No interview was conducted in order to write this article. All the information in the article is based on Sidney Sheldon’s previous interviews and his autobiography , The Other Side of Me. The pictures were taken from the internet.
Arriving at Sidney Sheldon’s beautiful estate in Bell Air Los Angeles, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that it is the house of one of the most translated and successful writer in the world. The main house is artfully decorated but still has a homely feeling to it.
After a few cups of coffee and some light conversation with Sidney Sheldon and his lovely wife Alexandra, I was invited to the impressive library of the famed writer. The interview started with Mr. Sheldon sharing some of his life story. He was born Sidney Schechtel during the Depression. He grew up in a troubled family where his father Otto, was a dreamer who dreamed of becoming an instant millionaire. Meanwhile, his mother Natalie was a sensible and responsible woman who resented their constantly moving lifestyle. They eventually got a divorce when Sheldon was working his way into Hollywood. Mr. Sheldon jokingly added “Someone said that all it took to be a successful writer was paper and a pen and a dysfunctional family. I was raised by two such families.”
According to Mr. Sheldon, his first published work was a poetry he wrote when he was 10 years old. He asked his father Otto to post his work to a poetry competition but his father was too embarrassed by Mr. Sheldon writing. This led to Otto posting the poetry under his brother, Al Marcus’s name. The poetry won and was published in Wee Wisdom magazine in 1927.
Mr. Sheldon’s journey to fame was not quite as easy from there on. After dropping out of college due to financial reasons, Mr. Sheldon held three jobs to support his family. However, he was not satisfied with the life he had as deep down he have always been a writer. This brought him first to New York then Hollywood where after overcoming many obstacles and sufferings, he began his career in the movies. Through out his time there, he wrote scripts and screenplays for many box office movies. He also did some direction and producing of movies. Later he moved on to Broadway and also television where he was equally successful.
Mr. Sheldon did not start writing novels, which brought him fame world over, till his 50’s. When asked what led him to move from the visual world to writing novels, he said that when he was producing the television series, I Dream of Janine, he got an idea of writing about a psychiatrist who was afraid he was going to be murdered and tries to solve the mystery behind the reason for it since he did not have any known enemy. The problem was, in order for the story to work, the workings of the mind of the psychiatrist has to be told. This was not possible in television and Mr. Sheldon decided to forget about the story.
After some time, the story of the psychiatrist was still in Mr. Sheldon’s mind and he decided to write the story anyway, just to get it off his back. That was how The Naked Face came into writing. Mr. Sheldon was never confident of the book even after it was published. He said “I was certain that The Naked Face would break all literary records — that it would not sell one single copy! I was so sure of it that I went into a bookstore and bought a copy. Since then, it has become a superstition. On the day that a new novel of mine comes out, I always go into a bookstore and buy one copy.” Despite his fears, his book reached the best seller list and received good reviews.
After The Naked Face, Mr. Sheldon realized that there was more freedom in writing novels compared to writing for movies, broadways and television. There were no producers, directors, actors or other production crews who would want changes to be made to the story or screenplay. The changes are inevitable and understandable but the freedom to write whatever the imaginations allow appealed to Mr. Sheldon. This is what led to the change of his career path. Mr. Sheldon has published thirteen novels since and all of them reached the bestsellers list.
Most of the characters in Mr. Sheldon’s novels are women. Mr. Sheldon’s answer when asked the reason for it was “It’s never been a conscious decision, though do I favor dispelling the “dumb blonde” myth. The fact that my female characters have strong personalities but are also physically attractive reflects the women I’ve known in my life. My mother, who was faced with raising a family during the Depression and worked at a retail store until she was in her 70’s, my late wife, Jorja, and my current wife, Alexandra, epitomize the type of woman who is intelligent, purposeful and resourceful — but never at the expense of her femininity”
It is a known fact that Mr. Sheldon achieved success and fame despite the fact that he suffers from bipolar disorder. His disorder did have a buffering effect on his career. His first break into the entertainment world could have started much earlier if his disorder did not cause him to surpass his opportunity to write songs for Max Rich. That was not the only incident where Mr. Sheldon’s disorder crippled his career and personal life but it describes quite well what living with bipolar disorder can be.
The hour long interview with Mr. Sidney Sheldon gave a rare insight to his career and personal life. By the time I left Mr. Sheldon’s home, my respect for him as a person as well as a writer increased. He will live on through his writing and continue making a mark in many people’s life.
Clip from the movie The Naked Face which was made based on Sidney Sheldon’s novel by the same title