William Goldman

William Goldman (August 12, 1931 – November 16, 2018) was an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He first came to prominence in the 1950s as a novelist before turning to screenwriting. He won Academy Awards for his screenplays Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and All the President's Men (1976). His other works include his thriller novel Marathon Man and comedy/fantasy novel The Princess Bride, both of which he adapted for the film versions.

William Goldman
Goldman at the 2008 Screenwriting Expo
Born(1931-08-12)August 12, 1931
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedNovember 16, 2018(2018-11-16) (aged 87)
New York City, U.S.
Pen nameS. Morgenstern, Harry Longbaugh
OccupationNon-fiction author, novelist, playwright, screenwriter
Alma materOberlin College
Columbia University
GenreDrama, fiction, literature, thriller
Ilene Jones
(m. 1961; div. 1991)
RelativesJames Goldman (brother)

Author Sean Egan has described Goldman as "one of the late twentieth century's most popular storytellers."[1]

Early life

Goldman was born in Chicago and grew up in a Jewish family[2] in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, the son of Marion (née Weil) and Maurice Clarence Goldman.[3] Goldman's father initially was a successful businessman, working in Chicago and then in partnership, but his alcoholism eventually sank his business. He "came home to live and he was in his pajamas for the last five years of his life," according to Goldman.[4] His father killed himself while his son was still in high school; his mother's deafness increased the stress in the home.[5]


Goldman received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin College in 1952, and he was drafted into the Army shortly thereafter. He knew how to type, so he was assigned to the Pentagon, where he worked as a clerk; he was discharged with the rank of corporal in September 1954. He then matriculated at Columbia University, where he earned a Master of Arts degree in 1956. Throughout this period, he wrote short stories in the evenings but struggled to have them published.[6]



Goldman began to write when he took a creative-writing course in college, according to his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983). His grades in the class were "horrible".[7] He was an editor of Oberlin's literary magazine, and he would submit short stories to the magazine anonymously; he recalls that the other editors read his submissions and remarked, "We can't possibly publish this shit."[7] He did not originally intend to become a screenwriter. His main interests were poetry, short stories, and novels. In 1956, he completed an MA thesis at Columbia University on the comedy of manners in America.[8]

His brother James Goldman was a playwright and screenwriter, and they shared an apartment in New York with their friend John Kander. Kander was working on his PhD in music, and the Goldman brothers wrote the libretto for his dissertation. Kander was the composer of more than a dozen musicals, including Cabaret and Chicago, and all three of them eventually won Academy Awards.[7] On 25 June 1956, Goldman began writing his first novel The Temple of Gold, completing it in less than three weeks.[9] He sent the manuscript to agent Joe McCrindle, who agreed to represent him; McCrindle submitted the novel to Knopf, who agreed to publish it if he doubled the length. It sold well enough in paperback to launch Goldman on his career.[10] He wrote his second novel Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow (1958) in a little more than a week. It was followed by Soldier in the Rain (1960), based on Goldman's time in the military. It sold well in paperback and was turned into a film, though Goldman had no involvement in the screenplay.

Theater work

Goldman and his brother received a grant to do some rewriting on the musical Tenderloin (1960). They then collaborated on their own play, Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole (1961), and on the musical, A Family Affair (1962), written with John Kander. Both plays had short runs.

Goldman began writing Boys and Girls Together but found that he suffered writer's block.[11] His writer's block continued, but he had an idea for the novel No Way to Treat a Lady (1964) based on the Boston Strangler. He wrote it in two weeks, and it was published under the pseudonym Harry Longbaugh—a variant spelling of the Sundance Kid's real name, which Goldman had been researching since the late 1950s. He then finished Boys and Girls Together, which became a best seller.[12]


Cliff Robertson read an early draft of No Way to Treat a Lady and hired Goldman to adapt the short story Flowers for Algernon for the movies. Before he had even finished the script, Robertson recommended him to do some rewriting on the spy spoof Masquerade (1965) which Robertson was starring in. Goldman did that, then finished the Algernon script.[13] However, Robertson disliked it and hired Stirling Silliphant instead to work on what became Charly (1968).[7][14]

Producer Elliot Kastner had optioned the film rights to Boys and Girls Together. Goldman suggested that Kastner make a film of the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald and offered to do an adaptation. Kastner agreed, and Goldman chose The Moving Target. The result was Harper (1966) starring Paul Newman, which was a big hit.[15]

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Goldman returned to novels, writing The Thing of It Is... (1967). He taught at Princeton and wished to write something, but he could not come up with an idea for a novel. Instead, he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, his first original screenplay, which he had been researching for eight years. He sold it for $400,000, the highest price ever paid for an original screenplay at that time.[7] The movie was released in 1969, a critical and commercial success which earned Goldman an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The money enabled Goldman to take some time off and research the non-fiction The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway (1969).[16]

Goldman adapted In the Spring the War Ended into a screenplay, but it was not filmed. Neither were scripts of The Thing of It Is, which came close to being made several times in the early 70s, and Papillon, which he worked on for six months and three drafts; the book was filmed, but little of Goldman's work was used.[17] He returned to novels with Father's Day (1971), a sequel to The Thing of It Is…. He also wrote the screenplay for The Hot Rock (1972).

