07 March 2020

Pure Goldman

The name William Goldman might or might not be familiar to you. It's probably familiar to me only because I watch, and have always watched, a lot of movies. All of us are familiar with Goldman's movies.

I intended to write this column more than a year ago, shortly after I heard about his death, but I just never got around to it. There is general agreement that screenwriter William Goldman was a man of incredible literary talent, and I've long been a fan of not only his screenplays but his novels and memoirs. (I think Adventures in the Screen Trade should be "must" reading for all writers of fiction.)

Very quickly: William Goldman was born in Chicago in August 1931 and died in New York in November 2018, and over the course of his long career he won two screenwriting Oscars (for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men), won two Edgars (for Harper and Magic), and received the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement from the Writer's Guild of America.

I won't go into a lot of detail about his life; if you want that, there's plenty of information available. What I'd like to do here is give you a list of some of his accomplishments. He was the author of the following screenplays, novels, and books.

Note: I have not included any of his plays, TV scripts, unproduced movie scripts, or short stories. And--not that it matters--the asterisks indicate my favorites in each category.


Masquerade (1965)
Harper (1966)
*Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The Hot Rock (1972)
The Stepford Wives (1975)
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
*Marathon Man (1976)
*All the President's Men (1976)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
*Magic (1978)
Heat (1986)
*The Princess Bride (1987)
Twins (1988)
*Misery (1990)
A Few Good Men (1992)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Year of the Comet (1992)
Chaplin (1992)
Indecent Proposal (1993)
Last Action Hero (1993)
Malice (1993)
Maverick (1994)
Delores Claiborne (1995)
The Chamber (1996)
*The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
Fierce Creatures (1997)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Absolute Power (1997)
The General's Daughter (1999)
*Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
Dreamcatcher (2003)
Wild Card (2015)


The Temple of God (1957)
Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow (1958)
Soldier in the Rain (1960)
Boys and Girls Together (1964)
No Way to Treat a Lady (1964)
The Think of It Is . . . (1967)
Father's Day (1971)
*The Princess Bride (1973)
*Marathon Man (1974)
*Magic (1976)
Tinsel (1979)
*Control (1982)
The Silent Gondoliers (1983)
*The Color of Light (1984)
Heat (1985)
Brothers (1986)


The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway (1969)
The Story of A Bridge Too Far (1977)
*Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983)
Wait Till Next Year (1988)
*Hype and Glory (1990)
Four Screenplays (1995)
Five Screenplays (1997)
*Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade (2000)
The Big Picture (2001)

William Goldman was, along with screenwriters like Kubrick, Sorkin, Wilder, and a few others, one of the very best in the business, and the three movies he adapted from his own novels--Magic, Marathon Man, and The Princess Bride--are, in my opinion, among his finest. There are things about all three (ventriloquists' dummies, dentists' chairs, giants who like rhymes, etc.) that'll probably stay in my head forever. And his nonfiction was especially interesting to me because of the way he wrote. He presented facts as if he were sitting in the chair next to you, chatting instead of lecturing. Those of you who've read him know what I mean.

Goldman once said, of himself: "I don't like my writing. I wrote a movie called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and I wrote a novel called The Princess Bride and those are the only two things I've ever written, not that I'm proud of, but that I can look at without humiliation."

Author Sean Egan once said, of Goldman: "He was one of the late twentieth century's most popular storytellers."

I know which I'd rather believe.

All of us, writers and moviegoers alike, can learn from his work.


  1. Adventures in the Screen Trade is a great book on Hollywood where, if memory serves, one of his most famous quotes comes from: nobody knows anything. And Goldman's written some terrific movies. One of my favorite offbeat movies is based on a novel of his, though he didn't write the screenplay: Soldier in the Rain. Steve McQueen and a very touching Jackie Gleason in a wonderful little movie. And Tuesday Weld to boot. Who could ask for more?

  2. To watch a Goldman-penned film is to get a master's class in storytelling. He's right up there with the greatest: Robert Towne, Leigh Brackett, and a host of others.

