Aaron Spelling with "Savannah" stars Shannon Sturges and Robyn Lively in 1996 (AP Photo / Craig T. Mathew)
With an astounding 218 writing and producing credits to his name – not to mention a host of early acting roles – Aaron Spelling arguably did more to shape television in the 20th Century than any other individual. His career ranged from the early Playhouse 90 live drama days all the way through the long-running family show 7th Heaven.
Spelling was born in Dallas, Texas to Jewish parents who’d emigrated from Russia and Poland. Constantly bullied by his classmates (it was not easy being Jewish in 1930s Texas), he developed a psychosomatic illness at age 8 and was bedridden for a year. He escaped into books, developing a fascination with storytelling that would serve him well later in life.
Spelling served in the Air Force during World War II and was awarded both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. After attending Southern Methodist University, he moved to New York and began looking for work as an actor and writer. His career was pretty much going nowhere until he and his first wife, actress Carolyn Jones (who audiences would later come to know as TV’s Morticia on The Addams Family), relocated to California in 1953.
His writing was still going nowhere, but he landed acting gigs, mainly in short-run Westerns but also successful shows like I Love Lucy, Dragnet and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Spelling wouldn’t see any of his scripts produced until 1957, when the Jane Wyman hosted Fireside Theatre produced his drama "Twenty Dollar Bride."
Spelling then worked for Dick Powell’s production company as a writer and producer. When Powell died in 1968, Spelling started his own company. Its first product was 1968’s The Mod Squad.
There was no looking back. Spelling went on to produce some of television’s best-loved (and most critically panned) TV shows, including Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Starsky & Hutch, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, 7th Heaven, Charmed, Melrose Place and, of course, Beverly Hills 90210, which featured his daughter Tori Spelling. Future stars like Ryan Seacrest, Matthew Perry, Seth Green, Hilary Swank and Jessica Alba all had cameo roles on 90210. Spelling also helped launch the careers of Joan Collins, Heather Locklear, Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith.
Spelling had so many shows in the '70s that people joked ABC stood for "Aaron’s Broadcasting Company." And to those who would accuse him of being a schlockmeister pandering to the lowest common jiggle television denominator, he could point to his 1993 Emmy-winning AIDS drama And the Band Played On, 1989’s Day One (an HBO docu-drama about the Manhattan Project), and the no fewer than six NAACP Image Awards he’d won.
His success allowed him to build The Manor, the largest single-family house in California with 56,000 square feet and 123 rooms, including bowling alley, gym, screening room and no less than three rooms set aside for the purpose of wrapping presents. (The Manor is now on the market, and can be yours for a cool $150 million).
Aaron Spelling died in his home on June 18, 2006.
You can celebrate 90210 Day by remembering him as you watch this clip.