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Widely considered among the finest storytellers in Hollywood, screenwriter William Goldman wrote many of cinema's most prominent films, some of which were adapted by him from his own novels. Though he started his writing career as a novelist and playwright, Goldman emerged with the stylish "Harper" (1966) and cemented his career early on with the iconic revisionist Western, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), which earned him his first Academy Award. Over the next decade, Goldman amassed a list of envious credits, writing such heavy hitters as "The Stepford Wives" (1975), "All the President's Men" (1976) - which delivered his second Oscar -and "Marathon Man" (1976), the last of which featured the most infamous use of dental tools recorded on celluloid. After writing the World War II epic "A Bridge Too Far" (1977), Goldman stepped aside from Hollywood to focus on books, including the seminal memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), which famously told the world that in Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." He returned to prominence with an adaptation of his own novel,"The Princess Bride" (1987), a wise and whimsical fantasy comedy that became one of his most beloved movies. After adapting...
Widely considered among the finest storytellers in Hollywood, screenwriter William Goldman wrote many of cinema's most prominent films, some of which were adapted by him from his own novels. Though he started his writing career as a novelist and playwright, Goldman emerged with the stylish "Harper" (1966) and cemented his career early on with the iconic revisionist Western, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), which earned him his first Academy Award. Over the next decade, Goldman amassed a list of envious credits, writing such heavy hitters as "The Stepford Wives" (1975), "All the President's Men" (1976) - which delivered his second Oscar -and "Marathon Man" (1976), the last of which featured the most infamous use of dental tools recorded on celluloid. After writing the World War II epic "A Bridge Too Far" (1977), Goldman stepped aside from Hollywood to focus on books, including the seminal memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), which famously told the world that in Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." He returned to prominence with an adaptation of his own novel,"The Princess Bride" (1987), a wise and whimsical fantasy comedy that became one of his most beloved movies. After adapting the Stephen King novel "Misery" (1990), Goldman began experiencing something of a slide with titles like "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" (1992), "The Chamber" (1996) and "The Ghost and the Darkness" (1996). Despite misfires such as the bizarre King adaptation "Dreamcatcher" (2003), Goldman remained an inspiration to new generations of aspiring scribes hoping to attain even a fraction of his creative and commercial success.
Born on Aug. 12, 1931 in Chicago, IL, Goldman was raised by his father, Maurice, a businessman, and his mother, Marion. Having felt the pull of Hollywood after seeing "Gunga Din" (1939) for the first time, Goldman later took an interest in creative writing, which carried over to Oberlin College, where he edited the school's literary magazine. Following graduation in 1952, he served two years in the U.S. Army doing clerical work at the Pentagon, before returning to school to earn his mater's degree from Columbia University in 1956. Immediately following graduation, the C-average student with little prospect of becoming a professional writer did just that - he published his first novel, The Temple of Gold (1957), right out of the gate and never looked back. Goldman followed with two more works of fiction - Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow (1958) and Soldier in the Rain (1960) - before shifting his attention to the theater. With his older brother, James Goldman, he wrote the play "Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole" (1961) and later the book for the ill-fated Broadway musical "A Family Affair" (1962).
Goldman received his initial film credit for "Soldier in the Rain" (1963), based on his 1960 novel of the same name, which starred Jackie Gleason as an aging bachelor Army sergeant and Steve McQueen as a younger sergeant who convinces him to seek a woman and life outside the military. But his first crack at writing directly for the screen came when Cliff Robertson hired him to adapt Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon - eventually filmed as "Charly" (1968) - which existed in teleplay and short novel form. Although Goldman failed to complete that project, he did receive his first screenwriting credit for Michael Relph's "Masquerade" (1965) after Robertson replaced Rex Harrison in the comedic action-adventure set in the world of international espionage. Goldman's screenwriting career really took off with his adaptation of Ross Macdonald's The Moving Target, which was filmed as "Harper" (1966), starring Paul Newman as a down-and-out private eye whose life is put into danger after accepting a case to find a wealthy old woman's missing husband.
Following the comedy thriller "No Way to Treat a Lady" (1968) with George Segal and Rod Steiger, Goldman penned arguably his greatest achievement, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), a revisionist Western that starred Paul Newman as the witty and charismatic outlaw Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as his bickering but loyal partner. Though ultimately a tragic tale, audiences were fully engaged with the snappy one-liners and chemistry between Newman and the then-little-known Redford, which marked the first collaboration between the two popular leading actors. Featuring iconic scenes like Butch riding a bicycle with Etta Place (Katharine Ross) to the tune of "Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head," and Butch and Sundance making a daring jump off a cliff into churning rapids, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" helped revitalize an aging genre, with many critics calling it one of the best - if not the best - of the modern era. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the film took home four, including one for Goldman, who won for Best Original Screenplay.
Goldman was something of the go-to screenwriter for Redford during the early part of the actor's career. He wrote the caper comedy "The Hot Rock" (1972) and the adventure comedy "The Great Waldo Pepper" (1975), which starred Redford as a former World War I pilot who exaggerates his accomplishments and teams up with an air-show entrepreneur (Bo Svenson) to barnstorm the Midwest in search of the glory he never had. After writing the original version of "The Stepford Wives" (1975), he earned a second Academy Award for his adaptation of "All the President's Men" (1976), a richly compelling look at the Watergate scandal as seen through the eyes of the two Washington Post reporters who broke the story, Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman). A marvel of clarity, especially considering the labyrinthine subject matter, "All the President's Men" was a frustrating experience for Goldman, whose first draft was panned by both Redford and director Alan J. Pakula. Carl Bernstein's ex-wife Nora Ephron wrote a draft, only to have that one dismissed, presaging a return to Goldman's services. In the end, Goldman received credit and all the accolades, though he never worked with Redford again.
That same year, Goldman adapted his own novel Marathon Man for the screen, starring Hoffman as an unwitting college student and avid runner who is pulled into a web of intrigue and danger involving his secret-agent brother (Roy Scheider) and an evil Nazi war criminal (Laurence Olivier) determined to reclaim a cache of jewels once taken from concentration camps. The thriller featured a tense scene between Olivier and Hoffman, with the former repeatedly asking, "Is it safe?" while torturing the latter with dental tools. Both the scene and the line were etched into cinematic history, while "Marathon Man" went on to become a critical and financial success. He next worked on an adaptation of Cornelius Ryan's "A Bridge Too Far" (1977), a World War II epic about the Allied defeat in the Battle of Arnhem in 1944 that featured an all-star cast, including Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Caine. He next adapted the horror thriller "Magic" (1978) from his own novel of the same name, which starred Hopkins as a failed magician who makes a comeback as a ventriloquist, only to discover that his dummy, Fats, has developed a mind of his own. Making his only foray into television, Goldman wrote the two-part miniseries "Mr. Horn" (CBS, 1979), which chronicled the life and death of Wild West frontiersman, Pinkerton detective and accused assassin Tom Horn (David Carradine).
Stepping away from movies, Goldman concentrated on writing novels, including the non-fiction Tinseltown memoir, Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), a lighthearted insider's look at the film business in which he detailed his own experiences while imparting advice upon those seeking their own Hollywood fame and fortune. The book became famous both in and out of the entertainment industry for his simple, but prescient quote: "Nobody knows anything," which conveyed the idea that nobody could really know how well a particular movie was going to do. After penning the fictional novels The Silent Gondoliers (1983) and The Color of Light (1984), Goldman returned to feature films to adapt his own novel for "The Princess Bride" (1987), a quirky fairy tale that deftly combined romance, adventure, comedy and even a little satire, while containing an assorted cast of characters - a beautiful princess (Robin Wright), a daring swashbuckler (Cary Elwes), an evil prince (Chris Sarandon), a Spanish sword master (Mandy Patinkin) searching for a man with six fingers, a gentle giant (André the Giant), and a scheming criminal genius who is not as smart as he thinks (Wallace Shawn). An instant classic, "The Princess Bride" was a big hit for Goldman after several years without one and ultimately became one of his most timelessly beloved films.
