorced was painful and devastating. He reveals that, on the day of the divorce, he went out and got drunk for the first time in his life.

His second marriage was to his wife of 30 years, Jorja Curtright, who died of a heart attack in 1985. She was an interior designer and made a brief appearance in I Dream of Jeannie, for a Season One episode. Sidney and Jorja eloped to Las Vegas and got married on the 28th of March 1951, three months after they started dating. They had met the year before (1950). The union produced two daughters, Mary Sheldon Dastin, who followed in her father's footsteps and became a novelist, and Alexandra Sheldon. Alexandra was born with the condition spina bifida and did not make it past infancy. After Alexandra's death, the couple adopted a child, Elizabeth Aprille, but that only lasted for six months as the child's mother decided she wanted her back.

In his book, The Other side of Me, Sidney reflects on the death of their second child, Alexandra. "If there is a hell on earth it exists for parents who have lost a child. There is unspeakable grief that never entirely goes away….There is this belief that as time goes on, the pain diminishes. Our pain grew stronger."

Of Jorja's death, Sidney commented in his book, The Other Side of Me: "In 1985 my lovely Jorja died of a heart attack. It was an unbelievable loss, and there was an emptiness in my heart that I felt would never be filled."

Sidney remarried almost four years after Jorja died. The wedding took place on October 14, 1989, to Alexandra Kostoff who was of Bulgarian descent. Alexandra was an advertising executive and a former child actress. The private wedding took place in Las Vegas. His marriage to Alexandra lasted for 17 years.

Also in his book, The Other Side of Me, Sidney said of his wife Alexandra: "It was a little after three years later when it happened. I met Alexandra Kostoff and my life changed. She is all the women I had written about - intelligent, beautiful, and amazingly talented, and it was love at first sight." When asked in an interview with the Hatchette Book Group if his wife went everywhere with him on his research trips, Sidney replied, "My wife, Alexandra, goes with me everywhere I go. We are very close."

Sidney shared that his second wife Jorja, his third wife Alexandra and his mother, all epitomized women who were able to embody intelligence, resourcefulness and purposefulness without sacrificing their femininity. He did not believe in the "dumb blonde" myth, but rather admired women such as his mother and last two wives who had strong personalities and were physically attractive.

In her memoir of her dad, Mary spoke of his ability to take a leap of faith into the air and somehow end up clinging to a limb. She likened this character trait in her dad to that of one of the men in his book The Naked Face. Out in Africa with a lion chasing him and his colleague the man was confident there was a tree somewhere in the flat grassland for them to climb.

In her mind, this was the story by which the Master Storyteller lived his life. She writes about her father, "My father always found his tree. Many times he planted it on the veldt himself through his endless hard work, and his endless wonderful imagination…. Other times, I like to think it was the love of his family which provided a comforting perch away from the snarling lions."

Sidney Sheldon pays Tribute to Caregivers before he Dies

In his last article, written while he was ailing, Sidney speaks of his initial refusal to have caregivers after his doctors recommended that he do so. He eventually had to have caregivers, but only after his fall in his home, which landed him, on the emergency ward at the Eisenhower Medical Center. Sidney woke up to find that he had been assigned three caregivers, each on a eight-hour rotation.

This was to remain the arrangement up until his passing. Sidney wrote, "Since I had trouble standing, it was a foregone conclusion that they would be mine for a long time. They are still with me and its been several months." Sidney took the time that he was laid up to reflect on the role of the caregiver. He still objected to having them do some personal care activities for him, but found he had to comply after falling down when he attempted to get up himself.

He wrote of his growing appreciation for the caregivers, "I must say that I was more and more grateful because every time I tried to walk alone, I fell down…. When I woke up in the morning, my Caregiver brushed my teeth, bathed me, dressed me and combed my hair."

Sidney finally concluded that even though you may not need caregivers when you are well, they are invaluable when your body can no longer function as it should. He wrote, "Caregivers are a big step in fighting adversity. My autobiography, The Other Side of Me, is a textbook for succeeding against problems that life sometimes deals us. Life is a tough gig." Finally, Sidney's last penned words to his readers are, "My advice, 'hang in there.'"

Sidney died at age 89 on January 30, 2007 at the Eisenhower Medical Center located in Rancho Mirage, California. His death was due to complications from pneumonia and his remains were cremated. He died a few weeks before his 90th birthday. He was survived by his widow Alexandra, daughter Mary, two grandchildren and a brother. Sidney Sheldon was a very private individual whose life, aside from his many accomplishments did not feature much in the media.

Books by Sidney Sheldon

Trivia and Facts about Sidney Sheldon

1. Sidney Sheldon was 52 years old when he started writing novels.

2. Sidney considered The Other Side of Midnight and Tell Me Your Dreams to be two of his greatest works, though he admitted that it was hard for him to choose.

3. Sidney Sheldon received a star on the Hollywood Walk at Fame in 1988.

4. In 1997, the Guinness Book of World Records honored him as the most translated author in the world with translations done in 51 languages.

5. His favorite movies include Cassablanca, The In-Laws and Just This Once. Sidney wrote the screenplay for Just This Once.

6. His favorite authors included Thomas Wolfe, Scott Fitzgerald, Earnest Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis.

7. The New York Times described Sidney's first book, The Naked Face, as the best mystery novel of the year. This novel earned him The Edgar A. Poe Award. Before that, he struggled to find a publishing house that would publish this book.

8. Sidney's first three musicals that became a hit on Broadway came when he was 25 years old.

9. Sidney Sheldon's novel writing career was a total success as all his novels made it to number one.

10. Warren Cowan was Sidney's friend and publicist.

Sidney Sheldon's If Tomorrow Ever Comes Intro

Books by Sidney Sheldon


Regardless of his struggles with manic depression, Sidney Sheldon excelled possibly beyond his own expectations. He was a humble individual and preferred dealing with persons of a similar character. When asked by the Harper Collins interviewer what are the traits he most admired in people Sidney replied that he admired "people who are by nature kind and fair." Sidney never allowed his fame and fortune to control him or change who he was.

Not even the press seems to have been able to come up with negative views or reviews about a man who defied the odds and made his mark in a world that was full of challenges. From a tender age Sidney found he had a passion for writing and he never let go of his dream to become what he aspired to become. He never dreamt of becoming a prolific writer of novels, but he was never afraid to set sail on what was for him unchartered waters. Sidney always found his tree. Even if it meant that he labored hard to do the planting and nurturing.

Sidney Sheldon rolled with the tide and took the blows that life handed him but he never stayed down and out. He would always strive to be thankful for what he had and for the individuals in his life. During an interview with Empire:Zine Sidney said, "I think an important part of living long is appreciating life and enjoying what you've been given."

Lastly, when asked in the Harper Collins interview what was his motto, Sidney replied, "To leave the Earth a better place than when you arrived." Though he's now deceased, the works of Sidney Sheldon in movies and through his novels will continue to touch the lives of many throughout the world.

Sidney Sheldon: If Tomorrow Ever Comes


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      3 years ago

      You can always tell an expert! Thanks for cornnibutitg.

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      3 years ago

      The forum is a brhietgr place thanks to your posts. Thanks!


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