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David Shaw, 90; prolific writer for TV's golden age, Broadway and film

July 30, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

David Shaw, a prolific writer from television's golden age who also wrote the film "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium" and Broadway plays, has died. He was 90.

Shaw, who was featured in the HBO documentary "Funny Old Guys," died in his sleep Friday at his home in Beverly Hills after a long illness, his family announced.

In the late 1940s, he followed his older brother, novelist and playwright Irwin Shaw, to Los Angeles and soon started working in television.

He had his greatest success in the 1950s and '60s, writing for such dramatic anthologies as "Playhouse 90" and the "Philco TV Playhouse," to which he contributed more teleplays than any other writer, according to the Archive of American Television.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 02, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
David Shaw obituary: The obituary of David Shaw, a writer for television, film and Broadway, in Monday's California section misspelled actress Vivien Leigh's first name as Vivian.

For "Playhouse 90," Shaw adapted "The 80-Yard Run," a short story by his brother that told the tale, in flashbacks, of a wife who matured while her husband remained a college boy. The Times' 1958 review said the "remarkable story," starring Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, had "the ingredients of a great show."

In the early 1960s, Shaw was a writer and story editor for "The Defenders." The CBS show starred E.G. Marshall and was known for addressing such issues as abortion and mercy killing at a time when most TV shows tried to avoid controversial topics.

Writer Frank Tarloff, Shaw's best friend since junior high, credited Shaw with helping save his career after Tarloff was blacklisted. Shaw and "Defenders" producer Reginald Rose hired blacklisted writers "every chance they got," Tarloff told the Hollywood Reporter in 1997.

For decades, Shaw and Tarloff had lunched every Tuesday at the Mulholland Tennis Club with a group of about eight veteran Hollywood writers and producers. In 1998, filmmaker David Zeiger made a documentary about the group, "Funny Old Guys" that also highlighted how they dealt with Tarloff's impending death from cancer, including staging Tarloff's memorial service while he was still alive.

"For lack of a better word, David was the most humble of all of the guys who were in the film," Zeiger told The Times on Sunday.

"None of them were trained writers, and this was actually a relatively easy way for them to make a living."

On Broadway, Shaw wrote the book for two original musical comedies, including "Redhead," which starred Gwen Verdon in a Tony Award-winning role and was named best musical in 1959. Vivian Leigh also won a Tony for Shaw's "Tovarich," a play about nobility exiled after the Russian Revolution.

Among the few film scripts Shaw wrote was "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," which starred Suzanne Pleshette. The Times' review praised the 1969 film about a whirlwind tour of Europe as "sharply observed and inventive without getting farcically impossible."

He was born Samuel David Shamforoff on Aug. 27, 1916, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Russian-Jewish immigrants. His father, William, was a milliner and his mother, Rose, was a homemaker. When he was a teenager, the family name was changed to Shaw.

In 1936, Shaw graduated from the Pratt Institute of art in Brooklyn, where he met his first wife, Vivian Rosenthal. She died in 1969.

After serving as a Morse Code operator in Africa in the Army Air Forces during World War II, he became a writer for episodic radio in New York, then moved to Los Angeles because he thought he could make a living as a comedy writer.

His last television project was writing for "The Mississippi," an early-1980s CBS series that starred Ralph Waite.

Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Shaw, then 88, told the American Archive of Television interviewer, "As a painter."

After retiring, Shaw had returned to the medium he considered his first love and regularly showed his Impressionistic-style work.

Shaw is survived by his wife, Maxine Stuart, an actress whom he married in 1973, and two daughters, Liz Baron of Dallas, owner of the Blue Mesa Grill restaurant chain, and Ellen Agress of New York City, deputy general counsel of News Corp.; a stepdaughter, Chris Ann Maxwell, vice president of Fox Searchlight Pictures; and four grandchildren.

Services are pending.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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