Screen­writer who de­vel­oped ‘Par­tridge Fam­ily,’ ‘Fly­ing Nun’

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - OBITUARIES - By Har­ri­son Smith

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.”

DOUG GRIF­FIN/TORONTO STAR

Bernard Slade, a writer for the stage and screen, re­ceived Tony and Os­car nom­i­na­tions for “Same Time, Next Year.”

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