He's not an actor, nor a director, but William Goldman is one of the most important people Hollywood has seen in the last 50 years. Wait, you're telling me you don't know who this two time Oscar winner is? Have you seen The Princess Bride? You know, Fred Savage, as the kid, Gramps tells him a bitchen story about a farm-boy and a princess, yeah that Princess Bride, he wrote that.
Born on August 12, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois, William spent many afternoons in his youth inside the Alycon Theater watching different films. He attended college at Oberlin College, a liberal arts school in Ohio. He graduated in 1952 and headed straight into the military for two years. By 1956, Goldman had earned his master's degree in English from Columbia University. That following summer he wrote Temple of Gold in ten days. A novel, his first, in ten days. I wonder what his noding speedometer would look like?
When 1964 had rolled onto the calendar, Goldman had pounded out four more books as well as three plays. All three plays opened on Broadway, and proceeded to bomb. However, two of the novels, No Way to Treat a Lady, and Soldier in the Rain, were both adapted to the big screen. 1964 proved to be a turning point in William Goldman's career. He was approached by actor Cliff Robertson and asked to write a screenplay. The screenplay was rejected, and Goldman was, in turn, fired from the project.
While he could have turned tail, ran out of Hollywood and tried his luck with writing novels again, Goldman did nothing of the sort. In 1965 he doctored the screenplay to Masquerade. The following year, Goldman became impressed with a novel written by Ross Macdonald and wrote a screenplay based off the novel which he titled, Harper. Harper starred Paul Newman and was a hit, although it was nothing compared to what was around the corner. Well, two or three corners anyway.
Following the success of Harper, another producer asked William to turn another book into a screenplay. This time the novel was a World War II story called In the Spring the War Ended, authored by Stephen Linakis. The screenplay was liked by the suits and passed around the Fox Studios's offices. Unfortunately, Fox already had their hands full with their own WWII epic, a little something called Patton. Goldman's script was put on the back burner and wasn't pursued as people soon forgot about the script.
Needing money for simple human needs like food, heating bills, rent, etc. Goldman went to teach creative writing at Princeton University. During the 1965-66 Christmas break, he finished what would become his breakthrough script, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What would become a huge hit was initially turned down by every studio he shopped it to. Eventually 20th Century Fox came around and took on the project. Goldman's life was never the same. For Butch Cassidy, William won an Oscar, and it was his greatest commercial success. Even 35+ years later, it still stands as an all around great movie, let alone Western.
Now, with a bone-fide uber hit under his belt, William Goldman had no problem getting work. He pounded out three more screenplays, The Hot Rock, Great Waldo Pepper and The Stepford Wives, between 72 and 75. In 1976 he adapted All the President's Men to the big screen and again had a major hit on his hands. Not as big as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Goldman still won another Oscar for his work on the film.
Goldman's next screenplay was a switch from his usual. After the death of his editor, and long time friend, Hiram Haydn, William decided to write a thriller. He built upon past experiences, specifically a dentist he had in his childhood who did not believe in the usefulness, let alone amusement, of novacain. This turned into his novel Marathon Man, which was turned into a movie in 1976. His next screenplay was like many others, adapted from a novel we wrote earlier, this one called Magic. The following year, he completed the screenplay for Mr. Horn.
For seven years there was nothing. From 1971-79, William Goldmen busted out 7 different screenplays that saw the light of a projector. From 79-86, none were seen. It was not for lack of trying either. Goldman was involved with a three-picture deal with producer Joseph E. Levine. William wrote the three pictures but due to the increased price of actors, combined with Levine being his own monetary backer as well as being over 70 years old, none saw fruition. Other screen writing avenues ended in dead ends as well. During his time off from the insanity of Hollywood, Goldman got back into writing novels, notably Adventures in the Screen Trade, published in 1983 and "A must read for any moviephile."1
William Goldman was pulled back into the movie business in 1986, when we was offered a job by Michael Ovitz, co-creator of the Creative Artists Agency. After a month of employment, Goldman adapted Memoirs of an Invisible Man, by H.F. Saint. However, the script was plagued by re-writes and other hassles, and was another script that never made it to production. However, the seeds had been planted again. Like a fish trapped on a hook, William Goldman was pulled back into Tinseltown. His first screenplay back was adapted from one of his own novels, Heat, but the next...
Several years before 1987 one of the executives at Fox read Goldman's novel, The Princess Bride. Understandably, he loved it, and bought the rights from Goldman and had him write a screenplay for it. However, unfortunate circumstances came about when said executive was fired from the company. Goldman bought the rights back from Fox, as the last thing he wanted was a crappy version of his work floating around. Almost 15 years after the novel was written, The Princess Bride was released into theaters.
As a young child, this movie captivated my entire being. It was a fairy tale, pure and simple, although everyone, and anyone, could enjoy this movie. Fights, swashbuckling, intrigue, murder, comedy, love, twue love, and Andre The Giant, what else does a movie need? ROUSes? They're in there too. The movie is beautifully balanced between a young, ill Fred Savage, his storytelling Grandfather, and the fantasy world of the story. Goldman got the idea for the novel from his daughters, aged 4 and 7 at the time. He asked them what they wanted in a story. One said "Princesses," the other, "A Bride."
William Goldman was not finished. The turn of the decade saw Goldman in full swing. He adapted Misery, a novel by the master of horror and suspense, Stephen King. Misery would prove a test for Goldman, as it underwent 21 revisions in a span of 18 months before an acceptable script was decided upon. The part of Annie was specifically written for actress Kathy Bates, who had just won an Oscar. While Misery saw complications, the rest of the nineties played like a good record. He released several excellent screenplays, including Maverick, The Chamber, The Ghost and The Darkness, Absolute Power and The General's Daughter, which he co-wrote with Chris Bertiloni.
In 2000, William Goldman released a quasi-follow-up to Adventures in the Screen Trade, called, Which Lie Did I Tell? The novel featured more discussion on the inner-workings of Hollywood, and how to survive as a writer. He also analyzes and criticizes several modern writers as well as allow them to put in their two cents regarding a screenplay Goldman wrote specifically for this novel.
Let's do some tallying now, shall we? William Goldman has been writing for over 45 years, won three lifetime achievement awards for screenwriting, two Oscars, an English Academy Award, 20 novels and 20 major motion picture screenplays. Chances are you've seen at least one of the movies mentioned above. William Goldman also used two different pseudonyms, S. Morgenstern and Harry Langlaugh, the real name of the Sundance Kid.