Goldman continued his penchant for adapting his own material with "Heat" (1987), a rather uneven action thriller about an ex-mercenary turned Las Vegas bodyguard and degenerate gambler (Burt Reynolds) who targets a gang leader (Neill Barry) after his attractive neighbor (Karen Young) is attacked. He next published the non-fiction title Wait Till Next Year (1988), with sportswriter Mike Lupica, which chronicled the bad year New York City had in the world of sports in 1987. Back on the big screen, he adapted Stephen King's "Misery" (1990), which starred James Caan as a famous mystery author held hostage by an obsessed fan (Kathy Bates) upset that he killed off her favorite character. Also that year, he published Hype and Glory (1990), his breezy first-hand account of judging both the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and the Miss America Pageant within the space of one year. By this time, Goldman had become the biggest screenwriter in the business, though the quality of his output began to diminish somewhat. He wrote the pages for "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" (1992), a much-despised comedy starring Chevy Chase that clumsily mixed action, comedy and science fiction into one lumpy mess. Goldman later claimed that disagreements with Chase and original director Ivan Reitman - it was ultimately helmed by John Carpenter - led to the film's many contrivances.
Goldman next collaborated with William Boyd and Bryan Forbes on "Chaplin" (1992), a sweeping biography of Charlie Chaplin (Robert Downey, Jr.) - from his impoverished youth in London through his rise to fame during the Golden Age of Hollywood, up until his acceptance of an honorary Academy Award late in life. Despite several instances of creative license being taken with the details of Chaplin's life, the film was nonetheless praised by critics, particularly for Downey, Jr.'s uncanny performance. Following the largely overlooked romantic comedy "Year of the Comet" (1992), Goldman was credited with drafts of "Maverick" (1994), a comedic Western based on the ABC series from the 1950s and 1960s, starring Mel Gibson as the titular rogue gambler and James Garner - the original "Maverick" - as the U.S. Marshal hot on his trail. He moved on to pen drafts for the adaptation of John Grisham's legal thriller "The Chamber" (1996), a poorly received movie about a white supremacist (Gene Hackman) waiting to die on death row that saw Goldman's early departure from the project - in hindsight a good thing since the film was ravaged by critics and bombed at the box office. Goldman followed with "The Ghost and the Darkness" (1996), an African-set action yarn about a naïve architect (Val Kilmer) who grudgingly calls in an expert hunter to take out a group of predatory lions attacking workers on a British railroad. Based on real events that occurred in the 19th century, the film only had a lukewarm reception.
After serving as a consultant on "Good Will Hunting" (1997), which boasted Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's Oscar-winning script, Goldman adapted "Absolute Power" (1997), which starred Clint Eastwood as an aging cat burglar who witnesses the President of the United States (Hackman) murder his mistress (Melora Hardin) while in the midst of robbing a remote mansion. He moved on to adapt "The General's Daughter" (1999), a financially successful but critically panned thriller about an Army investigator (John Travolta) tasked with solving a murder mystery despite clues pointing to his hero (James Cromwell). Goldman reunited with Hopkins for "Hearts in Atlantis" (2001), a moving, if slightly disjointed, mystery adapted from a Stephen King novella. Following his second Hollywood memoir, Which Lie Did I Tell? (2001), he became attached to "Dreamcatcher" (2003), another King adaptation - this time a notably quirky one involving the paranormal. Despite being a collaborative effort with revered director/screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, "Dreamcatcher" was a disappointment for Goldman, who subsequently steered clear of movie scripts for quite awhile. After an extended period away from screenwriting that included a stage version of "Misery," Goldman penned a new script for "Heat," revisiting his own gambling tale yet again, this time in a 2014 film directed by Simon West and starring Jason Statham and Milo Ventimiglia.
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His sometime pseudonym of Harry Longbaugh is the real name of one of his favorite historical personalities, the Sundance Kid.
"If all you do is write screenplays, then it becomes denigrating to the soul." --William Goldman, quoted in David Thomson's "A Biographical Dictionary of Film"
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