Skip to main content

Playwright and screenwriter Bernard Slade is seen in a file photo.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Bernard Slade, a writer who created the enduring 1970s television series The Partridge Family, among other shows, and wrote one of the most successful plays in Broadway history, Same Time, Next Year, died Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 89.

His daughter, Laurie Newbound, said through a spokeswoman that the cause was complications of Lewy body dementia.

Mr. Slade was a stage actor and theatrical producer before he turned his attention to writing. After substantial success in Canada, he signed a contract with Screen Gems to write three television pilots a year.

With Harry Ackerman, he created Love on a Rooftop, a romantic comedy seen on ABC in the 1966-67 season. He fared somewhat better as a creator of The Flying Nun, which premiered in 1967 and ran for three seasons, advancing the career of its young star, Sally Field.

The Partridge Family, a comedy about a musical family that finds success as a pop band, made its debut in September, 1970, with Shirley Jones as the matriarch and the late David Cassidy playing the resident heartthrob.

“While in Canada, I had written a television play called The Big Coin Sound, which was about a vocal group,” Mr. Slade recalled in his memoirs, Shared Laughter (2000). “Then, one night, I happened to catch a family group called the Cowsills on The Tonight Show. Since The Sound of Music was enormously popular at the time, I thought the combination of original music and comedy could be very effective in a television series.”

The producers originally thought of casting some members of the Cowsills, but, as Mr. Slade put it, they “didn’t really fit into any of the characters that I had written,” and so Ms. Jones, Mr. Cassidy, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce and others were cast as the Partridges. The resulting show ran for four seasons on ABC, made a teenage idol out of Mr. Cassidy, spawned hit records and became a touchstone of 1970s kitsch.

Mr. Slade wrote a number of the show’s 96 episodes, but by the end of its run he had become disenchanted with television and had turned his attention back to his original interest: theatre. In 1975, he found spectacular success with Same Time, Next Year, a two-hander about a man and a woman, each married to someone else, who are having a very particular type of affair, meeting just once a year at the same inn.

The play – with Ellen Burstyn and Charles Grodin constituting the opening-night cast, and Gene Saks directing – ran for almost 3½ years. Clive Barnes, reviewing the premiere in The New York Times, was ecstatic.

“It is a delicious and very moral kind of immoral play,” he wrote. “It has wit, compassion, a sense of humour and a feel for nostalgia – who could ask for anything more? It restores one’s faith in the possibility of a commercially styled Broadway hit – for here is a play clearly geared for popularity that does not for one moment talk down to its audience.”

Mr. Slade’s first Broadway credit, it was nominated for a Tony Award for best play.

Same Time, Next Year, which ran for 1,453 performances on Broadway and had name actors replacing the original stars over the years, became a staple of theatres large and small, and is often described as one of the most-produced plays in the world. Mr. Slade adapted it into a 1978 movie, which starred Ms. Burstyn and Alan Alda. It was nominated for four Oscars.

Bernard Slade Newbound was born May 2, 1930, in St. Catharines, Ont. His parents, Frederick and Bessie Newbound, were British, and in 1935, they returned to England. During the Second World War, the family moved around constantly because of wartime evacuations; young Bernard attended 13 schools in seven years.

At 18, he returned to Canada, settling in Toronto and taking a job “working in a customs cage stamping little cards that came out of nowhere and went he knew not whither,” as Macleans magazine put it in 1975. He answered an ad for summer-stock actors, leading to numerous roles onstage and on television and radio in Canada.

In 1953, he married Jill Foster, an actor who had responded to that same summer-stock ad, and they ran a theatre in Vineland, Ont., for a time.

Mr. Slade’s writing credits in the early 1960s included several installments of the Canadian anthology series Playdate and Encounter. In 1964, he relocated to Los Angeles. In addition to his early breakthrough, Love on a Rooftop, he wrote 17 episodes of the popular comedy Bewitched in the mid-1960s. In the early seventies, he created and wrote episodes of The Girl With Something Extra, which also starred Ms. Field, and Bridget Loves Bernie.

Mr. Slade began writing Same Time, Next Year while waiting in an airport, sketching out the first scene on airline stationery. He wrote many other plays as well. One of them, Tribute, about a man who learns he has leukemia, opened on Broadway in June, 1978. It starred Jack Lemmon and ran for 212 performances. Mr. Lemmon also starred in a 1980 film version.

Mr. Slade had another Broadway success with Romantic Comedy, which opened in October, 1979, with Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins leading the cast.

“Writing for theatre is very public,” Mr. Slade told the Times as that play was getting ready to open. “You put it on the line each time. Elsewhere, you’re as good as your best play, but in America you seem to be only as good as your last.”

Romantic Comedy ran for almost a year, but Mr. Slade’s final Broadway effort, 1982′s Special Occasions, was a flop. It starred Richard Mulligan and Suzanne Pleshette, who was then well known from the popular 1970s TV series The Bob Newhart Show.

“It’s not nearly as amusing as The Bob Newhart Show,” Frank Rich wrote in the Times, “it’s just longer and more sparsely populated.”

It closed after the opening-night performance.

Mr. Slade’s wife died in 2017. In addition to his daughter, he leaves a sister, Shirley Rabone; a son, Chris Newbound; and four granddaughters.

In 1975, as he was transitioning out of TV writing, Mr. Slade acknowledged having some trepidation early in his career about the types of things he was writing.

“The closest I came to being embarrassed is when I wouldn’t tell people the title of what I was working on,” the Macleans article quoted him as saying. “I was ducking into doorways when I’d see friends. I mean, I did not want as an epitaph, ‘He Created The Flying Nun.”