William Read Woodfield: Photographer, magician, writer

William Read Woodfield title card for a Columbo episode, Colmubo And The Murder of a Rock Star, which he also wrote.

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

It’s said that writers inevitably bring their life experiences into their work.

In the case of William Read Woodfield, he brought varied life experiences into his: Magician, photographer as well as accomplished scribe.

In a 2001 obituary, Variety described his work in photography.

Born and reared in San Francisco, Woodfield carved his photo niche during the 1950s and ’60s with published works being exhibited alongside Richard Avedon and Cecil Beaton. His most famous series of photographs were made May 23, 1962, when Marilyn Monroe performed her famous nude swimming scene on the 20th Century Fox lot for the uncompleted feature “Something’s Got to Give.” The photos made the covers of magazines worldwide and proved to be Monroe’s last hurrah as she was fired from the picture shortly thereafter and died 10 weeks later.

The obituary added this:

“A magician since childhood, Woodfield founded the magazine Magicana and employed his knowledge of magic on ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ‘Columbo’ and ‘Sea Hunt.'”

Frank Sinatra as photographed by William Read Woodfield.

As a writer for television, Woodfield, by himself or in collaboration with Allan Balter, specialized in intricate plots. The Woodfield-Balter team was formed during the first season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Woodfield wrote for the series and Balter was an associate producer.

The Woodfield-Balter duo perhaps gained their greatest fame writing for Mission: Impossible. Barbara Bain, when accepting her second (of three) Emmys for the show, cited the Woodfield-Balter scripts as one reason why the show was popular.

In Mission’s third season, the duo were promoted to producers. But they ran afoul of creator/executive producer Bruce Geller. They departed early that season, but not before writing a two-part story.

The team stayed together into the 1970s, including producing a TV adaptation of Shaft for the 1973-74 season. After that, they went their separate ways.

In the late 1980s, when Universal revived Columbo (this time broadcast on ABC), the premiere story, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine, was written by Woodfield. The plot included a magician (Anthony Zerbe) who sought to debunk a man, Elliott Blake (Anthony Edwards), posing as a psychic who is pulling a con on the CIA.

However, it turns out the magician and the phony psychic have a secret past. Blake kills the magician. That brings Columbo in the case. One of the highlights of the episode is the magician’s funeral, where Woodfield brings his magician into full play.

Woodield died Nov. 24, 2001, at the age of 73.

One Response

  1. […] also co-wrote (with William Read Woodfield) some of the best episodes of Mission: Impossible. That partnership would last for years, beginning […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: