Screenwriter who developed ‘Partridge Family,’ ‘Flying Nun’
Bernard Slade, 89, a Canadian writer for the stage and screen who created “The Partridge Family” for television and earned Tony and Oscar nominations for “Same Time, Next Year,” an adulterous romantic comedy that became one of Broadway’s most popular two-handers, died Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, California.
The cause was complications from Lewy body dementia, said his literary agent, Charlie Van Nostrand.
Slade was initially an actor who performed in more than 200 Canadian radio, television and stage productions before turning to writing at age 27, penning witty, romantic teleplays that landed him a job with the production company Screen Gems. He soon dashed off 17 episodes of “Bewitched,” starring Elizabeth Montgomery as a married witch in the suburbs.
Based in Los Angeles, he went on to develop or create a slew of 1960s and ’70s sitcoms, including “Love on a Rooftop,” about newlyweds in San Francisco, and “The Flying Nun,” which starred Sally Field as a novice nun who — through the grace of God and, somehow, the laws of physics — could catch a breeze and fly.
As she explained it, “When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly.”
Slade had considered developing a new sitcom using music when he saw six singing siblings and their mother perform on “The Tonight Show” hosted by Johnny Carson. The group, called the Cowsills, inspired “The Partridge Family,” which premiered on ABC in 1970 and ran for four seasons.
Like “The Monkees,” a popular ’60s series about a manufactured pop band, “The Partridge Family” mixed typical sitcom plots with original musical numbers, including “I Think I Love You” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted,” largely recorded by professional musicians.
The series starred Oscarwinning actress Shirley Jones as the mother of five musically gifted children, played by Susan Dey, Suzanne Crough, Jeremy Gelbwaks (later replaced by Brian Forster), Danny Bonaduce and David Cassidy, who became a teen idol as the Partridge Family’s shaggy-haired guitarist, Keith.
Slade returned to theatrical work after he grew tired of battling with television executives; after one spat, he decided to seek refuge in Hawaii and began writing a play during his flight to Honolulu. By the time he landed, he had drafted the first act of “Same Time, Next Year,” which premiered on Broadway in 1975 and ran for 1,453 performances.
The play followed a California housewife and married New Jersey accountant who have a one-night stand at a country inn, then return to renew their affair one weekend each year for two decades. Its structure recalled Jan de Hartog’s Tony-winning 1951 play, “The Fourposter,” which tracked a married couple over 35 years, while “Same Time, Next Year” also touched on the Vietnam War, women’s liberation and America’s shifting social values.
The Broadway production starred Ellen Burstyn, who won a Tony and later received an Oscar nomination in the film adaptation, and Charles Grodin. He was replaced by Alan Alda in the 1978 film, which earned Slade an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay. He lost to Oliver Stone for “Midnight Express” and lost the Tony for best play to Peter Shaffer for “Equus.”
Slade quickly returned to Broadway with two more plays: “Tribute” (1978), which starred Jack Lemmon, and “Romantic Comedy” (1979), featuring Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins.
“Comedy, when done well, looks easy and seems light and frivolous,” he wrote in a 2000 memoir, “Shared Laughter.” “Well, what’s wrong with frivolous? I’ve always believed that laughter is the perfume of life — it makes life bearable. Please ... send in the clowns.”
Bernard Slade, a writer for the stage and screen, received Tony and Oscar nominations for “Same Time, Next Year.”