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A title holder in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific producer in television history, Aaron Spelling quietly oversaw some five decades of popular programming that ranged from "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1973) and "Starsky and Hutch" (ABC, 1975-79) to "Charlie's Angels" (ABC, 1976-1981), "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986), "Dynasty" (ABC, 1981-89), "Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox, 1990-2000) and "7th Heaven" (The WB, 1996-2007). An aspiring playwright, Spelling broke into television in the late 1950s, penning scripts for live television before moving into production in the early 1960s. Spelling's most notable series were marked by the simplicity of their plots and characters and the attractive performers he hired to populate them. Critics derided his work as shallow, but audiences loved his shows, which kept their producer active well into his eighth decade. Later known as the father of "90210" star Tori Spelling, the sweet-natured producer's affection for a juicy story, told with verve by an appealing cast, gave his work a lasting immortality that endured long after his controversial passing in 2006.The son of poor Polish Jews, Aaron Spelling was born in Dallas, TX on April 22, 1923. He...
A title holder in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific producer in television history, Aaron Spelling quietly oversaw some five decades of popular programming that ranged from "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1973) and "Starsky and Hutch" (ABC, 1975-79) to "Charlie's Angels" (ABC, 1976-1981), "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986), "Dynasty" (ABC, 1981-89), "Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox, 1990-2000) and "7th Heaven" (The WB, 1996-2007). An aspiring playwright, Spelling broke into television in the late 1950s, penning scripts for live television before moving into production in the early 1960s. Spelling's most notable series were marked by the simplicity of their plots and characters and the attractive performers he hired to populate them. Critics derided his work as shallow, but audiences loved his shows, which kept their producer active well into his eighth decade. Later known as the father of "90210" star Tori Spelling, the sweet-natured producer's affection for a juicy story, told with verve by an appealing cast, gave his work a lasting immortality that endured long after his controversial passing in 2006.
The son of poor Polish Jews, Aaron Spelling was born in Dallas, TX on April 22, 1923. He and his siblings, brothers Sam, Max and Daniel and sister, Becky, were among the few Jewish children in their neighborhood, and as a result, were frequently bullied because of their faith. Aaron suffered the most from the harassment, reportedly enduring a psychosomatic loss of mobility due to the intense trauma. The scrawny teen subsequently took off a year from school, where he became a voracious reader of fiction. Literature would become his primary focus upon his return to school, and his personal woes apparently dissipated by the time he entered Forest Avenue High School. After graduation, he joined the United States Air Force and served in World War II from 1942 to 1945, organizing theatrical productions for the soldiers. After his discharge, he remained in Europe for a year, allegedly studying at Sorbonne University, though in later interviews, he claimed that he spent the year traveling through southern Europe. Spelling returned to the United States in 1946, and enrolled in the journalism program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He also began writing plays, and won the Eugene O'Neill Award for Original One-Act Play in 1947 and 1948 before graduating in 1949.
After college, Spelling struggled to make his name as a playwright on Broadway while directing plays in Dallas. In 1953, he married aspiring actress and Texas native Carolyn Jones; shortly thereafter, the couple moved to California so both could pursue their showbiz dreams. In Los Angeles, he first worked as an actor, largely in bit roles and guest appearances on television, before selling his first Hollywood script to the drama anthology series "Fireside Theater" (a.k.a. "The Jane Wyman Show") (NBC, 1949-1963). He also contributed scripts to the acclaimed live drama "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961), among other programs, before joining Four Star Productions, a television production company launched by actor and director Dick Powell with fellow Hollywood stars David Niven and Charles Boyer. Under the Four Star umbrella, Spelling earned his first producer's credits. Among his early creations were the short-lived Western "Johnny Ringo" (CBS, 1959-1960) and "The Lloyd Bridges Show" (CBS, 1962-63), an anthology series for the former "Sea Hunt" (syndicated, 1957-1961) star that cast him as a writer who often imagined himself as the hero of his own stories. Neither were hits, but among the series Spelling produced for Four Star were such popular favorites as "Burke's Law" (ABC, 1963-65) and "Honey West" (ABC, 1965-66), as well as the troubled "Smothers Brothers Show" (CBS, 1965-66). Both epitomized Spelling's television output: lightweight entertainment, populated with attractive stars - Gene Barry on "Burke;" Anne Francis on "Honey West" - and a breezy tone driven by sly dialogue that occasionally bordered on camp.
