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TV producer Aaron Spelling dies at 83

Los Angeles- One of the most prolific TV producers in history, Spelling chafed at the lowbrow label critics assigned his many hit series. He called his shows “mind candy” while critics referred to them as “mindless candy.”

Spelling died Friday at his Los Angeles mansion after suffering a stroke on June 18, according to publicist Kevin Sasaki. He was 83.

“The knocks by the critics bother you,” the man behind “Melrose Place” and “Dynasty” told The Associated Press in a 1986 interview.

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

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.” Most recently he produced “7th Heaven” and “Summerland.”

He also produced more than 140 television movies. Among the most notable: “Death Sentence” (1974), “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” (1976) and “The Best Little Girl in the World” (1981).

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.”

“Aaron’s contributions in television are unequaled. To me, he was a dear friend and a truly genuine human being,” Jaclyn Smith, the only original “Charlie’s Angels” actress who stayed with the show for its entire run, said in a statement Friday.

Spelling 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” (1989), about the making of the atomic bomb; “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 gave his second wife, Candy, 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 and leveled it to the ground, along with two other houses. Construction cost was estimated at $12 million.

Born on April 22, 1923, Spelling grew up in a small house 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.

At 8, he suffered what he termed a nervous breakdown and spent a year in bed. He later considered that period the birth of his creative urge.

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

After combat and organizing entertainment in Europe during the war, he 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 beggar in the MGM musical “Kismet.” He worked for three weeks, repeating his one line: “Alms for the love of Allah.”

That experience resulted in two decisions: he abandoned acting for the typewriter; he married a young actress he had been courting, Carolyn Jones, who played 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. “Burke’s Law” became the first hit series Spelling created.

After Powell’s death, Spelling teamed with Danny Thomas, scoring a huge success with “The Mod Squad.” In 1969, Spelling began an exclusive contract with ABC. Former ABC programming chief Leonard Goldberg joined him as partner in 1972.

After ABC canceled “Dynasty” in 1989 and his contract with the network 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. After a year’s respite, he returned with “Beverly Hills 90210,” which helped launch the fledgling Fox Network. “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, who became a star on the two Fox serials, and Randy, who appeared in the short-lived “Malibu Shores.”

Memorial services were pending.

 

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