    Good piece.


  3. Yes, a great writer. Good posting, John. Y'all might want to check out Goldman on YouTube, especially this interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCs4gdt-mPY

  4. Paul, I had forgotten the movie Soldier in the Rain--I need to watch that again. And if anyone out there hasn't seen Magic (A young Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith), it's excellent--and the novel Magic is even better. One of the most suspenseful endings I've ever read.

    Hey Brian--thanks for the comment. Goldman was indeed a master storyteller. Even when, in hindsight, things didn't seem to go over well with the movie audience (he once said he messed up when he had Susan Sarandon fall off the wing of the airplane in Waldo Pepper), the overall story was perfect.

    O'Neil, I didn't watch any of his YouTube interviews before writing this, and I should've. Thank you for the link--I'm headed there now.

    Thanks, guys.

  5. I saw his name and immediately thought, Princess Bride, which I loved. I didn't know anything more about him. Thanks for the information, John. He had quite a body of work.

  6. Adventures in the Screen Trade is a must, absolutely. Cary Elwes (Wesley) wrote a book about the filming of The Princess Bride called As You Wish and in it he tells that on the first day of filming the sound man stopped everything because he was picking up some unexplained noise. It was Goldman, at the other end of the set, praying that Rob Reiner didn't screw up his masterpiece. I guess the praying worked.

    I hadn't realized that he wrote The Hot Rock. A great book, a nothing movie. Oh well.

  7. Barb, in what I've read, he's always quick to say that he's often known ONLY because of The Princess Bride. Both the book and the movie were huge successes.

    Hey Rob -- I have As You Wish, here on my shelf--I think either you or Deborah Elliott-Upton recommended it to me years ago--and I loved it. Especially the inside info on Andre the Giant. According to that book, Goldman also interrupted filming when Buttercup's dress caught on fire in the swamp (Goldman thought she was really on fire). Reiner had to calm him down and assure him it was under control.

    By the way, I was at this moment watching the video interview O'Neil suggested, and in it Goldman also says he had trouble on movie sets, because he was always doing something to screw things up or getting in the way.

    Thanks for the notes.

  8. I loved many of his movies: Princess Bride, of course, Butch Cassidy, Harper (Paul Newman and Lauren Bacall, what's not to like?), and on and on and on. He was a master.

  9. Eve, I watched Harper again the other night, and that movie has aged pretty well. Paul Newman's always fun to watch, and this one had Bacall, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner, Shelly Winters, and plenty of others that young folks don't remember. That YouTube video O'Neil mentioned even talks about the way Goldman came up with the opening credits for Harper, and how it affected the rest of the movie.

    On the subject of screenwriting, I saw another good movie the other day: Knives Out. Great writing there, resulting in--I thought--a wonderful twists-and-turns plot. See that one, if you haven't.

    Thanks, Eve!

  10. I read a couple of his books in the early 80s; the paperback of Marathon Man ("Is it safe?") was on every book rack in the universe. I did not know about his extensive screenwriting credits! Wow!

  11. Oh, yeah---that t.v. trailer/ad for "Magic" scared the living crap out of my best friend's little sisters! Gave one of them nightmares!

  12. Yay, John. Marathon Man (novel and film) were my favorites. I also admired All the President's Men. I'd be tempted to add stars to Good Will Hunting and perhaps The General's Daughter. As I recall, it was pretty faithful to DeMille's novel.

  13. Jeff, that dummy in Magic was enough to scare anybody. I absolutely loved that novel, and the movie too. As for Marathon Man, I think it kept people away from the dentist's office the way Jaws kept them away from the water.

    Leigh, I did like Good Will Hunting--I think everybody did. Watch it again sometime and notice how young Damon and Affleck were! (Well, Robin Williams too.) And yes, I think The General's Daughter was a faithful adaptation--which is good, because DeMille wrote a great novel there.

    Thanks, guys, for the comments!


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