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Television Producer Aaron Spelling Dies

6/24/2006 2:11 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF

Aaron SpellingLOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Aaron Spelling, a onetime movie bit player who created a massive number of hit series, from the vintage "Charlie's Angels" and "Dynasty" to "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place," died Friday, his publicist said. He was 83.

Spelling died at his home in Los Angeles after suffering a stroke on June 18, according to publicist Kevin Sasaki.

Spelling's other hit series included "Love Boat," "Fantasy Island," "Burke's Law," "The Mod Squad," "Starsky and Hutch," "T.J. Hooker," "Matt Houston," "Hart to Hart" and "Hotel." He kept his hand in 21st-century TV with series including "7th Heaven" and "Summerland."

He also produced more than 140 television movies. Among the most notable: "Death Sentence" (1974), Nick Nolte's first starring role; "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" (1976), John Travolta's first dramatic role; and "The Best Little Girl in the World" (1981), which starred Jennifer Jason Leigh.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Spelling provided series and movies exclusively for ABC and is credited for the network's rise to major status. Jokesters referred to it as "The Aaron Broadcasting Company."

Success was not without its thorns. TV critics denounced Spelling for fostering fluff and nighttime soap operas. He called his shows "mind candy"; critics referred to them as "mindless candy."

"The knocks by the critics bother you," he admitted in a 1986 interview with The Associated Press.

"But you have a choice of proving yourself to 300 critics or 30 million fans. You have to make a choice. I think you're also categorized by the critics. If you do something good they almost don't want to like it."

He liked to cite some of his more creditable achievements, like "Family" (1976-80), a drama about a middle-class family, and "The Best Little Girl in the World."

Among his prestige films for TV: "Day One" (1988), about an atomic blast in middle America; "And the Band Played On" (1992), based on Randy Shilts' book about the AIDS crisis.

Spelling had arrived in Hollywood virtually penniless in the early 1950s. By the 1980s, Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at $300 million. He enjoyed his status, working in a Hollywood office larger than those of golden-era moguls ("I'm slightly claustrophpobic," he explained.) He gifted his second wife, Candy, with a 40-carat diamond ring.

The Spellings' most publicized extravagance was their 56,500-square-foot French chateau in Holmby Hills.

The couple bought the former Bing Crosby estate for $10 million. It was leveled to the ground, along with two other houses. Construction cost was estimated at $12 million.

The two-story house reached a height of 51 feet. Among the features: an entire floor for closets, a one-lane bowling alley, plus the usual elements for the Hollywood rich -- pool, tennis court, gym, screening room. Built on rollers, it easily survived the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

The mansion dwarfed nearby estates, and the neighbors were furious. One woman won an injunction during construction, calling the place "Look-at-me-I'm-rich architecture."

Spelling grew up in a small frame house on Browder Street in Dallas "on the wrong side of the tracks," he wrote in his 1996 autobiography. He was the fourth son of immigrant Jews, his father from Poland, mother from Russia. The father's name, Spurling, was simplified to Spelling by an Ellis Island official.

Spelling enlisted in the Army Air Corps after graduating from high school in 1942.

"I grew up thinking 'Jew boy' was one word," the producer wrote in his memoir, "Aaron Spelling: A Prime-Time Life." He was considered strange by his Dallas schoolmates because his parents spoke Yiddish. He was subjected to anti-Semitic taunts and beatings on his way home from school.

At 8, the boy suffered what he termed a nervous breakdown, and he spent a year in bed. He later considered that period the birth of his creative urge. He fell in love with great storytellers, especially O. Henry. Of his early TV series he said, "They are all O. Henry short stories."

"I still have nightmares about being in a $6,000 house in Dallas, Texas," he remarked in a 1996 AP interview. "Wall-to-wall people, one bathroom. I was the one to go to the local bakery a block away on Saturday to get the day-old stuff."

After combat and organizing entertainment in Europe during the war, Spelling returned to Texas and enrolled at Southern Methodist University, where he wrote and directed plays. He continued working in local theatrics after graduating.

Finding no work in New York, Spelling moved to Los Angeles, where he staged plays and acted in more than 40 TV shows and 12 movies. His skinny frame suited him for the role of a ragged beggar in the MGM musical "Kismet." He worked for three weeks, repeating his one line: "Alms for the love of Allah."

The "Kismet" experience resulted in two decisions: he abandoned acting for the typewriter; he married a young actress he had been courting, Carolyn Jones. She became well-known, especially as Morticia in "The Addams Family" series. They divorced after 13 years, and she died of cancer in 1983.

Spelling's friendship with such actor-producers as Dick Powell, Jack Webb and Alan Ladd led to his rapid rise as a prolific writer and later producer of TV series. In 1960, Powell, head of Four Star Productions, hired him to produce shows for Powell himself, his wife June Allyson and Lloyd Bridges. "Burke's Law," with Gene Barry as a millionaire detective, became the first hit series Spelling created.

