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As director of BU’s Los Angeles Internship Program, William Linsman helped students find their place in Hollywood—sometimes, literally.
It was his habit to take new arrivals to the top of the parking garage at a nearby mall, where he would point to the ocean—“That’s west”—and to the mountains—“That’s north.” Pretty basic, but it helped students feel at home.
At one such moment, “Bill gave a sage smile and said, ‘Now, the two most important things to know in LA are where to eat and where to park,’” says Emma Kazarian (COM’11), who freelances in various entertainment industry jobs in Los Angeles. “I still think about that, to this day, five years later. When I’m circling around on Third Street for 20 minutes, looking for a spot, I wish Bill were here to tell me where to park. I’m so sad to learn the world has lost such a kind man.”
Linsman, 71, a College of Communication associate professor of film and television and a Los Angeles native, died December 11, 2016, after suffering an aneurysm. He’d been finding internships and other industry connections for hundreds of students since 2005, when he was named to run the Global Programs Study Abroad Los Angeles program.
“Under Bill, the program has been just a really great kick start for tons of careers for young people interested in coming out to LA and getting involved in entertainment and media,” says Michael Ouellette, Los Angeles program assistant director.
Students and colleagues remember Linsman foremost as a caring, encouraging, and generous man, who often wore his phone around his neck for easy access should he need to make or take a call.
Dan Salgarolo, a freelance screenwriter and script coordinator for Hasbro Studios in LA, remembers an informal chat in Linsman’s office that changed his life. “As I started waxing poetic about my love for animation, Bill very nonchalantly picked up his cell phone and started a call,” says Salgarolo (COM’12). “I was briefly flabbergasted until I heard him say, ‘Hello, Jeff. Bill Linsman. I’ve got a student here who is very interested in animation. Would you be open to talking with him?’ We started a conversation. Three years later, Jeff hired me to work on an animated television series, and I’ve been in animation ever since.”
That was typical of Linsman, says Thomas Fiedler, dean of COM, whose film and television students initially made up the bulk of the LA program. “He had a big heart,” says Fiedler (COM’71). “Nothing would make him happier than a student who succeeded or who would send a letter a year or two later talking about how that experience was transformational.”
Linsman helped students with a Rolodex of more than 600 Hollywood contacts, who would often offer an internship or other opportunity for a student when he called, Fiedler says. Linsman had accumulated many of those names and numbers, along with a profound understanding of how the industry works, during his long, successful career as a director of commercials seen all over the world.
“He was considered ‘the Pampers King’ internationally,” says Ouellette.
“He introduced the Pillsbury Doughboy to Russian audiences,” says Charles Merzbacher, a COM associate professor of film and television and director of the COM film production programs.
Linsman thought he was pulling back from the high-speed, high-stress field of directing commercials in the early 2000s, when he and his wife moved to western Massachusetts and he began teaching at COM. But when Fiedler and others asked him to take the reins of BU’s LA program, he moved back there.
“It was a testament to how much he loved BU that he accepted the offer,” says Merzbacher.
Linsman inherited a fledgling program with a handful of students and expanded it into one that enrolls 200 students a year. Students spend a semester working at one or more internships, taking classes, and attending presentations by industry figures who give them the lowdown on what it takes to make it in Hollywood. It’s open to COM students in advertising, public relations, and marketing, as well as to Questrom School of Business students interested in the industry and to some graduate students.
“The internships the students have out here now really reach into every studio and many, many production companies across town,” says Jay Roewe (COM’79), a senior vice president at HBO, member of the BU Board of Overseers, and one of a group of alums who helped start the LA program. “If somebody wanted to be somewhere, Bill could usually make a phone call and get them in there.”
If an HBO job applicant has been through the LA program, Roewe says, it weighs heavily in their favor, because the quality of the interns is high “and that I think is largely due to Bill.”
Linsman moved the program into an upscale Wilshire Boulevard building that was also home to industry bible Variety and 20th Century Fox Animation. He also arranged student housing in the nearby Park La Brea apartment complex. Linsman had lived in the complex as a young man, Fiedler says, and was a graduate of Beverly Hills High School.
His focus was building the strategic vision of the program, growing enrollment, and connecting BU alumni in LA, especially those in the industry. “Bill not only knew everyone in LA, it seemed, but he knew all about where to go, what to do, and how to make the deal,” Fiedler says.
“Through his leadership, not only did our LA enrollment grow, but our students consistently had meaningful academic internship experiences,” says Willis Wang, Global Programs vice president and associate provost. “He also had a wonderful ability to make you feel special, that what you had to share was important and interesting to him.”
Marcia Lewis Smith, a political consultant specializing in media strategies who has been a lecturer on television in the program since the beginning, describes Linsman as “the kindest, gentlest guy you’d ever meet.”
She recalls an international scholarship student who was having a hard time personally and financially during her semester in Los Angeles. She could see in class over several weeks that something was wrong, and when she called Linsman, she found out that he had already reached out to the student, worked with administration to get her scholarship extended, helped arrange counseling, and even slipped her cash from his pocket.
For current faculty and the fall cohort of students, their last sight of Linsman was at an end-of-semester farewell taco dinner for 35 in an activity room at Park La Brea just before he was stricken. “He was there and in great spirits,” says Ouellette. “It was a chance for us to thank the students for coming and say best of luck and keep in touch. Bill gave a brief speech. It was just a nice, fun little evening.”
Linsman had been planning to step back from the directorship over the next year or two and had purchased a retirement home in New Mexico, although most who knew him were sure he would never entirely unplug from the role he loved, as students’ guide to the ways of Hollywood.