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OBITUARY

Ben Masselink; Novelist, Scriptwriter, Teacher

January 16, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When he was 50, he realized with glee that he no longer had to write the "great American novel," climb Mt. Everest, learn to water ski or drive in the Indy 500. He didn't, he wrote, have to do much of anything anymore.

At 60, he found out he was a senior citizen who could park for free at the beach. He went every day.

Of course, he went to the beach every day most of his life. And decades past 50, he never learned to do nothing. He kept right on enjoying life--and writing about it to the delight of his readers, until the end.

Benjamin "Ben" Masselink, who wrote novels, scripts for classic television series and most recently a column called "Tales of an Ancient Beachcomber," died Wednesday in Los Angeles of prostate cancer. He was 80.

His recent column was for the Daily Breeze of Torrance, but Masselink's musings also appeared in The Times, TV Guide, Playboy, the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, Collier's, Cosmopolitan and Modern Maturity.

He taught creative writing for 20 years at USC.

"It's not difficult to see why writing is more popular than reading," Masselink wrote for The Times in 1985, declaring that the nation's writers then outnumbered readers by exactly nine. "It's more fun."

Born in Grand Rapids, Mich., Masselink attended Depauw University in Greencastle, Ind., before going into the Marines during World War II. He served in the Marshall Islands and Okinawa, became a sergeant, and was the founding editor of the corps' Pendleton Scout. Somewhere in the South Pacific, he decided writing was what he wanted to do.

Masselink became a tile setter's helper after the war, but he worked diligently at the first of his many vintage typewriters every night until he could support himself with his stories. He first sold "slick fiction" to Collier's and other magazines, and then wrote a series of books including "Partly Submerged," "The Crackerjack Marines," "The Danger Islands," "The Deadliest Weapon" and "Green."

From the 1960s, Masselink began concentrating on television scripts, churning out material for "Dr. Kildare," "Slattery's People," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "Barnaby Jones," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Starsky and Hutch." He also wrote the 1979 television movie, "Portrait of a Stripper."

Masselink hit one rocky shoal when, along with producers, he was sued by the Friends of the Earth for defamation over a segment he wrote for the series "The Name of the Game." But in 1976, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury decided the segment about environmentalists, titled "Cynthia Hampton Is Alive and Living in Avalon," was not slanderous.

A longtime resident of Pacific Palisades, Masselink loved the sea, people and traveling. He wrote frequently about all three--usually with tongue planted firmly in cheek--as illustrated by his 1981 account for The Times of an accidental encounter with a couple of nude young women on his beach:

"I kept on walking. I walked straight into the sea, but I didn't sink. I walked on the surface of the water past the floating pelicans and the gulls and the terns and the loons and the boobies. I'm still walking."

Masselink is survived by his wife of more than 30 years, the former Dionyse "Dee" Humphrey.

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