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Max Shulman, 69; Writer Noted for Comedy Works

Times Staff Writer

Comedy writer Max Shulman, creator of Dobie Gillis and author of numerous books and screenplays, died of cancer Sunday at his Hollywood home. He was 69.

The son of a Russian immigrant house painter, Shulman started his literary career writing for the campus humor magazine as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota.

A Doubleday editor was so impressed with the young writer that he encouraged Shulman to write his first novel, “Barefoot Boy With Cheek,” published in 1943. Novels, plays, screenplays, and television scripts followed, earning Shulman praise and success over his four-decade career.

Among his works were the books “Rally Round the Flag, Boys,” “Sleep Till Noon,” “I was a Teen-Age Dwarf,” and “Anyone Got a Match.” His Broadway credits included “How Now, Dow Jones” and “The Tender Trap.” Most recently, he and Julius Epstein wrote the screenplay for the 1978 Walter Matthau-Glenda Jackson comedy, “House Calls.”

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Shulman was perhaps best known for creating the starry-eyed comic character of Dobbie Gillis, about whom he wrote for years. “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” was published in 1953, “I Was a Teen-Age Dwarf"--also about Gillis--was published in 1959, and from 1959 to 1963 CBS carried the Gillis sitcom, the saga of young Gillis’ romantic heartaches and indecision about life.

Lauded as a master of the outrageous pun and verbal caricature, Shulman once said no type of writing commanded more serious attention than comedy.

“Facts are essential to comedy. Recognizable facts and verifiable details give the appearance of reality you need to make comedy stand up. . . . I don’t think there’s any kind of writing more serious than funny writing--nor more difficult or demanding of more dedication and work hours,” Shulman told an interviewer.

Topics ranging from young love to garbage disposal were grist for Shulman’s wit.

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“He was a unique comic voice in American letters,” said George Kirgo, West Coast president of the Writers Guild of America. “He’ll be sorely missed by the writing community and anybody who loved literature.”

Shulman moved to Los Angeles in 1974 after living for more than 25 years in Westport, Conn.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Gordon Shulman of Los Angeles, three sons, a daughter, a step-daughter, a sister and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Writers Guild Foundation.

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