Link and Richard Levinson formed one of the most notable writing
and producing teams in the history of U.S. television. Working in
both series and made-for-television movie forms, they moved easily
from what they considered light entertainment to the exploration
of serious and immensely complicated social problems. Their collaboration
was of much longer standing than even their television careers suggest,
for they had begun to work together in the early years of high school
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Even at that time the two wrote plays
together, inspired by radio dramas which they frequently wire recorded.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and completing
service in the U.S. Army, they quickly formed an adult partnership
that was to last until Richard Levinson's death in 1987. Intent
upon building a career in television, they followed the migration
of talent to California in 1960 and were quickly identified for
almost ten years of working with series television the "boys," as
they were identified by Martin Sheen, who often starred in their
movies, began to explore "social issues." It may have begun with
their questions regarding the violence of television shows such
as Mannix, their own creation. As Link put it in an interview,
"Dick and I did not know whether television violence had an effect
or not, but we just decided we were not going to do that kind of
writing anymore." Columbo was the natural answer. In Link's
words, "It portrayed a bloodless murder followed by a cat and mouse
game. Columbo was a meat and potatoes cop who brought low the rich
partners made these social concerns explicit in the character of
Ira Davidson, central figure in their made-for-television movie,
The Storyteller (1977). In that piece Davidson, a television
writer, engages his producer in a debate about TV violence. The
producer questions the writer's deletion of violent scenes from
his original treatment. Davidson replies that he could tell the
story just as well without vehicular mayhem. The producer then accuses
him of acquiring a conscience just when non-violence was fashionable
and insists he does not want the PTA or anyone else telling him
what kind of television to make. He wants to use violence when it
works for the plot without interference from the network. Ira responds,
"Agreed." Surprised, the producer says, "Agreed? but I thought ....."
Ira ends the discussion by stating, "I was telling you what I am
going to do. What you do is your business."
those social dramas Link commented, "The best things come to you--they
fall into your hand or you see a human life situation like That
Certain Summer and you say that would make a good drama. It's
hard to begin by saying 'Let's do a social drama.' These things
just occur to you." Of course, Link would admit that they "just
occur" to him because of who he is and what he thinks.
philosophy of film making is summed up in remarks made in the early
1980s. "In the films where we have serious intentions, we tend to
understate. This comes from a feeling that if you're going to deal
with subjects such as homosexuality, or race relations, or gun control,
you should show some aesthetic restraint and not wallow in these
materials like a kid who's permitted to write dirty words on a wall.
Our approach is that if you're going to use these controversial
subjects--play against them. Don't be so excited by your freedom
that you go for the obvious. The danger, of course, is that sometimes
you get so muted that you boil out the drama. In The Storyteller
we were so concerned with being fair and with balance that we lost
energy and dramatic impact."
Link spoke movingly about Richard Levinson upon their induction
into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995 the extremely difficult
task of admitting to himself that there was no longer "Link and
Levinson" was completed. Even as he oversaw the final production
of United States vs. Salaam Ajami (aired as Hostile Witness),
that fact had perhaps led to reviving a story idea which Levinson
wrote and produced The Boys dealing with a writing partnership
in which one man smokes, but the other does not, but who informs
his colleague that he has contracted cancer from second-hand cigarette
smoke. Here was a social drama on at two levels. While not strictly
autobiographical, the drama was surely related to individual experience.
Levinson smoked heavily during most of his adult years, and the
practice most probably shortened his life. The Boys, then,
was personal, but it also dealt with a real social issue.
Levinson's death Link remained active as a writer-producer at Universal,
working on new stories for Columbo. By continuing to hold
to the producer credit he held creative control over the words.
As Link expressed it in an interview, "We produce for two reasons.
One is to protect the material. And the second is that we've discovered
that producing is an extension of writing. The day before they're
going to shoot it you walk on a set designed for a character you've
written. You say to the art director, 'The man we've written would
not have these paintings. He would not have that dreadful objet
d'art sitting there. It's much too cluttered for a guy of his
sensibilities. So clean out the set. . . .' We created that person
as a character. We're also interested in how it's extended."
the late 1980s Link served as supervising executive producer of
The ABC Mystery Movie. Leaving Universal in 1991, he became
executive producer and writer for The Cosby Mysteries on
NBC. He also became an actor in the series when Bill Cosby insisted
on casting him as a saxophone instructor for Cosby's character.