In 1966, he parted ways with Four Star and teamed with comedian Danny Thomas to form Thomas-Spelling Productions. The company's initial offering, a comic Western with Tim Conway called "Rango" (ABC, 1967), was a dismal flop, but their follow-up "The Guns of Will Sonnett" (ABC, 1967-69), with veteran character actor Walter Brennan as an ex-cavalry scout searching for his wayward gunfighter offspring, was a modest hit. More successful was "The Mod Squad," a clever appropriation of the late '60s youth culture movement about a trio of troubled young people (Piggy Lipton, Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III) who serve as de facto police officers for the Los Angeles Police Department. The program earned three Golden Globe nods and an Emmy nomination for Best Drama Series. More importantly, the classic program showed a more socially concerned side to Spelling's work. Though he addressed issues of racism, political unrest, injustice and equality in broad terms, he was among the few television producers at that time with hit shows that bothered to tackle these subjects - let alone with a racially diverse cast.
While riding high with "The Mod Squad," Spelling attempted to strike lightning again with the youth market, but these secondary efforts - "The New People" (ABC, 1969-1970), a fantasy created by Rod Serling about a group of young plane crash survivors who attempt to establish their own society on a deserted island, and "The Young Rebels" (ABC, 1970-71), which pitted teenaged American colonists against the British during the Revolutionary War - could not duplicate the success of their predecessor. But "The Rookies" (ABC, 1972-76), a police drama again featuring Spelling's favorite arrangement - a trio of photogenic newcomers engaged in dangerous business - was a hit thanks to its mix of streetwise action and drama. The series also marked Spelling's first collaboration with actress Kate Jackson, who would subsequently appear in several Spelling-produced TV movies before experiencing global fame as one-third of "Charlie's Angels." In 1972, Spelling left Danny Thomas to open his own company, Aaron Spelling Productions (later Spelling Television), and set up a secondary company, Spelling-Goldberg Productions with producer Leonard Goldberg, who would co-produce some of his best-known shows and become almost as famous as Spelling.
The success of "The Rookies" was quickly followed by two more cop shows: "S.W.A.T." (ABC, 1975-76), which followed the action-packed adventures of a team of former Vietnam vets who worked as special tactical officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, while "Starsky and Hutch" featured two unorthodox police detectives (Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul) who tackled tough cases in the worst neighborhoods of L.A. Neither series was a critical favorite - television watchdog groups decried the exceptional violence in "S.W.A.T.," while "Starsky" was dismissed as escapist fluff - but both found favor with viewers. During this period, Spelling also produced an astonishing number of TV movies, some of high quality like "How Awful About Allan" (ABC, 1970) and "Savages" (ABC, 1974), while others oozed high camp, like "Satan's School for Girls" (ABC, 1973) and "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" (ABC, 1976), starring a pre-fame John Travolta. Spelling shrewdly shifted gears for his next series effort. "Family" (ABC, 1976-1980) attempted to tell the story of an average American family living in Southern California. Anchored by a superior cast that included stage veterans James Broderick and Sada Thompson, as well as Meredith Baxter and Kristy McNichol as their children, the series walked a fine line between heartfelt drama and melodrama, but critics and audiences were impressed. McNichol quickly rose to the ranks of teen idol, and earned two Emmys for her performance as Buddy Lawrence, while the series itself received three Humanitas Prizes and a slew of Emmy and Golden Globe nods. Off-camera, the program was embroiled in a lengthy and complex legal suit by writer Jeri Emmet Laird, who claimed that Spelling stole the idea for the show from her.
