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Remembering Los Angeles Program’s William Linsman

Kind, supportive mentor in a tough Hollywood

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William Linsman

William Linsman had a successful career as a director of commercials seen all over the world before he began teaching at BU. Photo courtesy of College of Communication

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.”

Los Angeles native Linsman, 71, a College of Communication associate professor of film and television, died there December 11 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, albeit with his phone often hanging around his neck for easy access should he need to make or take a call.

Dan Salgarolo (COM’12), 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. 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 a typical of Linsman, says Thomas Fiedler (COM’71), dean of COM, whose film and television students initially made up the bulk of the LA program. “He had a big heart,” says Fiedler. “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 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 Charles Merzbacher, a COM associate professor of film and television and director of the COM film production programs.

Linsman inherited a fledgling program and expanded it from a handful of students 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.

From left, William Linsman, Brian Herskowitz, Bryan Cranston

Linsman (from left) with lead lecturer and screenwriter Brian Herskowitz and Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, one of the industry figures brought in to speak to the program’s students. Photo by Steve Prue

“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 had 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 Merzbacher.

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.

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.”

“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.”

Students and colleagues remember Linsman foremost as a caring, encouraging, and generous man, albeit with his phone often hanging around his neck for easy access should he need to make or take a call.

“This was the kindest, gentlest guy you’d ever meet,” says Marcia Lewis Smith, a political consultant specializing in media strategies who has been a lecturer on television in the program since the beginning.

Lewis Smith 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: students’ guide to the ways of Hollywood.

Linsman is survived by his wife, Paula Panich, his daughters Jessica Archambault, Michelle Ang, and Ilana Panich-Linsman, and four grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held in Scottsdale, Ariz., in February.

10 Comments
Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

10 Comments on Remembering Los Angeles Program’s William Linsman

  • Amalia Perez-Juez on 01.19.2017 at 5:35 am

    Bill was funny, intelligent, caring… he would always have great ideas and gave postitive comments about things. It was refreshing to be around him and you would walk away smiling and thinking… yeah! he is right! life is good! I will always remember him saying: I’ll go to Spain and we will make a great short movie about the BU program in Madrid. YOu will be very missed in our next meeting.

  • Pedro Falci on 01.19.2017 at 10:19 am

    Bill was a tremendously encouraging and caring mentor. Even after I left the entertainment industry to pursue another field, he remained a cheerleader for me, something I’ll forever appreciate. Thank you, Bill.

  • Kim Relick on 01.19.2017 at 10:54 am

    It was a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside Bill Linsman building awareness of the BU Film program in LA and the LA Redstone Film Festival. He will be sorely missed.

  • Raul Fernandez on 01.19.2017 at 11:45 am

    Bill was kind enough to host me when I came out to visit the LA program some years ago. His passion for his work and the love of his students was evident. Great guy who knew everything about (and seemingly everyone in) Los Angeles. Huge loss for us, but his memory will live on through the many students he mentored.

  • Tom Fiedler on 01.19.2017 at 12:04 pm

    You’ve captured Bill beautifully. So much of what Bill did was unseen — and deliberately so. A few years ago I told Bill about an LA school’s program where troubled teens were assigned by the court to help crew a sailing ship where they would learn discipline, teamwork, etc. But the program needed donors. Bill, on his own, assembled a film crew and produced a beautiful video that became a great fund-raising tool for the program. He will be missed.

  • Whitney Sherman on 01.19.2017 at 1:34 pm

    Like others have echoed, Bill Linsman was also a hugely positive influence in my life. He was full of light and love, and he often took the time to remind me how great life was and how fortunate we both were. So much gratitude for his presence. BU, Los Angeles, and the world has lost such a talented, humble, and caring soul. Thank you for this article, BU.

  • Chas Castell on 01.20.2017 at 1:58 pm

    A wonderful article about a wonderful man. He has been a mentor and source of strength for me during my time in LA, and everyone who has worked with him knows how lucky they are to have been around such a positive and kind spirit.
    I’ll never forget his smiling face, as he pumped his fist in the air and said ‘Go Critical Contents’ – he took so much joy in seeing me launch my first company. Always a lovely man, always smiling, always supportive and positive, always helping others. I am so grateful to have been friends with one of the kindest men there is.

  • Margaret Ross on 01.20.2017 at 3:19 pm

    Echoing what others have said, Bill was beyond generous as a colleague, and always responsive to needs expressed and unexpressed. He was one of a kind, and I always looked forward to any work we did together, to help students in trouble. His death is a huge loss.

  • Leila Elihu on 01.20.2017 at 5:43 pm

    I had the fortune of seeing Bill in LA this October. It was always a delight to see him. Being two native Angelenos, we spoke dispiritedly of the changing LA scene and how it is not like it used to be. He told me his plans to go to New Mexico, and I expressed how I’ve always wanted to visit. When I finally do, Bill will surely be in my thoughts. Lots of love to his family.

  • Maureen Mauk on 02.13.2017 at 1:01 pm

    Bill was an incredibly resource, guide and mentor to so many. I arrived to LA from Boston, bright eyed and bushy tailed and worked to forge my own path, take some outside classes and turn the amazing internship opportunities he helped place me in (Scrubs & Malcolm in the Middle) into actual jobs. It was like having access to Uncle Joe Biden, incredibly connected and warm hearted, whenever you needed some grounding and advice in the sometimes overwhelming LA entertainment arena. He will be very missed.

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