Appearing infrequently, Link was a natural for the part.
the season of 1996-97 approached Link was working on a two hour
pilot for a light mystery series for ABC, a series of movies featuring
Michael Caine as, if Link has his way, Alex Risk. He was also developing
a series of movies featuring the novels of Jonathan Kellerman, the
first of which was Bad Love.
Link has a lively sense of humor and frequently employs it to assail
what he perceives as the current decay of the industry he loves.
He is an avid reader of mysteries, extremely knowledgeable concerning
music and cinema, and an active collector of Latin American art.
He and his wife, Margery Link, live surrounded by the collection.
LINK. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., 15 December
1933. Educated at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
B.S. 1956. Served in U.S. Army, 1956-58. Married: Margery Nelson,
1980. Scriptwriter with his partner Richard Levinson for many television
series; with Levinson created a number of television series; also
with Levinson wrote and produced a list of made-for-television movies
dealing with social problems; wrote The Boys, 1991, loosely based
on the partnership with Levinson; writer-producer, The Cosby Mysteries,
1994-95; as actor, appeared as Sapolsky in The Cosby Mysteries,
1994; producer of television series and made-for-television movies,
from 1995. Recipient (all with Richard Levinson): Emmy Award, 1970,
1972; Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People, 1970; Golden Globe Award, 1972; Silver Nymph Award, Monte
Carlo Film Festival, 1973; Peabody Award, 1974; Edgar Awards, Mystery
Writers of America, 1979, 1980, 1983; Christopher Award, 1981; Paddy
Chayefsky Laurel Award, Writers Guild of America, 1986; Ellery Queen
Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1989, for lifetime contribution
to the art of the mystery; Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
Television Hall of Fame, 1995.
The Cosby Mysteries
SERIES (episodes written with Richard Levinson; selection)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
1958-60 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse
1961-77 Dr. Kildare
1963-67 The Fugitive
TELEVISION SERIES (created with Richard Levinson)
1969-73 The Bold Ones
1975-76 Ellery Queen
1984-- Murder, She Wrote
The ABC Mystery Movie
1991 The Boys
MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES (with Richard Levinson)
1969 The Whole World is Watching
1970 My Sweet Charlie
1971 Two On a Bench
1972 That Certain Summer
1972 The Judge and Jake Wyler (also with David Shaw)
1973 Partners in Crime
1974 The Execution of Private Slovik
1974 The Gun
1975 Ellery Queen
1975 A Cry for Help
1977 Charlie Cobb: Nice Night for a Hanging
1977 The Story Teller
1979 Murder by Natural Causes
1981 Crisis at Central High
1982 Rehearsal for Murder
1982 Take Your Best Shot
1984 The Guardian
1985 Guilty Conscience
1985 Murder in Space
1986 Vanishing Act
1986 Blacke's Magic
1988 Hostile Witness
FILMS (with Richard Levinson)
The Hindenberg, 1975; Rollercoaster, 1977.
(with Richard Levinson; selection)
1982; Killing Jessica, 1986; Guilty Conscience, 1986.
(with Richard Levinson)
Murder (three act play). Samuel French: New York, 1963.
(novel), New York: Laddin Press, 1972.
Tuned: An Inside Look at the Making of Prime-Time Television.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981.
The Playhouse. (novel) New York: Berkeley, 1984.
Conscience: A Play of Suspense in Two Acts. New York: Samuel
Camera: Conversations with the Makers of Prime-Time Television.
New York: New American Library, 1986.
Irv. Producers on Producing: The Making of Film and Television.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1986.
Richard. The Producers: A Descriptive Directory of Film and Television
Directors in the Los Angeles Area. Venice, California: R. Burger,
Horace and Robert S. Alley. The Producer's Medium: Conversations
with Creators of American TV. New York: Oxford University Press,
Lamont; Levinson, Richard