Some of my most memorable encounters at Trattoria Dell’Arte happened serendipitously. Like the time I met Abe Feder, one of America’s first modern “lighting designers” who devoted himself to a life of illumination lighting virtually everything he touched, including the Broadway theater, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Empire State Building. Or the time American screenwriter Julius J. Epstein came for dinner. Along with his twin brother, Philip G. Epstein, he produced scores of memorable Hollywood screenplays, including the Academy Award-winning picture Casablanca. Or William Weaver, whose deft translations of some of Italy’s finest writers such as Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia, Umberto Eco, and Primo Levi won them legions of new fans among readers of English. Another significant and frequent diner was director Stanley Donen, whose Hollywood musicals are forever etched in our minds. Who can forget On the Town or Singin’ in the Rain? These and many others I encountered during a typical workweek at Dell’Arte.
One writer I especially enjoyed meeting with and with whom I had many long chats on his occasional visits to the restaurant was William Link. As I came to call him, Bill was a nondescript-looking, balding man who didn’t stand out much from the crowd. If you saw him on the street, you’d never guess that he produced some of the most enduring television crime dramas like “Mannix,” “Columbo,” and “Murder, She Wrote.” Link produced these and others with his long-time writing partner and childhood friend Richard Levinson, who died in 1987.
Bill was a devotee of the murder mystery genre, having gotten his start by contributing to such magazines at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Bill would often come to dine after perusing the stacks at The Mysterious Bookshop—one of the oldest mystery bookstores in the United States—located around the corner from Dell’Arte on West 56th Street.
On each of Bill’s visits, he’d often feed me some Hollywood tidbits that I found fascinating, like the time he gave an inexperienced 25-year-old director one of his big breaks by directing the first episode of “Columbo.” That director was Steven Spielberg. Spielberg would later return the favor by asking Link and Levinson to write the screenplay for Jaws, which they turned down—a mistake they would later regret. Or that Peter Falk’s trademark squint in ”Columbo” was a prosthetic eye that replaced the one he had lost at the tender age of three to cancer. And that Falk was one of the highest-paid tv stars earning a staggering $500,000 an episode.
But it was the Hollywood movie mogul Lew Wasserman who he reserved for his most glowing tributes. Without Wasserman’s thumbs-up, Link and Levinson’s work may never have achieved the success it enjoyed over the years.
Of course, Bill won just about every significant award for his work, including two Emmys, two Golden Globes, The Peabody, The Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Lifetime Achievement in Television Writing, and sundry others.
Recently, I learned Bill passed away this year while reading the New York Times. I just wished we had one more chat.
Former restauranteur, musician, concert promoter, producer, publisher, manager, and impresario, Charles Carlini has synthesized these roles to become a dynamic force in the music industry–noted for his ability to bring diverse talent together to create innovative concerts and recordings that reach and move music-lovers everywhere.