When acclaimed filmmaker Preston Sturges died suddenly of heart attack in 1959 at the age of 60, he left behind three children including Tom Sturges, who was only 3 years old at the time.
Fast forward nearly five decades.
Tom Sturges, a Manhattan Beach resident who made a name for himself in the music industry, stumbled upon a box of correspondence and journals in 2006. His deceased mother and Preston's fourth wife, Sandy Nagle, had kept it for decades unbeknownst to anyone.
“She hadn't shared these with anybody,” said Sturges.
“So suddenly we had the last 10 years of his life," Sturges said of his father.
"Nobody has access to those before. So with my co-writer (Nick Smedley), who did a lot of the hefty lifting on this book, we were able to put together these conversations that my parents were having. Ultimately, what this is for me is a search for my dad.”
Pages bookstore, located at 904 Manhattan Ave. in Manhattan Beach, will host Sturges for a question-and-answer session Thursday, Oct. 3, beginning at 7 p.m., for his new book, “Preston Sturges: The Last Years of Hollywood's First Writer-Director.”
John Ireland, the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers on the radio, will join Sturges for the interview. The event is free, but RSVPs are welcome.
Preston Sturges was one of the more celebrated writer/directors of the 1940s with films like “The Great McGinty,” “The Lady Eve,” “Sullivan's Travels,” “The Palm Beach Story,” “The Miracle of Morgan's Creek” and “Hail the Conquering Hero.”
The writer/director won the first Oscar for “Best Original Screenplay” for “The Great McGinty” in 1941. He is also credited as the first successful screenwriter to move into directing his own screenplays.
Because his parents were estranged, Sturges was a year old when he last saw his father.
“Yet people are still talking about him, all this time goes by and there's still this conversation,” Sturges said. “This is that final chapter, so I get to understand why my parents weren't together.”
Preston Sturges and Sandy Nagle, his fourth wife, were married for eight years when he died. Preston Sturges Jr. was born in 1953 and Thomas Preston Sturges was born on June 22, 1956.
Sturges said his parents' separation was never explained to either son, but with the discovery of the box of correspondence in 2006, things changed.
Nagle had kept every letter they had exchanged as well as all of the elder Sturges' journals. There was also a handwritten autobiography that Preston had written. Even with the letters, Sturges said some of the answers are incomplete “but I got some answers to what happened between the two.”
“Maybe my mom wanted to give me a rosy and romantic picture of what their final years together were like,” said Sturges. “There's a letter from her 'Please come home. Come back to us I'll give you another son... we'll create more screenplays. Let's see what we can do together.' For whatever reason he had, they never got back together. So I never saw him again, my brother never saw him.”
The book covers the years from 1949 to his death in 1959 and details the struggles Preston Sturges was having in his film career. During that decade, he had five films hit the theaters, but nothing of note.
Sturges said his father was “persistent, persevering and dedicated guy,” but teamwork was not his strong point. “He thought teamwork was everybody doing it his way.” Also, he smoked a lot and probably drank too much alcohol, said his son.
What contributed to his death, Sturges feels, was his separation from his wife and children during his time in Europe when he was trying to turn his career around. But during those 10 years, Preston Sturges wrote seven scripts, two plays, his autobiography, hundreds of story ideas and groups of inventions, from an escalator to trifocals.
“I don't think he wanted to come back to Hollywood unless he was a hero,” Sturges said. “I think he wanted to achieve success somewhere else and then return back to his glory days.”
Throughout his 30-plus years in the music industry, Tom Sturges served as the president of Chrysalis Music Group, vice president and head of creative for Universal Music Publishing Group, where he signed Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, 50 Cent and Stone Temple Pilots, and president/general manager of Shaquille O'Neal's Twism Records.
Sturges, who is also a philanthropist, has also published three other books including “Parking Lot Rules & 75 Other Ideas for Raising Amazing Children,” “Grow the Tree You Got: & 99 Other Ideas for Raising Amazing Adolescents and Teenagers,” and “Every Idea is a Good Idea: Be Creative Anytime, Anywhere.”
Sturges did not take the career route of his father, but he's always worshiped him and his accomplishments.
“Everybody who's ever been turned down on any project will see in this story a sympathetic, a harmonic vibration... he was working his ass off but he... never stopped,” Sturges said.
For more information about Tom Sturges at Pages, visit pagesabookstore.com.