In a week that’s already seen one of modern history’s greatest storytellers pass, in Stan Lee, another equally legendary writer in his own respective field left us today.
William Goldman was, and likely always will be, my favourite screen-writer of all time.
His influence on me through his films was immense: from an early age seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid although I think I hated him at the time I saw it at six or seven, the same number of years after it’s release. I hated him not knowing his name or even what a ‘screen writer’ was. I hated him because he’d killed off two characters I’d grown to love in the very short time I’d known them. (Even I, as a stupid seven year old knew that freeze frame at the end wasn’t a good sign…)
I got to know William Goldman’s writing through his seminal movies throughout the 70’s: some of which I may not have seen when they first came out but certainly watched as I, and my love of film, grew.
A Bridge Too Far inspired me as a 14 year-old to read the Cornelius Ryan book it was based on (as thick in pages as the movie was in length), and beyond to learn more about the events of Operation Market Garden
The Stepford Wives was one of the first horror films I remember seeing – not even sure if it was a ‘horror’ movie at the time: it certainly didn’t resemble the monster movies I’d seen up to that point. But even as a stupid 8 or 9 year old (I hadn’t gained much knowledge since 7) I knew it was creepy as hell.
All the President’s Men: well, to be honest, I didn’t quite get that one the time of first seeing it, but over the years, I would return to it many. many times.
And Marathon Man – a movie that probably successfully scared anyone not already terrified of dentists to never visit them again. I may have been older when I saw this than BC&tSK, but not old enough to still not be pissed at him killing of Roy Scheider – spoiler, but it happens early on, and besides Goldman brought him back in the sequel novel he wrote.
It says something to the length and quality of the man’s career that any tribute to him could end up just as a filmography of some of the greatest films of the 70’s and early 80’s. But there’s IMDB for that…
Where my admiration and love for Goldman’s writing really took hold though, was probably on first reading his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade. A book which would certainly be in my top ten non-fiction books of all time – to the degree that when I re-created this blog earlier this year and started a series of 100 resources for writers, that book was the very first one I wrote about. Rather than write more about it here, you can read that full, fawning admiration of the piece here on this very blog.
Goldman felt he was frozen out of Hollywood after that book came out – indeed, he writes eloquently about it in his follow up memoir ‘Which Lie Did I Tell.‘ And it’s true that the movies he wrote or contributed to after the success of that first book – a success partly achieved through his fearless willingness to dish the dirt on many a Hollywood Star or Studio, may not quite have matched up to the stunning work described in AitST, and some would point to works such as Dreamcatcher, a film studded with (now) stars but based on one of Stephen King’s weaker works and done no favours in the filming process, or Memoirs of an Invisible Man – one of John Carpenter’s lowest moments, or Heat (no – not that one, this was the one starring Burt Reynolds and based on Goldman’s own book) or the various big projects where studios had paid huge money for ‘hot novels’ that they needed to translate into celluloid (as well as King’s work, Goldman also wrote, to varying success, adaptations of work by John Grisham, David Baldacci and Nelson DeMille).
So in those ‘later years’ Goldman’s output was diminished to the likes of Misery, an earlier Stephen King adaptation, of Chaplin, of the underrated ‘Ghost and the Darkness‘ oh, and a kid’s flick called The Princess Bride, also based on his own novel.
If only to have as diminished a career as that.
Of course, it’s not just the works that he’s credited for that Goldman has given to us. Even when ‘out-of-favour’ he was the Hollywood Script Doctor to go to. If your movie was in trouble script-wise, and you had the money, you called for Goldman. Some of them he’s credited for (‘The Last Action Hero‘ – an underrated movie due for reassessment) , many more not…to the point his involvement became almost apocryphal. Goldman himself addresses this quite brilliantly, and ever-entertainingly, in the oft-repeated rumours about his having written much or all of Good Will Hunting in Which Lie Did I Tell.
If you haven’t read it, I could cut and paste it here, but I won’t: go buy the book. Buy both the books. Buy his novels as well – if you want a sequel to Marathon Man? He wrote it. And lots, lots more besides.
The quote that everyone uses when talking about Goldman, or indeed, often about Hollywood, is of course, “Nobody knows anything”, taken from Adventures. But the man had many other quotable lines – from both his movies, and his personal life, I’ll finish this short tribute with two of them:
“The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.”
“Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”
I don’t know how ‘fair’ William Goldman thought his life was after his temporary banishment from Hollywood, but he certainly didn’t take the ‘easy’ way on earth, because by God did he write.
William Goldman: 1931- 2018
Read my thoughts on Adventures in the Screen Trade Here
or Buy it, or the sequel ‘Which Lie Did I Tell?’ below: