William Goldman, 1931–2018

In the clip above from 1997, Charlie Rose is talking to William Goldman, the celebrated, Oscar-winning screenwriter, who criticizes Hollywood’s way of making movies. A starting point is Goldman’s most famous quote, “Nobody knows anything”, which is how he brilliantly began his much-respected book on the business, “Adventures in the Screen Trade”, published in 1983. Today he passed away, at the age of 87.

Born in Chicago, Goldman came from a troubled family; his father committed suicide when young William was in high school.  After a stint in the Army, he studied at Columbia and wrote (unpublished) stories in the evening. His first novel was written and published in the 1950s, which was followed by a couple of more books; together with his brother James, he also collaborated on plays that got produced. In the 1960s, Goldman started getting involved in the movie business; there was some interest in filming his books and he worked on screenplays. 

William Goldman’s first own, produced screenplay was for a Paul Newman movie, Harper (1966), and it was followed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Harper had been based on a novel, but Butch Cassidy was his own story, inspired by facts and meticulously researched. Newman also starred in that one, together with Robert Redford, and it was Goldman’s huge breakthrough, winning him an Oscar. 

After that Goldman continued writing both screenplays and novels, including “The Princess Bride”, published in 1973 and filmed in 1987 (adapted by Goldman himself); even if I consider the movie somewhat overrated, it has very loyal fans. The 1970s provided Goldman with juicy opportunities for writing imaginative screenplays, including The Stepford Wives (1975), All the President’s Men (1976; winning him his second Oscar) and Marathon Man (1977), also based on a novel of his. Speaking of famous quotes, Goldman was also the one who came up with “Follow the money” from All the President’s Men.

The 1970s brought Goldman fame and fortune, the 1980s not so much. However, he made a comeback. The Princess Bride was finally filmed by Rob Reiner after some delay and Goldman’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “Misery” was a huge hit in 1990. In that decade, he became a sought-after script doctor, but also continued to write his own material.

Goldman claimed to not have liked his work on All the President’s Men, but he was a beloved writer – that’s clear from all the praise coming out of Hollywood today. Here’s what Mia Farrow, Ron Howard and Stephen King tweeted:

Let’s just say that if “nobody knows anything” in Hollywood, William Goldman did his part in trying to change that.

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