Bernard Slade, the actor-turned-writer who crafted the enduring romantic comedy “Same Time, Next Year” about a lovable pair of adulterers and wrote the script for the pop music sitcom “The Partridge Family,” has died at his home in Beverly Hills.
Slade, who had been suffering from Lewy body dementia, died Wednesday, said Jo-Ann Geffen, his publicist. He was 89.
“Same Time, Next Year” was both a runaway hit on Broadway, where it was performed 1,453 times, and an Academy-nominated success story as a 1978 film. Ellen Burstyn won the Golden Globe for best actress for her portrayal of Doris, a married woman who has a once-a-year affair with a married accountant from New Jersey named George, played by Alan Alda. Slade and Burstyn were both nominated for Oscars and Alda a Golden Globe.
Slade, who knew the theme for his play might not pass the taste test with each and every audience, said he was astounded at the play’s durability. He said he figured it might run a month or two. Instead it became a global favorite, performed from Boston to Budapest over the decades.
He was also amused that the story seemed to resonate on a personal level with some viewers.
“I felt I was writing a fantasy,” he told The Times in 1996. “Then I start to get letters from people that had had this sort of relationship.”
Born Bernard Slade Newbound on May 2, 1930, in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada — not far from Niagara Falls — Slade was one of three children and the lone son of Frederick and Bessie Newbound. The family returned to its native England when Slade was 5 and his youth was shaped by World War II.
The family moved frequently and Slade said his confidence was eroded by a constant sense of fear and uncertainty. He attended 13 schools in seven years, an educational whirlwind that left him feeling like an evacuee.
“Always the ‘new boy,’ both extremely shy and gregarious, I evolved a personality of the class wit,” he said.
He moved to Toronto as a teen, determined to become an actor. He did community theater, television and radio while writing a draft of “The Prizewinner,” a teleplay he hoped would give him the lead role that had so far eluded him. But it never happened, and Slade decided that writing — not acting — might offer a better and more lucrative career.
Slade wrote television episodes by the dozens before landing in Hollywood as a story editor for “Bewitched,” a lightly regarded but long-running 1960s sitcom. He followed with “The Flying Nun,” “Bridget Loves Bernie” and “The Partridge Family,” which starred Shirley Jones and emerging heartthrob David Cassidy. Slade said he loosely based the series on the Cowsills, a musical family popular at the time.
Weary with the tight reins the networks kept on his scripts, Slade returned to theater in 1975 with “Same Time, Next Year,” the story of two married people who have an affair and then agree to meet up each year at the same time and the same place, a cozy bed-and-breakfast outside Mendocino, Calif. As the years, and then the decades slide by, the domestic lives of the two unfold — a son lost in the Vietnam War, shifting political beliefs, marital turbulence, cancer.
Bernard Slade, the Canadian writer and playwright who created The Partridge Family, died this week at the age of 89, according to media reports. In 1978, he told @CBC's Front Page Challenge panel why he preferred working in the theatre. pic.twitter.com/qs5qrjGahT— CBC Archives (@cbc_archives) October 31, 2019
Though some critics dismissed it as being overly nostalgic and somewhat predictable, there was an earnestness and effervescence to the play that audiences found irresistible. Its storyline was an easy fit in nearly every culture and, with time, it arguably became the most produced two-character play in modern times. And it made millions.
When it opened on Broadway, the leads went to Burstyn and Charles Grodin, the former sticking with the script when it was turned into a movie three years later. The play was nominated for a Tony Award.
Slade followed with “Tribute,” which starred Jack Lemmon when it opened and then “Romantic Comedy” with Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins. In 1996, he returned to Doris and George with “Same Time, Another Year,” catching up with the now-aging couple. He said that for years Burstyn had urged him to write a sequel.
“I really didn’t want to do it at that point,” he said of her prodding. “I thought I’d explored those characters.”
But he relented and discovered that as he had aged, so too had his characters, in whom he found new dimensions and frailties. Over the years, he wrote more than a dozen plays.
Slade’s wife of 64 years, actress Jill Foster, died in 2017. He is survived by a sister, Shirley Rabone; two children, Laurie and Chris; and four grandchildren, Caitlin, Madison, Emma and Hailey.