Week of February 15 , 2006 | Sidney
This week’s guest is Sidney Sheldon and the interview is being
offered in a text version. Next week we will return to our
usual audio format.
Mr. Sheldon is one of the most humble gentleman I have ever had the pleasure
to interview. He was warm, gracious, and a delight to talk with.
Reading his memoir, THE OTHER SIDE OF ME, is a rare glimpse into the
lives of Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Dean
Martin, Groucho Marx, Irving Berlin, and many others.
Mr. Sheldon also discusses his struggle with manic depression in
his memoir. I hope you enjoy out conversation, and please let me know
if you like the option of having the interviews available via
transcription. I’m currently working on offering them as podcasts.
The following interview took place on January 25, 2006. We
discussed his memoir, THE OTHER SIDE OF ME, recently published by
KK: I am thrilled and honored to have Sidney Sheldon as my guest
today. First of all I would like to thank you for the generous gift of
your time today.
SS: It's my pleasure.
KK: Sidney Sheldon needs no introduction. He has over 300 million
copies of his novels in print; they have been translated into 51
languages, and are sold in 108 countries. These figures earned Mr.
Sheldon a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1997. So,
first of all Mr. Sheldon, when did the idea of writing a memoir appear
SS: It seemed to me, several years ago, that I had to do it while I
KK: The memoir is dedicated to your granddaughters, and you told
them you wanted them to understand what a magical journey you have
SS: That's right. They're just beginning their journey, and I
wanted them to see what it could be like.
KK: When the memoir opens, you're 17 years old, living in Chicago
in 1934, and you're very depressed and suicidal. Why did you decide to
open the book with that scene?
SS: I decided to start with my getting ready to commit suicide
because it happened, and it happened exactly that way. It was also a
very dramatic opening for a book.
KK: Yes, I would agree. One of the important people in your life
was Cary Grant. What was it that made Cary Grant so special? He became
a very good friend of yours.
SS: He had no ego. This was a man who was the most handsome man in
Hollywood, or anywhere for that matter; he was one of the biggest
stars we had. And yet there was no ego, he was just himself, and I
admired him a lot.
KK: In fact you use a quote where he says, "Everyone wants to
be Cary Grant, even I want to be Cary Grant."
SS: Exactly. Cary grew up in the coal mining area of England. He
had nothing and his family was poor. What Cary did was to create Cary
Grant. He worked hard and he became, with capital letters, CARY GRANT.
KK: What about Groucho Marx? I was fascinated when I read in the
memoir that Groucho appeared as a special guest on the I DREAM OF
JEANNIE show. You two were close friends, weren't you?
SS: Yes, we were very good friends. He could be acerbic, he could
be helpful, he could be anything. I enjoyed his company very much.
KK: What was it about Groucho Marx that made him so special? You
tell the wonderful story of how he came to your home and sat in a
circle of children and talked to them about show business.
SS: The thing that made Groucho special was the way he used his
body parts. He also had a wicked tongue. People didn't realize it, but
when Groucho said something, he meant it.
KK: You started your career as a songwriter. I was fascinated when
you met, then worked, with Irving Berlin. What was it like to work
with Irving Berlin?
SS: I can sum that up with one word- awesome.
KK: You write that when he sat down to sing and play the piano that
he did not have a lot of skills as a singer.
SS: No. None. He'd come in my office and say, "Listen to this
song!" And he'd sing it himself and I couldn't get any melody at
all out of it. He had no voice at all.
KK: That's amazing.
SS: What he did have was talent.
KK: You wrote that your most treasured possessions are your writing
pads and your pens. A fire broke out in the canyon where you were
living, and what you grabbed were your pads and your pens.
SS: 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. I knew we would be in a motel for awhile and I wanted
to be able to keep writing. So I left the medals and the awards in the
house- they were less important to me.
KK: While you were writing I DREAM OF JEANNIE the thought of
writing a novel came to you, but you felt you were incapable of
writing a novel at that time. I'm wondering when that changed for you,
and you decided you were capable of writing a novel?
SS: First of all, I never decided I was capable of writing a novel.
What happened was, while I was writing I DREAM OF JEANNIE, I got an
idea for a novel that I found exciting, but I knew I couldn't write a
novel, so I forgot about it and went on to other things. But the idea
kept coming back to me. And finally to get rid of it I figured I'd
write it. But I didn't know that it would mean anything in my life,
and it ended up meaning everything. It ended up selling well. So I
wrote another one, THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT, and it did very well.
KK: One of the things you wrote that I really like is, "Any
talent is a gift, and we should work hard at it."
SS: Absolutely. Some writers say, "Gee, I'm a genius, look at
what I wrote. Well, I don't think that's the case. I think they had
help. Talent is a gift that can be given, and it can be taken away. We
have to appreciate that."
KK: When I read the memoir, I was surprised you did not devote more
time to your novels. But I think I understand why you did that;
because when I re-read THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT I understood the
characters much better as a result of reading your memoir.
SS: Yes, it's called THE OTHER SIDE OF ME. The novels are fiction.
I wanted to tell the public the story of my life.
KK: You were not pleased when THE NAKED FACE, your first novel,
sold 17,000 copies. Could you explain that for your readers?
SS: I thought it was a failure. The publishers were pleased. It won
The Edgar Award for best first novel. But my television shows were
being watched by 20 million people every week.
KK: In the memoir you discuss the difficulty you had with Larry
Hagman. He wanted to be the star of I DREAM OF JEANNIE, but Barbara
Eden was getting all of the attention. Did that cause tension on the
SS: Yes, it did. Larry's mother was Mary Martin, one of Broadway's
great stars, and Larry felt he had to catch up with her, and show he
had talent of his own. And this haunted him until he had his big hit;
which we all know.
KK: Looking back over your career it seems you found the greatest
satisfaction in writing novels.
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.
KK" Thank you for your time, Mr. Sheldon. It's been an honor
talking with you. I strongly urge all of you to buy a copy of THE
OTHER SIDE OF ME, published by Warner Books. It is a fascinating story
told by one of the world's greatest storytellers.
SS: Thank you, Kacey. You've been very kind.