After Powell's death, Spelling teamed with Danny Thomas in a production company, scoring a huge success with "The Mod Squad," about a trio of youthful undercover cops. In 1969, Spelling began an exclusive contract with ABC, helping the network to rise from a low third place to the top of the network ratings. Former ABC programming chief Leonard Goldberg joined him as partner in 1972.

After ABC cancelled "Dynasty" in 1989 and his contract with the network had ended, Spelling found himself without a show on the air for the first time since 1960.

"I was so depressed, I would have quit, but I like TV too much," Spelling wrote in his memoir. Besides, his company had started issuing stock in 1986, and he had an obligation to his investors. After a year's respite, he returned with "Beverly Hills 90210," which helped launch the fledgling Fox Network into the bigtime. "Melrose Place" gave Fox another hit.

Throughout his career, Spelling maintained the same image: the skinny frame, slightly hawkish face. He usually posed with a pipe in his mouth, a custom he adopted early after seeing stars with pipes in fan magazine photos.

Spelling and his second wife, Candy, had two children, Tori (for Victoria), who became a star on the two Fox serials ("Now I'm known as Tori Spelling's father," he said in mock lament), and Randy, who appeared in the short-lived "Malibu Shores."

Spelling set a record of producing more than 3,000 TV shows. Besides the TV movies, he produced 10 theatrical films including "California Split," "Mr. Mom." "'night, Mother," "Loose Cannons" and "Soapdish."
42 COMMENTS

No Avatar
1.

Just me    

Wow I knew he created alot of hit tv shows but wow!!
What a list of accomplishments for entertainment.
I am sure his presence in that venue will be missed.
My thoughts are with his family. Death comes for us all we
just dont know when or how. At least he lived a full life.
Very interesting childhood background on him.

2942 days ago
2.

diane    

How sad this is. Despite her solo wedding and her apparent rift with her parents, it's tragic that the rest of her life Tori will be haunted by a selfish decision probably made out of spite. "Oh Daddy'll be okay--Dean and I can use a little break--after all, don't I have a right to a little happiness???"

Wow, Tori... alot could have been said in five days and now it never will be. I'm sure your Dad would have scripted a different ending... Rest in Peace.

2942 days ago
3.

andrew    

haha.. ur crazy. what are u talking about. im sure aaron was proud of tori until day he died. so shes had some relationship drama. who hasn't. at least shes not some coke whore like the rest of hollywood. my sympathy is with tori and her family...

tori.. im sure your dad died proud of you and your accomplishments.

2942 days ago
4.

diane    

I'm sure he loved her but come on... Proud of her what??? Her ACCOMPLISHMENTS??? Right... 90210, 90211, 90212...

Then there's that whole "dumping husband #1 for husband #2 while she was still married...breaking up a long-term year marriage with kids" thing...

Yeah, everyone has the right to be happy, but proud of her? I don't think so...

2942 days ago
5.

Diosa    

I loved Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 91210.

Aaron was brilliant and will be greatly missed! R.I.P

2942 days ago
6.

sean    

what an amazing man. television won't be the same without his pen...

2942 days ago
7.

Shannon    

He did great things for television. I loved a lot of his work. It's a sad loss.

2942 days ago
8.

Che    

May God bless the hearts who will miss him dearly, and may they find solice in the memories...

2942 days ago
9.

ed    

Hollywood has Lost a Good Man he Gave Work To A Lot Of People Actors and Actresse's Make God Laugh.To Spelling Family God Bless Our In Our Thought And Prayers.

God Bless And Shalom

2942 days ago
10.

Bzarb    

Diane, you are disgusting - a man died, if he and Tori were having problems it is very sad and unfortunate.....grow up.

2942 days ago
11.

Michael Russell    

www.spellingentertainment.com CHECK IT OUT!!!

2942 days ago
12.

Dee    

Great man R.I.P.

2942 days ago
13.

Lola Petterson    

My heartfelt prayers go out to the spelling family during this time. I grew up on Mr. Spellings shows and think hollywood lost a good one. He has remained committed to his family where as many hollywood folks think marriage is for a time of convience. God bless the spelling family and may the man rest in peace. It seems that is the way he lived his life...peaceful.

2942 days ago
14.

Jeff D    

Leave Tori alone! She just lost her wonderful father and he loved her very much. Obviously you people aren't too aware of the recent reconciliation between Tori and her father (but not her Mom). Google it and you'll see they were on good terms before his stroke. RIP Aaron, no one will ever come close to your accomplishments...........

2942 days ago
15.

Deb    

Sadly, according to the Los Angeles Times obituary.....Mr. Spelling had his wife Candy and his son Randy at his bedside at the time of his passing. His daughter Tori was apparently not there....how SAD!! Hopefully, she will not carry that regret with her for the rest of her life. I pray for Tori that she realize those things which are MOST important in life and come to her senses and make peace with those whom her current choices have affected. May GOD BLESS the entire Spelling Family and give them peace and comfort in dealing with this loss.

2942 days ago
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