Spelling then returned to glitzier, gassier fare for his next program, probably the most iconic in his considerable pantheon. "Charlie's Angels" was initially built as a star-making vehicle for Kate Jackson as one of three attractive police academy grads hired by a mysterious benefactor (voiced by John Forsythe) to solve crimes. Joined by newcomers Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett-Majors, "Charlie's Angels" quickly vaulted to the top of the network ratings chart by virtue of its stars' physical beauty, which was frequently displayed in a variety of revealing outfits, causing TV reviewers to nickname it "jiggle TV." Within months - thanks to a red bathing suit poster and a feathered hairstyle copied 'round the world - it became clear to Spelling that the breakout star would not be the tomboyish Jackson, but the bosomy bombshell, Fawcett-Majors. Despite achieving overnight fame, its three stars felt exploited by the material, leading Fawcett-Majors to shockingly quit the series after its first season, which resulted in a lawsuit against her by Spelling for breach of contract. She was remarkably successfully replaced by another winsome blonde, Cheryl Ladd. Jackson departed under similarly unhappy circumstances at the end of the third season, forcing Spelling and Goldberg to unsuccessfully replace her with Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts in quick succession. The show collapsed at the end of its fifth season, a bonafide pop culture phenomenon, but also a harbinger of leering, exploitative television series like "Three's Company" (ABC, 1977-1984). However, so brilliant had its run been, the show was imbedded in Generation X's collective conscious as a beloved, glamorous touchstone from their childhood.
In 1977, Spelling launched "The Love Boat," a lighthearted comedy-drama about romantic entanglements among the crew and passengers of an ocean liner. Led by TV vets Gavin MacLeod and Bernie Kopell, "The Love Boat" was buoyed by a never-ending roster of guest stars culled from current entertainment, as well as Hollywood's golden era, who queued up to exchange helium-light sweet nothings aboard the "Pacific Princess." The series soon became a staple of Saturday evening fare, and was quickly joined by another Spelling series, "Fantasy Island" (ABC, 1978-1984). The latter program grafted a supernatural element onto the "Love Boat" format via the title location, an island paradise overseen by the mysterious Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban), who granted visitors their deepest fantasy, with the caveat that the results might not be what they had hoped for. Roarke's sidekick, Tattoo, played by diminutive actor Herve Villechaize, became one of the show's most popular elements, with his frequent cry of "De plane! De plane!" entering the pop culture lexicon. The series formed an unbeatable block on the Saturday night lineup for nearly a decade. By the time Spelling offered up "Vega$" (ABC, 1978-1981), a detective drama with "S.W.A.T." star Robert Urich as a dashing private eye in Sin City, the producer was responsible for nearly a third of ABC's primetime programming, prompting some wags to re-dub the company "Aaron's Broadcasting Company."
Spelling's winning streak continued unabated into the 1980s. "Hart to Hart" (ABC, 1979-1984) was based on a premise by author Sidney Sheldon about married spies; Spelling and Goldberg hired writer Tom Mankiewicz to update the story, which became a comedy-drama about a wealthy CEO (Robert Wagner) and his wife (Stefanie Powers) who solve crimes in their spare time. In a similar vein was "Matt Houston" (ABC, 1982-85), with Lee Horsley as a Texas oilman who sleuthed in his spare time. Meanwhile, "T.J. Hooker" (ABC, 1982-85) appeared to follow in the footsteps of Spelling's 1970s cop series, with William Shatner as a veteran plainclothes detective who returned to a street beat to fight crime with several new recruits. The latter series featured one of Spelling's many female discoveries, an actress named Heather Locklear, who had made her series debut the year before in his biggest hit of the decade, "Dynasty."
Created by Richard and Esther Shapiro, "Dynasty" was a sprawling primetime soap opera centered around oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), his new wife Krystle (Linda Evans), his brood of troubled adult children, and a vast extended family that came to include his first wife, Alexis (Joan Collins), who seemed hell-bent on bringing her former spouse to his knees. Collins' introduction in the series' second season helped boost its ratings, but the show's tone shifted from that of business intrigue to out-and-out camp, complete with absurd plot twists, freewheeling cat fights between Collins and Evans, and guest appearances from countless Hollywood names. The show hit its zenith in 1985 with the apparent massacre of all its major cast members during a wedding day attack by European terrorists. In reality, the stars' absence was forced by tense contract negotiations between Spelling and Collins, who demanded an astonishing $600,000 per episode. The show won two Golden Globes and four People's Choice Awards for Best Television Drama, as well as spawned a spin-off, "The Colbys" (ABC, 1985-87), starring Charlton Heston and Barbara Stanwyck, which also netted a Peoples Choice Award in 1986 before its swift demise. In 1991, Spelling scored huge ratings with "Dynasty: The Reunion" (ABC), which picked up two years after the final episode of the original series, and followed Blake Carrington's attempt to rebuild his empire and win back Krystle.
By the mid-1980s, Spelling was among the wealthiest executives in Hollywood. With his second wife, Candy, and their children, Tori and Randy, he resided in a massive 56,500 square foot home that was the largest in Los Angeles County. Its 123 rooms reportedly included an ice rink and an entire wing devoted solely to Candy Spelling's gift-wrapping obsession. Part of the funding for the prodigious building had come from Spelling making his production company public in 1986. By the late 1980s, his Spelling Productions was in possession of numerous smaller companies, including Laurel Entertainment and WorldVision Enterprises. Spelling had also branched into feature film production, with such theatrical releases as "Mr. Mom" (1983), "'Night, Mother" (1986) and "Soapdish" (1991), with Sally Field, Whoopi Goldberg and Robert Downey, Jr. In 1989, he won his first Emmy Award for producing "Day One" (CBS), a drama about the Manhattan Project and the building of the first atomic bomb.
In 1990, Spelling moved into youth entertainment with "Beverly Hills, 90210," a primetime series set at a high school in the wealthy Los Angeles neighborhood. Initially envisioned as a series built around real-life issues, Spelling and producing partner E. Duke Vincent revamped creator Darren Star's series into a hormonally driven, melodramatic soap opera along the lines of "Dynasty" for the younger set. The show, which pitted Midwestern transplants Shannen Doherty and Jason Priestly against the wealth and decadence of a gaggle of Beverly Hills teens - including Spelling's own daughter, Tori - quickly became a pop culture phenomenon, with Doherty, Priestley and co-leads Luke Perry and Jennie Garth rising to the top of the teen popularity charts. It also echoed "Dynasty" in its level of backstage machinations: Doherty proved to be a reluctant team player, and was removed from the show in 1994, while many of the stars rebelled against their newly minted teen idol status. Spelling and his daughter were consistently accused of nepotism, when Tori's acting was deemed embarrassing during the show's early years. His refusal to replace her did little to quiet his critics. Despite the headaches, the show proved to be a goldmine for Spelling, yielding not one, but two spin-off series.
The first was "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99), which followed the adult goings-on in an L.A.-based apartment complex inhabited by a host of well-scrubbed, upwardly mobile twenty-somethings. It too quickly evolved from drama to soap opera, with the good-looking cast hopping in and out of each other's beds like clockwork. The arrival of Heather Locklear as the scheming Amanda, who made life for Courtney Thorne-Smith's kindly Alison a living hell, signaled the show's full immersion into soap-dom, where it developed into a guilty pleasure for viewers and even a few critics. It too produced a spin-off, "Models Inc." (Fox, 1994-95), with "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-1991) star Linda Gray as the mother of Locklear's character and owner of a cutthroat modeling agency. Despite the presence of Gray and Emma Samms from "The Colbys," it failed to repeat the success of its franchise mate. Almost a world away from the confectionary plotting of "Melrose" and "90210" was "And the Band Played On" (HBO, 1993), Spelling's production of Randy Shilts' non-fiction book about the discovery of the AIDS virus and its explosion into a global pandemic. The feature won the Emmy for Outstanding Dramatic Film, along with a host of notable awards and nominations.
