Stage and screen biographer Stephen M. Silverman dies at 71

Stage and screen biographer Stephen M. Silverman dies at 71

Stephen M. Silverman, a longtime entertainment reporter and author who wrote a critically acclaimed biography of notoriously reticent British director David Lean and an upcoming book about Broadway titan Stephen Sondheim, died July 6 in Manhattan. He was 71 years old.

His executor, Diane Reed, said he died in a hospital of kidney disease.

Mr. Silverman was once asked what he found to be the most common misconception about his beet. “That’s bullshit,” he told the website Muck Rack.

As a reporter, she wrote about Broadway and Hollywood for The New York Post from 1977 to 1988. He joined People magazine in 1995 as the founder of its website, originally called People Daily (now, and was its news editor for 20 years. He also elaborated Celebrity assignments for the site — Mickey Rourke being arrested, Betty White hosting “Saturday Night Live,” Halle Berry’s post-childbirth workout — and several stars’ obituaries written.

He idolized Mr. Lean, an accomplished filmmaker known for directing intimate films such as “Brief Encounter” (1945) and “Great Expectations” (1946), and epic films such as “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) and “Doctor Zhivago” (1965). Indeed, Mr. Silverman had a large poster of “Lawrence” hanging on a wall in his Manhattan apartment.

She spent time with the director in London, interviewing him several times during the 1980s for the book “David Lean” (1989), which was introduced by Katharine Hepburn.

“I think I met him at the right time,” he told United Press International. He explained why Mr. Lean, who was afraid of publicity, had agreed to talk to him. The stars of some of his films, including Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness and Julie Christie, also spoke to Mr Silverman.

“They all have such praise for him,” he said, but Omar Sharif said – as did some others, ‘I can’t believe David allowed a book.’ He has been approached for two decades, mostly by British journalists, and he has said no.

Film critic Jay Carr, reviewing “David Lean” in The Boston Globe, wrote that the “joy” of Mr. Silverman’s “chatty, uncommunicative survey of Lean and his films”, besides the fact that this is the first and perhaps the last to bring the notoriously taciturn Lean to talk for the record, lies in the behind-the-camera images that so effortlessly become part of Silverman’s diligent reporting and interviews.

Mr. Silverman also wrote a biography of by then movie mogul Darryl Zanuck and published several other books in the 1990s—about the Los Angeles Movie Palace, female comedians, and Stanley Donen, the master of the Hollywood musical, who directed “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954) and “Funny Face” (1957), among others.

In “Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and His Movies” (1996), Mr. Silverman’s authorized biography of the director, Mr. Donen was critical of Gene Kelly, with whom he shared the director’s chair on “On the Town” (1949) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952)—Mr. Kelly also starred in both—saying that Mr. Kelly was given more credit than his collaboration.

“If you substitute the word ‘fight’ for ‘co-direct,’ there you have it,” Mr. Donen said in the book. “This was not always the case with Jean, but gradually it became so and eventually it became impossible.”

Stephen Meredith Silverman was born on November 22, 1951 in West Covina, California. His father, Raymond, owned a grocery store and later a liquor store. His mother, Shirley (Garfin) Silverman, was a homemaker.

Stephen edited his high school newspaper and graduated in 1969. Four years later, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of California, Irvine, then earned a master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School in 1975.

In the 1980s, Mr. Silverman tried to produce a musical based on “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, a slapstick comedy about a pair of black characters that began on radio and moved to television before CBS pulled it from syndication in 1966 amid protests from civil rights groups who found it offensive. His hopes were dashed when a federal judge ruled in 1987 on a lawsuit filed by Mr. Silverman against CBS, barring him from using the show’s character names and other trademarked material.

Some of Mr. Silverman’s books differed from his entertainment expertise. In 2015, he and Rafael D. Silvera, a filmmaker, published “The Catskills: Its History and How It Changed America”. Mr. Silverman also wrote “The Amusement Parks: 900 Years of Thrills and Spills, and the Dreamers and Schemers Who Built Them” (2019).

When Interview On “CBS This Morning” at Luna Park in Coney Island, he described the appeal of a quintessential amusement park ride: “Even just a roller coaster, when you’re on top, you’re not thinking about paying the mortgage.”

He did not immediately leave any survivors.

After Mr. Sondheim’s death in late 2021, the publishing house Black Dog & Leventhal, part of the Hachette Book Group, asked Mr. Silverman to write a book about Mr. Sondheim – a mix of biography, analysis and opinion. Topic “Sondheim: His Life, His Shows, His Legacy,” The book is to be published in September.

Joe Davidson, his editor at Black Dog (which had published his Amusement Park book), said in a phone interview, “He really looked into everything Sondheim and his friends had written and talked to his friends and colleagues.”

In the book, Mr. Silverman describes Mr. Sondheim’s conflicts with Leonard Bernstein when he was composing “West Side Story,” which opened on Broadway in 1957. Mr. Sondheim, who was 27, wrote the lyrics; Mr. Bernstein, who was 39 at the time, wrote the music.

Mr. Silverman wrote, “What Sondheim didn’t like was Bernstein’s thinking of himself as a songwriter.” “He would sketch something that was purple prose, not poetry. It screamed, “Look at me, I’m being poetic!” Sondheim said.

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