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with Andrew McAleer

A Crimestalker Casebook Exclusive

McAleer: You were friends with fellow writing companion and Columbo creator Dick Levinson since junior high school. Do you recall your first writing idea with Dick?

Link: Dick and I met in 1946 and started collaborating almost immediately. Much sand has gone through the hourglass since then, but I believe our first writing project was a parody of the then quite popular radio show, “Dragnet.”

McAleer: I read in a biography of Columbo star Peter Falk in the 1963 Celebrity Register, where Falk says that he failed out Hamilton College because he did most of his studying in the pool room. I noted in some of the Columbo films that Falk shoots a nice game of pool. Was this Falk taking some license here or did you and Dick give Columbo this talent?

Link: Peter is an excellent pool player. He and John Cassavetes had their own Rat Pack, playing pool around town at night. We never had to fake Peter’s playing on the show. He’s also an excellent charcoal artist.

McAleer: What do you imagine Dick might think of modern mystery novels that seem to contain more romance than mystery?

Link: I don’t think Dick would have condemned mixing romance with mystery if it was done with style, good writing, and cleverness. Romance overwhelming the mystery element is another matter.

McAleer: Dick and yourself also worked on the Ellery Queen TV series staring Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen, and one of the more interesting contributors to the show was a great actor named David Wayne (who, among many other roles, played the Mad Hatter villain on Batman). Did you ever get a chance to meet Wayne?

Link: Dick and I produced the Ellery Queen series, so we knew David Wayne in our working relationship. He was lovely, charming guy, a total pro.

McAleer: When you and Dick brought Mannix to the scene did you have Mike Connors in mind for the role of Joe Mannix?

Link: We sold the Mannix concept to Desilu, wrote the pilot, and didn’t hang around. Paramount TV cast Mike Connors. Never met him on the show, but bumped into him years later at Chasens. (Then an excellent L.A. restaurant). We were mutually complimentary.

McAleer: Your new play “Columbo Takes a Rap” stars Chicago-based actor Norm Boucher and the New York Post tells us that it is already playing to sold-out houses. Can we expect to see Columbo on Broadway or perhaps even abroad?

Link: My new Columbo play was a hit at the International Mystery Festival in June. At the present time the producer is thinking of opening it in London or possibly here in L.A.

McAleer: Do you create differently when writing a novel as opposed to a screenplay?

Link: Writing a novel is a totally different experience than writing a screenplay. In movies, we have directors, music composers, editors, etc. to flesh out our vision. The really difficult thing writing screenplays is that everything has to be externalized, unlike novels where you can get inside people’s heads, especially in your protagonist’s if you are writing a first-person narrative. Usually novelists are lousy screenwriters because it requires a different set of muscles. You cannot stretch out in a screenplay; everything needs a careful and creative concision.

McAleer: You once had lunch with Alfred Hitchcock. Can you scoop us on any details here like who picked up the tab?

Link: We once had a three-hour lunch with the Master of Suspense in his bungalow at Universal. He was then approaching eighty and so obese it was hard for him to get up from the sofa. Writing-wise, he said that when you use coincidence it must occur early in the script and never again. Always go for the big, important scenes even if they defy logic. That was the basis for his “Refrigerator” theory. While the movie-goer is making a sandwich at midnight after having seen his new thriller, he realizes the big wheat field scene with Cary Grant in “North by Northwest” makes absolutely no sense. Doesn’t matter, Hitch told us—by then I have the man’s money! The lunch was ordered by Hitchcock, the same for him and us: salad, steak, ice cream, black coffee. If you were a smoker you had one of his favorite cigars, a Cuban H. Upmann. Whether you smoked or not, you couldn’t refuse Mr. Hitchcock. Of course, no check.

McAleer: What is your assessment of Georges Simenon’s Maigret stories?

Link: Simenon is one of my favorite authors and I have read over two hundred of his books in translation. I enjoy the Maigrets, but much prefer his stand-alone, psychological novels. Simenon described the Maigrets as pencil drawings and the other as oil paintings. Very accurate analogy. Gide and Sartre considered Simenon France’s greatest existentialist. I concur. For new readers I recommend “Dirty Snow,” which is out in a new translation in paperback. In my opinion this is maybe his best novel. He wrote over five hundred books in a half-century of intense writing. A typical Maigret was written in a three-day stint!

McAleer: What do you have cooking on the literary burner now?

Link: I just sold three short stories to the Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines and have finished my fourteenth stage play, “Candidate for Murder.” The later is a very subversive whodunit set in Washington. It doesn’t play politics, but hopefully dances on the nerves and the deductive acumen of its audiences.
Andrew McAleer is the best-selling author of the 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, the co-author of the number 1 best-selling, Mystery Writing in a Nutshell and a contributor to A Miscellany of Murder. Mr. McAleer works as a prosecutor, serves as a Combat Historian with the Army National Guard and taught crime fiction at Boston College. Fatal Deeds is his fourth novel.  Visit him at: Crimestalkers.com


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