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Drawing From Experience

TV veteran William Link's cartoons poke fun at foibles of Hollywood.

May 18, 2000|MICHAEL MALLORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a single-panel cartoon, a mild-mannered writer-producer faces an Inquisitorial network executive and hears the facts of television life. "It's simple quid pro quo," the exec explains. "You get your series renewed, we get your left testicle."

It doesn't take a detective to figure out that the cartoonist behind this and a hundred other mordant jabs at showbiz is someone with vast combat experience on the front lines of Hollywood.

The artist is none other than William Link--Emmy-, Golden Globe- and Peabody-winning writer who with his partner, the late Richard Levinson, created and produced more than a dozen television series, including such notables as "Columbo," "Murder, She Wrote" and "Mannix," as well as the award-winning TV movies "That Certain Summer," "My Sweet Charlie" and "The Execution of Private Slovik."

Link's hidden artistic talent and wickedly satiric eye go on display in the exhibit "Hollywood Is Murder," opening today at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. Museum curator Selise Eiseman describes Link as "the caricaturist of Hollywood" whose cartoons "satirize the foibles of the industry, the writers, the producers, the directors, the moguls, everything."

How did one of Hollywood's leading murder-mystery specialists start killing them softly with his pencil in a series of laugh-out-loud-funny cartoons? Having noodled with cartooning as a child, Link became seriously interested in drawing some 20 years ago when his wife signed him up for a free-form art class as a Christmas present. He quickly discovered that cartooning was not only fun but therapeutic.

"It probably saved me five years of analysis," he admits, "because satirizing this very crazy industry that I inhabit--dealing with the actors, the networks, the studios, the 800-pound gorillas--was a great way to let off steam."

Many of Link's cartoons center around a character called The Writer, a veteran of the Hollywood trenches who is always depicted in a bright-green suit and a red tie. While it is impossible not to notice certain similarities between The Writer and Link himself--both have neatly trimmed mustaches and goatees and favor cigars--he maintains that the character is not autobiographical.

"I don't really see him as me; that's my altered ego," Link quips. "People have pointed out to me that there are similarities, and my wife always says, 'Bill, that's you!' But I feign no understanding of what she's talking about."

By the same token, he stresses that the recipients of his barbs are also meant to be archetypal. "I'm not a malicious person and I'm not a payback person," Link states. "I'm going more for charm in the cartoons than I am on a vengeance trip. It's funnier if you generalize rather than go on the attack."

That extends to the figures in the cartoons. In the case of companies, though, the pokes are occasionally more specific, as in one cartoon in which The Writer finds himself before a judge, being sentenced to "150 hours of community service and to seven years at Universal Studios."

"I sent that to Sid Sheinberg [who once oversaw Universal as MCA president] on his birthday," Link says with a grin. "I didn't know how he would take it, but I hope he enjoyed it."

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Link's technique involves drawing figures on 100-weight bristol board, coloring them, outlining them and cutting them out and pasting them onto canvas board. While none of the originals of his more than 150 cartoons are for sale, they have developed an audience since Links sends them to friends as Christmas presents.

Many of the cartoons were exhibited in 1995 at the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum, though until now there has been no public exhibition in Hollywood. That opportunity arose through the time-honored Hollywood tradition of doing lunch.

Says Eiseman: "I was having lunch with [artist] Laraine Mestman, who is friendly with the Links, and she suggested that this would be a great exhibit. By the time I got back to my office, Bill's wife, Margery Nelson, had already called and invited me to come over and see the cartoons. I fell in love with them right away."

Despite the attention he is now receiving as an artist, don't expect Link to abandon the word processor for the drawing board. "I'm first and foremost a writer," he says, citing as evidence four current projects: a feature film script, a new television series, a novel and a stage play. "I'm really looking at cartoons as a hobby and a little bit of therapy."

BE THERE

"Hollywood Is Murder: The Showbiz Cartoons of William Link," through July 31 at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, 7021 Hollywood Blvd., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily except Wednesdays. Admission: $7.50; students and seniors, $4.50; ages 5 to 12, $4; children younger than 5, free; (323) 465-7900.

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