William Goldman (12 August 1931 – 16 November 2018)
The man who famously said, “Nobody knows anything” – and he was right – William Goldman was a gifted storyteller (not that he would have agreed with that opinion). A screenwriter with as many unpublished scripts as ones brought to the screen, Goldman started out as a novelist, publishing his first novel, The Temple of Gold, in 1956. Further novels followed until a brush with Hollywood brought him to the attention of producer Elliot Kastner. With an agreement that Goldman would write a script based on Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer character, and Kastner would produce it, the resulting movie, Harper (1966), was a hit and Goldman’s place in the Hollywood firmament was seemingly assured, especially as his next script, for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), won him his first Oscar.
But over the next decade, and despite Goldman being in demand and winning another Oscar – for All the President’s Men (1976) – he began to discover that getting a script made into a movie wasn’t that easy. Several projects fell by the wayside, and he found himself less and less in demand, a strange circumstance for a screenwriter with two Oscars on his mantle. The Eighties were a particularly rough period for Goldman, more so after the publication of his first memoir, Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), which contained that quote, and which was openly critical of the Hollywood machine. It wasn’t until he teamed up with Rob Reiner for an adaptation of his novel, The Princess Bride (one of only two screenplays that he could look at “without humiliation”), that Goldman found himself back in demand. He worked steadily through the Nineties, often as a script consultant, and maintained an enviable reputation.
Looking back over Goldman’s career, there are some tantalising what ifs, screenplays that were never used, from adaptations of Papillon and The Right Stuff, to a musical remake of Grand Hotel (1932), to adaptations of some of his other novels, and perhaps, most intriguing of all considering how the actual movie turned out, Mission: Impossible II (2000). And let’s not forget, these are the scripts that didn’t get produced. With such an impressive body of work, it’s no wonder that Goldman remained a highly regarded writer whose work – concise, cohesive, intelligent, entertaining – was often a guarantor of a good movie (you could argue that the bad ones were the fault of the studios or the directors etc.). But Goldman himself was always self-critical, stating once that he didn’t like his work, which is a shame as there are plenty of people who, if he were still with us, would disagree with him wholeheartedly.
1 – Harper (1966)
2 – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
3 – The Stepford Wives (1975)
4 – Marathon Man (1976)
5 – All the President’s Men (1976)
6 – Magic (1978)
7 – The Princess Bride (1987)
8 – Misery (1990)
9 – Chaplin (1992)
10 – The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)