William Bast dies at 84; screenwriter co-created ‘The Colbys’

 William Bast

Screenwriter William Bast in an undated photo. His writing credits include the 1977 TV adaptation of “The Man in the Iron Mask,” for which he was nominated for an Emmy.

(Paul Huson)

Screenwriter William Bast, who co-created the nighttime TV soap opera “The Colbys” in the 1980s and wrote for numerous other shows, died May 4 at a care facility in Los Angeles. He was 84.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said his friend Niki Marvin.

Bast was nominated for an Emmy for his 1977 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Man in the Iron Mask.” In addition to his television work that spanned more than 40 years, he wrote the movies “The Betsy” (1978) and “The Valley of Gwangi” (1969).

He was also known for his close relationship with James Dean, whom he met when they were both studying at UCLA. Bast’s first book about the actor, “James Dean: A Biography,” was published in 1956, a year after Dean was killed in a car crash at 24 .


In the introduction to his second book, “Surviving James Dean” (2006), Bast said his closeness with Dean was a constant in his life, even long after the actor’s death.

“He has remained a constant backdrop to everything I do and has often, at times too often, taken center stage,” Bast wrote in the introduction to “Surviving James Dean.” “In fact, there came a time that, whenever I shook a hand, I no longer knew if the one extending it was greeting me or seeking James Dean.”

Bast was more frank about the relationship in the second book, saying he had an affair with Dean.

In addition to his two books about Dean, Bast wrote and co-produced the 1976 NBC biopic “James Dean” that starred Stephen McHattie as Dean and Michael Brandon as Bast. And he wrote a television play produced in 1958 in England, “The Myth Makers” (remade in the U.S. as “The Movie Star” in 1962), based on events surrounding Dean’s funeral.


Bast’s episodic TV credits are extensive and include many top series. In the 1960s he wrote for “Perry Mason,” “Ben Casey,” “Dr. Kildare” and “The Fugitive,” among others. In the 1970s, he wrote episodes of “Mod Squad,” “The Waltons” and “Hawaii Five-O.”

“The Colbys,” which debuted in 1985, was a spinoff of the hugely popular “Dynasty” series. Though “The Colbys” also featured wealthy family members vying for power, illicit romances, secret schemes and ‘80s big hair, it did not have a long life as a series, in part because it was one of that decade’s most expensive shows to film. Among the other creators of the show was Paul Huson, who was Bast’s life partner. They were together for nearly 50 years and worked on several writing projects together.

Bast was born on April 3, 1931 in Wauwatosa, Wis., near Milwaukee. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin but switched to UCLA, where he got a degree in theater arts.

He moved to New York after graduation and worked in the press relations department at CBS, he said on his website. But within a year, Bast got work writing for the NBC television sitcom “The Aldrich Family,” based on a popular radio series. He returned to L.A., where he found more television work.

In 2005, at a Writers Guild event about gay and lesbian TV writers, Bast said he had to be closeted early in his career.

“Television is probably more riddled with gays than any other profession in the world,” he said in a Los Angeles Times interview at the event, “but it was a strange time; being openly gay was still very difficult and professionally very dangerous. No one said anything to you, but you just didn’t get the job unless your script was so hot they couldn’t resist it.”

In addition to Huson, Bast is survived by his half-brother, James Eckstrom.


Twitter: @davidcolker

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