After several failed attempts to mount a new series, Spelling found another hit in "7th Heaven," a family-oriented drama about a minister (Stephen Collins) and his well-scrubbed, respectful family. Initially dismissed as toothless and square, it blossomed into one of the fledgling WB Network's biggest hits, as well as the longest- running family drama in television history then to date. The series was able to weather the departure of several key players, including co-star Jessica Biel, who infamously protested her character's lack of backbone by posing semi-nude in a men's magazine at the age of 16. Spelling quickly followed this with "Charmed" (The WB, 1998-2006), a sassy fantasy-drama about a trio of witches who balanced their fight against the forces of evil with everyday issues of romance and family. The series initially made headlines when Shannen Doherty was brought from the wilderness to reunite with Spelling; however, the actress departed the show after three seasons amidst yet again, accusations of diva behavior, and was replaced by Rose McGowan. "Charmed" enjoyed the highest rated debut of any show in The WB's history, and became one of its cornerstone hits.
While shepherding his latest flock of programs, Spelling also had a hand in seeing several of his veteran series make the transition to feature films. The first of these was "The Mod Squad" (1999), which updated the action to the present and starred Claire Danes, Omar Epps and Giovanni Ribisi as the new Squad. A dreadful script helped to sink the project, but the next effort, "Charlie's Angels" (2000), was a huge success. Produced by and starring Drew Barrymore with Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu, the film, directed by video helmer McG, took a tongue-in-cheek tone towards the material, which helped modern viewers get past the harebrained premise and leering tone of the original. John Forsythe's return as the voice of Charlie served as a welcome connection between the series and its new incarnation. A sequel, "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" (2003), which featured a cameo by Jaclyn Smith, repeated the box office success, if not the positive critical reaction. The following year, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson stepped into the flared pants of "Starsky & Hutch" (2004), a broad comic version of the cop show directed by Todd Phillips, which performed modestly at the box office.
Spelling continued to develop and produce series for television, but by 2000, with five decades of work in the medium behind him, he handed over the reins of Spelling television to E. Duke Vincent and company president Jonathan Levin. He also took time to reflect on his storied career in his 1996 autobiography, Aaron Spelling: A Prime-Time Life. From 1998 to 2000, he was feted by his industry with a host of awards, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Producers Guild of America's David Susskind Lifetime Achievement in Television Award in 2000. In 2001, Spelling was diagnosed with oral cancer, the result of a lifelong smoking habit. He continued to make appearances at Spelling Productions, but in 2006, he suffered a severe stroke at home and was hospitalized. At the time, he was enmeshed in an ugly legal suit by a former nurse, who charged him with sexual harassment and unlawful termination. Five days after the stroke, Spelling died and was entombed in a mausoleum at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City. A month later, he was feted by a galaxy of his former stars, including Joan Collins, Farrah Fawcett and Heather Locklear, at the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. Though he lived in the biggest home and enjoyed one of the most grandiose careers and lifestyles, it came as a surprise to some to hear virtually all of the actors who populated his many series speak of the quiet simplicity of the man and of his intense loyalty to his stable of stars. Whether they behaved or not, whether they were deemed out-of-style or not, he seemed to view them all as his children, which made his passing even more difficult.