The Princess Bride

Goldman's next novel was The Princess Bride (1973); he also wrote a screenplay, but it was more than a decade before the film was made. That same year, he contracted a rare strain of pneumonia which resulted in his being hospitalized and affected his health for months. This inspired him into a burst of creativity, including several novels and screenplays.[18][19]

Goldman's novel writing moved in a more commercial direction following the death of his editor Hiram Haydn in late 1973.[20] This started with the children's book Wigger (1974), followed by the thriller Marathon Man (1974) which he sold to Delacorte as part of a three-book deal worth $2 million. He sold movie rights to Marathon Man for $450,000.[21]

His second book for Delacorte was the thriller Magic (1976), which he sold to Joe Levine for $1 million. He did the screenplays for the film versions of Marathon Man (1976) and Magic (1978). He also wrote the screenplay for The Stepford Wives (1975), which he says was an unpleasant experience because director Bryan Forbes rewrote most of it; Goldman tried to take his name off it but they would not let him.[22] He was reunited with director George Roy Hill and star Robert Redford on The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), which Goldman wrote from an idea of Hill's.

All the President's Men

Redford hired Goldman to write the script of All the President's Men (1976).

Goldman wrote the famous line "Follow the money" for the screenplay of All the President's Men; while the line is often attributed to Deep Throat, it is not found in Bob Woodward's notes nor in Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book or articles.[23] However, the book does have the far less-quotable line from Woodward to Senator Sam Ervin, who was about to begin his own investigation: "The key was the secret campaign cash, and it should all be traced..."[24]

Goldman was unhappy with the movie; The Guardian says that he changes the subject when asked about the movie, but suggests that his displeasure may be because he was pressured to add a romantic interest to the film.[7] In his memoir, Goldman says of the film that if he could live his life over, he would have written the same screenplays, "Only I wouldn't have come near All the President's Men."[25] He said that he has never written as many versions of a screenplay as he did for that movie.[25] Speaking of his choice to write the script, he said: "Many movies that get made are not long on art and are long on commerce. This was a project that seemed it might be both. You don't get many and you can't turn them down."[9]

In Michael Feeney Callan's book Robert Redford: The Biography, Redford is reported as stating that Goldman did not actually write the screenplay for the movie,[26] a story that was excerpted in Vanity Fair.[27] Written By magazine conducted a thorough investigation of the screenplay's many drafts and concluded, "Goldman was the sole author of All The President's Men. Period."[25]

Joseph E. Levine

Goldman had a happier experience when hired by Joseph E. Levine to write A Bridge Too Far (1977) based on the book by Cornelius Ryan. Goldman later wrote a promotional book Story of A Bridge Too Far (1977) as a favor to Levine, and signed a three-film contract with the producer worth $1.5 million.[21]

He wrote a novel about Hollywood, Tinsel (1979), which sold well. He wrote two more films for Levine, The Sea Kings and Year of the Comet but did not write a third. He did a script about Tom Horn, Mr. Horn (1979), was filmed for TV.[28]

Goldman was the original screenwriter for the film version of Tom Wolfe's novel The Right Stuff; director Philip Kaufman wrote his own screenplay without using Goldman's material, because Kaufman wanted to include Chuck Yeager as a character; Goldman did not.[16]

He wrote a number of other screenplays around this time, including The Ski Bum; a musical adaptation of Grand Hotel (1932) that was going to be directed by Norman Jewison; and Rescue, the story of the rescue of Electronic Data Systems employees during the Iranian Revolution. None were made into films.

Adventures in the Screen Trade and the "Leper Period"

After several of his screenplays were not filmed, Goldman found himself in less demand as a screenwriter. He published a memoir about his professional life in Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), which summed up the entertainment industry in the opening sentence of the book, "Nobody knows anything."[29][30][31]

He focused on novels: Control (1982), The Silent Gondoliers (1983), The Color of Light (1984), Heat (1985) and Brothers (1986). The latter, a sequel to Marathon Man, was Goldman's last published novel.

Return to Hollywood

Goldman attributed his return to Hollywood to signing with talent agent Michael Ovitz at Creative Artists Agency. He went to work on Memoirs of an Invisible Man, although he left the project relatively early.

Hollywood's interest in Goldman was reawakened: he wrote the scripts for film versions of Heat (1986) and The Princess Bride (1987). The latter was directed by Rob Reiner for Castle Rock, which hired Goldman to write the screenplay for Rob Reiner's 1990 adaptation of Stephen King's novel Misery, considered "one of [King's] least adaptable novels".[16] The movie, for which Kathy Bates received an Academy Award, performed well with critics and at the box office.[16]

Goldman continued to write nonfiction regularly. He published a collection of sports writing, Wait Till Next Year (1988) and an account of his time as a judge at both the Cannes Film Festival and the Miss America Pageant, Hype and Glory (1990).

Goldman began to work steadily as a "script doctor", doing uncredited work on films including Twins (1988), A Few Good Men (1992), Indecent Proposal (1993), Last Action Hero (1993), Malice (1994), Dolores Claiborne (1995), and Extreme Measures. Most of these movies were by Castle Rock.

He was credited on several other movies: Year of the Comet (1992), which was eventually filmed by Castle Rock but was not a success; the biopic Chaplin (1992), directed by Richard Attenborough; Maverick (1994), a popular hit; The Chamber (1996), from a novel by John Grisham; The Ghost and the Darkness (1996), an original script based on a true story; Absolute Power (1997) for Clint Eastwood; and The General's Daughter (1999), from the novel by Nelson DeMille.

Later career

Goldman wrote another volume of memoirs, Which Lie Did I Tell? (2000), and a collection of his essays, The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood? and Other Essays (2001).

His later screenplay credits include Hearts in Atlantis (2001) and Dreamcatcher (2003), both from novels by Stephen King. He adapted Misery into a stage play, which made its debut on Broadway in 2015 in a production starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf.[32]

His script for Heat was filmed again as Wild Card (2015), starring Jason Statham.

Critical reception

In their feature on Goldman, IGN said "It's a testament to just how truly great William Goldman is at his best that I actually had to think hard about what to select as his 'Must-See' cinematic work".[16] The site described his script for All the President's Men as a "model of storytelling clarity... and artful manipulation".[16]

Art Kleiner, writing in 1987, said, "William Goldman, a very skilled storyteller, wrote several of the most well-known films of the past 18 years—including Marathon Man, part of All the President's Men, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."[33]

Three of Goldman's scripts have been voted into the Writers Guild of America hall-of-fame's 101 Greatest Screenplays list.[25]

In his book evaluating Goldman's work, William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller (2014), Sean Egan said Goldman's achievements were made "without ever lunging for the lowest common denominator. Although his body of work has been consumed by millions, he has never let his populism overwhelm a glittering intelligence and penchant for upending expectation."[34]


In 2000, Goldman said of his writing:

Someone pointed out to me that the most sympathetic characters in my books always died miserably. I didn't consciously know I was doing that. I didn't. I mean, I didn't wake up each morning and think, today I think I'll make a really terrific guy so I can kill him. It just worked out that way. I haven't written a novel in over a decade... and someone very wise suggested that I might have stopped writing novels because my rage was gone. It's possible. All this doesn't mean a helluva lot, except probably there is a reason I was the guy who gave Babe over to Szell in the "Is it safe?" scene and that I was the guy who put Westley into The Machine. I think I have a way with pain. When I come to that kind of sequence I have a certain confidence that I can make it play. Because I come from such a dark corner.[35]

Goldman has also said of his work: "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."[36]


He won two Academy Awards: one for Best Original Screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Best Adapted Screenplay for All the President's Men. He also won two Edgar Awards, from the Mystery Writers of America, for Best Motion Picture Screenplay: for Harper in 1967, and for Magic (adapted from his 1976 novel) in 1979. In 1985, he received the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement from the Writers Guild of America.

Personal life

He was married to Ilene Jones from 1961 until their divorce in 1991; the couple had two daughters, Jenny and Susanna.[37] Ilene, a native of Texas, modeled for Neiman Marcus; Ilene's brother was actor Allen Case.[38][39]

In an Internet chat hosted by CNN, Goldman said that his favorite writers were Miguel de Cervantes, Anton Chekhov, Somerset Maugham, Irwin Shaw, and Leo Tolstoy.[9]

He was well known in sports circles as a die-hard fan of the New York Knicks, having held season tickets at Madison Square Garden for over 40 years. He contributed a writing section to Bill Simmons's bestselling book about the history of the NBA, where he discussed the career of Dave DeBusschere.

