SOL SAKS, CREATOR OF BEWITCHED TV SERIES, HAS DIED AT 100
Los Angeles, Ca. – Sol Saks, renowned radio, film, television writer and producer, and playwright, who created the popular TV comedy “Bewitched” has died. He was 100. Mr. Saks died at Sherman Oaks hospital after going into respiratory arrest due to pneumonia.
Born in New York City Dec. 13, 1910, Mr. Saks’ family intended to move to California in 1913, but stopped in Chicago. By the age of 13, Mr. Saks knew he wanted to be a writer. He attended Harrison High School and Northwestern University in Chicago, studying journalism and writing a weekly column for the university’s newspaper, The Outlook.
Mr. Saks worked in one of four family paint stores during high school and college. He was the only child of six to leave the business. In 1938 he answered an ad to land his first newspaper job in Dunsmuir, Ca., a small town that centered on a major northern train hub. For one year, he wrote, sold advertising, drank his first scotch and made life-long friends. He relinquished his position to the owner’s daughter, returning to Chicago.
Wanting to earn a living as a writer, Mr. Saks turned to radio, selling his first scripts about cowboys and airplanes even though he knew nothing about them. Although he preferred to write drama, comedy was where he could make money. “It had the shortest line.” This led to the popular radio shows in Chicago and Los Angeles including Duffy’s Tavern (1943-44), The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett (1945-47), The Dinah Shore Show, The Danny Kaye Show, Fanny Brice’s The Baby Snooks Show (1944-45), and Beulah (1949-52) starring Hattie McDaniel.
An advocate for writers’ credits, Mr. Saks’ early writing career went unrecognized. Working in radio, he and his colleagues weren’t known or seen by the actors. If they wanted to see the show, they had to stand in line with the audience. If tickets weren’t available, the writers would go to a bar and listen to see if their lines were used, to see if they would be picked up for the following week. In television, he sought to add all writers’ names to the credits, and attended rehearsals for script approvals.
In television, Mr. Saks’ first script sold for $20 in Chicago to then-run sponsors of shows. There were less than 200 televisions in the city.
With radio in decline, Mr. Saks had to make a decision. He could move to New York for work in theater or to Los Angeles for work in television—he headed west because he thought the drive would be more interesting.
Arriving in Los Angeles in 1945, Mr. Saks wrote briefly for the Red Skelton show and moved on to write for Duffy’s Tavern, collaborating with a team of writers, led by the legendary Abe Burrows. Both were irascible. Working days grew longer, up to 30 hours, as broadcast time approached, often with little produced earlier in the week. After Mr. Saks complained, Mr. Burrows said, “Listen Sol, this isn’t the dry goods business.” Mr. Saks replied, “If these are the hours, I’m going into the dry goods business.”
This set up a steadfast work routine that served Mr. Saks well. He chose to work alone, writing each day from 9am to 1pm, first at home with two young children, then in a rented office with nothing but a table, chair and typewriter. He said the most important point was to stop working at 1pm, in order to produce more work in the time allotted. He never thought of himself as a better writer, but as a disciplined writer, willing to work harder than most.
Mr. Saks was the writer of such beloved television series including My Favorite Husband (1953-55), Mr. Adams and Eve starring Ida Lupino and Howard Duff (1957-58), I Married Joan (1952-55), and the popular Bewitched (1964-72) with Elizabeth Montgomery.
Becoming good friends with Ms. Lupino and Mr. Duff, he would meet with them once a week at their home to come up with a show’s premise. One time the maid came in talking about a horse in the second race, and a gambling housekeeper became the next week’s show.
With great television success, CBS created a position for Mr. Saks as Executive Producer for Comedy Production in the mid 1960s, overseeing such shows as Gilligan’s Island and working with writers and their scripts. It was well known he preferred working with the writers over company politics. He left the post three years later to continue his own writing.
In film, Mr. Saks wrote Cary Grant’s last movie Walk, Don’t Run (1966). While shooting in Japan for three months, Mr. Saks became friends with Cary Grant. Mr. Saks’ casual lifestyle was counterpoint to Mr. Grant’s elegance. Mr. Saks broke from his jeans and t-shirt and wore a suit to dinner, only to realize the pants didn’t match the jacket. When he asked Mr. Grant if he had noticed, Mr. Grant replied, “I only notice if it does match.” Returning to Los Angeles, the two remained good friends, going to Dodger games together.
Mr. Saks’ greatest passion was theater. He often wondered what would have happened if he had moved to New York rather than Los Angeles in 1946. He wrote numerous plays throughout his life, and most were staged after his work in television, including A Dream of Butterflies (Theater West, Los Angeles, 2004), Faces of Love (TW, 1994), Soft Remembrance (Wisdom Bridge Theater, Chicago, 1991), and The Beginning, the Middle, and the End (TW, 1971).
Teaching writing gratified Mr. Saks throughout his life, leading workshops at home and at Cal State Northridge and Pepperdine Universities. A long-time member of Theater West, Mr. Saks moderated their writers’ workshop for more than a decade.
After reading and disliking books on writing, Mr. Saks wrote The Craft of Comedy Writing (Writers Digest, 1985), with a second edition Funny Business, the Craft of Comedy Writing (Lone Eagle, 1991). He said everyone has a story to tell, but they complicate it with too much information, too many words. He believed simplicity is key, saying “Writing is a craft, like carpentry. Learn your craft.”
Mr. Saks wrote original work up to one month before his passing, submitting articles, staging readings, and constantly editing down his scripts.
Mr. Saks is survived by his second wife Sandra Wagner, daughter Mary Spivey, son Dan Saks, granddaughters Erin Krenzien and Laura Spivey, and great grandsons Logan and Devin Krenzien. Mr. Saks’s first wife, Anne, passed in 1972.
Mr. Saks requested no funeral services. He had celebrated his 100th birthday in December with a lavish party for 165 family members and friends from around the world at his Sherman Oaks home, calling it a living memorial. However, a memorial website is set up at Legacy.com.
Media can reach Mr. Saks’ colleagues for comments, including Norman Lear, Sherwood Schwartz, Paul Wayne, Hal Kanter and Bob Schiller. Contact information available upon request.
A 2009 Emmy archive interview can be viewed on their website, www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/sol-saks.