Mystery writerWilliam Link

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A writer, Link became friends with fellow student Richard Levinson on their first day of junior high school in Philadelphia. Their link wasn’t writing: they both were fond of magic, and other students insisted that they meet. But indeed they started writing together soon afterward. While students at the University of Pennsylvania, they sold their first short story, “Whistle While You Work”, for the November 1954 issue of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. The genre became a theme, but they found TV paid better: Alfred Hitchcock Presents bought their script “Day of Reckoning,” which aired in 1962. They wrote scripts for the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Dr. Kildare, and The Fugitive. They then turned to co-creating their own series, starting with Mannix (1967–1975), then Columbo (1968–2003), Ellery Queen (1975–1976), and Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996), as well as writing multiple theatrical and made-for-TV films. And they returned to their love of magic, writing the 1983 Broadway musical Merlin starring magician Doug Henning, which was nominated for several Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and the short-lived series Blacke’s Magic (1986.)

Link clowning around on the set with Columbo star Peter Falk (Photo: NBC/Universal)

The duo were three-time winners of the Edgar Award for Best TV Feature or MiniSeries Teleplay, and won the Mystery Writers of America’s Ellery Queen Award in 1989, which honors outstanding mystery writing teams. They were jointly inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1995, joining only two other writers, Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling. But Richard Levinson died suddenly of a heart attack in 1987, at 52. Link pressed on by himself, writing the script for the made-for-TV movie The Boys (1991), as well as returning to print, writing for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He also co-created (with writer David Black) The Cosby Mysteries (1994–1995), and wrote for multiple TV shows. After 55 years of professional writing, Link retired after writing the story for the short film Where Do the Balloons Go? (2009). “Bill’s truly good nature always inspired me to do good work,” said Steven Spielberg, who directed the first episode of Columbo. “Bill was one of my favorite and most patient teachers and, more than anything, I learned so much from him about the true anatomy of a plot.” William Theodore Link died from congestive heart failure in Los Angeles on December 27. He was 87.

From This is True for 3 January 2021