Turmoil between Spelling's widow and daughter Tori dominated the news in the years following his death. The pair had become estranged due to many issues that had occurred while Spelling was still alive but ignited in the days following his death: Candy publicly claimed Tori's split from her Jewish husband for a married man, and her refusal to visit her ailing father had hastened her late husband's death. Tori let fly that her mother was nothing more than a "merry widow," claiming Candy had had an affair while her husband lay dying. The fracture grew even deeper when it was reported that Tori's inheritance from her father's $500 million estate was just $800,000 before taxes. In 2009, Candy put the home up for sale - at a price tag of $150 million, which made it the most expensive home in the United States. She told the press that she would not have put the house up for sale if she had had any connection with her daughter. By 2010, however, it was reported that the Spellings had resolved their differences, but while it lasted, the family's real-life soap opera shocked the country and dismayed all the actors who had grown to love Spelling as something of a father-figure, with many publicly decrying the mother-daughter war as something Spelling would never have wanted to happen in the wake of his death.
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CAST: (feature film)
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Although many sources list his birth year as 1928, those that say 1923 are probably correct. A 1928 birthday would have made him a 14-year-old war correspondent during World War II.
Spelling successfully underwent treatment for a throat lesion in summer 2001.
Spelling received a tribute at the 1991 People's Choice Awards (aired on March 17, 1992) citing his "innate sense of the public taste."
Spelling's very occasional feature film productions have included "Baby Blue Marine" (1975), "Mr. Mom" (1983), "'night, Mother" (1986), "Surrender" (1987), "Loose Cannons" (1989) and "Soapdish" (1991).
Reflecting on the premise of one his most popular TV series, "Charlie's Angels", Spelling mused: "We thought it was great camp--how can you really believe there were three young private detectives making $500 a week, wearing $10,000 Nolan Miller wardrobes and working for a man who was just a voice on the telephone?"
"I just got tired of the critics saying that I was the master of schlock. It didn't bother me until my kids began growing up and reading it. Well, I'm proud of those entertainment shows they call schlock." --Quoted in The New York Times, October 14, 1991.
"I came [to L.A. in 1953] from Dallas driving an old Plymouth. I had to eventually trade down--I got $150 in cash so I could live. [Now worth an estimated $235 million, Spelling is building a 57,000-square-foot house in Beverly Hills.] I have a recurring dream, my wife can vouch for this. I dream that I wake up and I'm back on Browder Street in Dallas, and none of this has ever really happened. Maybe that's why I'm so thin, because I sweat a lot, but that is my dream. That it's all a fantasy."
He was decorated with a Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster.
Honored with the NAACP Image Award at least six times (begining in 1970), a record unmatched by any other Hollywood producer
He was named Man of the Year by the Publicists Guild of America in 1971.
He was named Man of the Year by the B'nai B'rith Beverly Hills Chapter (1972 and 1985).
Named Humanitarian of the Year in 1983
In 1988, Spelling received the Winston Churchill Medal of Wisdom, a private humanitarian award previously given to Dwight Eisenhower, Gregory Peck and Bob Hope.
Honored with the Scopus Award by the American Friends of Hebrew University (Jerusalem) in 1993
Inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Hall of Fame in 1996
"Nowadays, people always say, how come he's doing such young shows? But they never mention 'The Mod Squad'. I was very proud of that show. It's the first time an African-American guy kissed a white girl, and they said, we'll lose our sponsors, and I said, well I'm not cutting it or I'll leave the show. What did I care? I wasn't married. I didn't have children then. And you know what? We didn't get a single letter, not a single sponsor dropped out, 'cause they realised it was not a sexual kiss but a friendship kiss. And I should say that in the show's five years, [the characters] never carried a gun or fired a gun." --Aaron Spelling quoted in Us, December 1996.
"I kind of got kicked out of Texas. I directed a play for a black high school while I was going to SMU, and [as a result] my father was fired from Sears. My sister went to see the people at Sears and said, 'If Aaron left town and he was never to return, would they hire [my father] back?' He was a good tailor, and they did. I was anxious to leave anyway." --Spelling quoted in Soap Opera Digest, October 7, 1997.
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