Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Missing Link

Here are five words I hoped never to type: William Link has passed away. As Deadline reports, the renowned Pennsylvania-born screenwriter and producer was 87 years old when he died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles this last Sunday, December 27. Deadline’s obituary goes on to explain:
In a career spanning more than 60 years, Link was best known for his collaboration with the late Richard Levinson. The two—who first met at the age of 14 and began collaborating almost immediately on stories, radio scripts, and dramas—saw television’s potential to capture the current scene and contribute to the national discussion about such subjects as race relations, student unrest, and gun violence.

Co-created by Link and Levinson,
Columbo, starring Peter Falk as LAPD homicide detective Columbo, aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978. The character and show popularized the inverted detective story format, which begins by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator.
Of course, over the four-decades-long span of his TV writing career, Link gave viewers much more than just Columbo (for which he co-wrote only a single episode—the figurative first pilot, 1968’s Prescription: Murder). With Levinson (1934-1987), he scripted installments of weekly shows such as Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Michael Shayne, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Burke’s Law, Honey West, and “wheel series” including McCloud, The Name of the Game, The Psychiatrist, and San Francisco International Airport. The pair also created memorable crime dramas, among them Mannix, Tenafly, Ellery Queen, Blacke’s Magic, and Murder, She Wrote. In addition, Deadline explains, the prolific pair
co-created several groundbreaking television movies including My Sweet Charlie (1970), about the burgeoning friendship between a white pregnant runaway in her late teens and an African American lawyer wrongly accused of murder; That Certain Summer (1972), one of television’s first sympathetic portrayals of homosexuality; and The Execution of Private Slovik (1974), a powerful account of the only soldier executed for desertion during World War II. Both of the latter films featured a young Martin Sheen.

In addition to their television work, Link and Levinson wrote the scripts for the feature films
The Hindenburg (1975), Rollercoaster (1977), and Steve McQueen’s last film, The Hunter (1980).
Although Link was less familiar for his short stories, he and Levinson—both of whom had grown up as Ellery Queen followers—made their first professional sale as writers to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, providing a tale called “Whistle While You Work” to that monthly’s November 1954 issue. Much later, publisher Crippen & Landru released The Columbo Collection (2010), offering a dozen new mystery yarns starring Falk’s police protagonist. Back when that book debuted, Link said, “I’ve already got enough [other Columbo stories] for a follow-up book.” Perhaps this author’s demise will convince Crippen & Landru to procure those for a sequel. We can only hope.

I didn’t know Bill Link well. But I treasure the fact that I knew him at all. I grew up as a fan of Columbo, and to a lesser extent James McEachin’s Tenafly. Later, thanks to YouTube, I enjoyed many of the Levinson and Link teleflicks. In 2010, I convinced Link to let me interview him for The Rap Sheet, the results of which are here. As I recall, I spent a good hour and half on the telephone with him (he preferred talking to answering questions via e-mail), and was thrilled to chat with this man who’d given me so many entertaining hours in front of the boob tube. Later that same year I finally met Link (and his wife, Margery Nelson) in person at Bouchercon in San Francisco, which I consider one of that convention’s highlights. He came across as warm, thoughtful, and happy to relive the triumphs and vicissitudes of his years making television history.

Link and Levinson won diverse commendations during their collaborating years, among them Emmys, Golden Globes, and Edgars. In 2018, Link was presented with the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America for “lifetime achievement and consistent quality.” (Click here to watch his acceptance speech.) But it seemed to me that Bill Link most prized the knowledge that other people remained fond of and curious about his work. He can rest (in peace) assured that, for me at least, that will always be the case.

READ MORE:Thanks for the Memories: R.I.P., William Link” (The Columbophile); “William Link, Columbo and Murder, She Wrote Co-Creator, Dies at 87,” by Eli Countryman (Variety).

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