William Goldman Dies at 87
by Bob Schwartz
“As a writer I believe that all the basic human truths are known. And what we try to do as best we can is come at those truths from our own unique angle, to reilluminate those truths in a hopefully different way.”
William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
William Goldman, who won Academy Awards for his screenplays for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men” and who, despite being one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, was an outspoken critic of the movie industry, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 87.
In his long career, which began in the 1960s and lasted into the 21st century, Mr. Goldman also wrote the screenplays for popular films like “Misery,” “A Bridge Too Far,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Chaplin.” He was a prolific novelist as well, and several of his screenplays were adapted from his own novels, notably “The Princess Bride” and “Marathon Man.”
There are plenty of reasons to admire William Goldman—as a writer and as a writer who cast a realistic light on writing—but nothing is higher than The Princess Bride.
The movie, written by Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner, is a gem, worth watching at least once a year. But in its own way, his novel from which he adapted the screenplay, is even better.
If you know the movie, it is a comic romance and adventure set in a fantasy kingdom, framed by a grandfather reading this story to his grandson. But the novel is much more meta. Goldman places himself in the novel, as a writer with a fictionalized family, condensing and adapting a book by S. Morgenstern that his father had read to him, which adaptation is…The Princess Bride. The trick that Goldman pulls off is that you come away believing that everything he has told you—about his career, his family, the non-existent book by the non-existent S. Morgenstern—are all true.
The bigger trick—the bigger truth—is that everything he wrote in The Princess Bride is absolutely true. Even though he made it all up. If you are a writer or a reader, and don’t fully understand that, read William Goldman, starting with The Princess Bride.