Goldman died in Manhattan on November 16, 2018, due to complications from colon cancer and pneumonia.[40][41][42]



Theatre (unproduced)

  • Madonna and Child – with James Goldman
  • Now I Am Six
  • Something Blue – musical
  • musical of Boys and Girls Together (aka Magic Town)
  • Nagurski – musical
  • The Man Who Owned Chicago – musical with James Goldman and John Kander[44]
  • musical of The Princess Bride – with Adam Guettel (abandoned after royalty disputes)[45]

Screenplays (produced)

Screenplays (unproduced)


  • Flowers for Algernon: Good Old Charley Gordon (1964) – an adaptation of the story Flowers for Algernon done for actor Cliff Robertson – Robertson was unhappy with the version and hired Stirling Silliphant to write what became Charly (1968)
  • The Chill (1967) – adaptation of the 1964 Lew Archer novel by Ross Macdonald
  • In the Spring the War Ended (1968) – from the novel by Stephen Linakis about American deserters in Europe at the end of World War Two. Lawrence Turman was producer and Martin Ritt attached as director but the studio, 20th Century Fox, decided not to make it because they wanted Pentagon co-operation for Patton (1970).[47][48]
  • The Thing of It Is... aka That's Life (1968) – adapted from his novel
  • Piano Man – adaptation of his novel Father's Day
  • Papillon – adaptation of the novel which was not used
  • Grand Hotel (late 1970s/early 1980s) – musical remake of the 1932 MGM film, with Norman Jewison to direct[49]
  • The Sea Kings (late 1970s) – a pirate movie about the relationship between Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard, the first of a three-picture deal with Joseph E. Levine[50] – Goldman says he wrote the part of Blackbeard for Sean Connery and at one stage Richard Lester was attached as director[51] – Goldman says Connery and Roger Moore were considered stars, then later Roger and Dudley Moore – however the film was too expensive to make[52]
  • The Ski Bum aka Hot Shot (1981) – based on the article "The Ski Bum as an Endangered Species" by Jean Vallely – Goldman says this was never made due to tension between the producer and the studio[53]
  • The Right Stuff – adaptation of the Tom Wolfe book that was not used
  • Rescue! (1980–81) – story of the rescue of employees of Ross Perot by Arthur D. Simons during the Iranian revolution – Goldman says this foundered when Clint Eastwood, the only suitable star to play Bull Simons, elected to make Firefox
  • Flora Quick, Dead or Alive
  • The National Pastime
  • Singing Out Loud – unproduced musical worked on with Rob Reiner and Stephen Sondheim
  • Low Fives (1992) – comedy about an African who plays for a basketball team in a small college, commissioned by Danny DeVito and intended to star John Cleese and DeVito[54]
  • Shazam! (c 2003) – adaptation of Captain Marvel comic book[55]
  • The Shooter – an adaptation of the Stephen Hunter novel Point of Impact that was to have been directed by Lee Tamahori
  • Mission: Impossible 2 – script that was not used



Non-fiction and memoirs

Children's books

  • Wigger (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974). Separated from her blanket, Wigger, an orphan nearly dies of loneliness until an extraordinary wind from Zurich brings them together again.[56]

Short stories

  • "Something Blue", Rogue, April 1963, pp. 13–83.
  • "The Ice Cream Eat", Transatlantic Review Winter 1959–60
  • "Till the Right Girls Come Along", Transatlantic Review, Winter 1961
  • "Da Vinci", New World Writing no. 17 1960
  • "The Simple Pleasures of the Rich", Transatlantic Review Autumn-Winter 1974

Notable articles

  • "The Good-Bye Look". The New York Times Book Review. June 1, 1969. p. 1.

See also

  • Category:Films based on works by William Goldman


  1. Egan 2014, p. 1.
  2. Erens, Patricia (1998). The Jew in American Cinema. Indiana University Press. p. 392. ISBN 978-0-253-20493-6.
  3. "William Goldman Biography (1931–)". Film reference.
  4. Egan 2014, p. 6.
  5. Egan 2014, p. 6–7.
  6. Rifkin, Glenn (November 16, 2018). "William Goldman, Screenwriting Star and Hollywood Skeptic, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  7. Queenan, Joe (April 25, 2009). "Newman, Hoffman, Redford and me". The Guardian. London. p. 6. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  8. "William Goldman Papers, 1949–1997". Columbia University.
  9. Goldman, William (December 1, 2001). "Chat books". CNN.com (transcript). Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  10. Egan 2014, p. 18.
  11. Brady p 93
  12. Brady p 94
  13. Brady p 95
  14. Tyler, Ralph (November 12, 1978). "'Butch Cassidy' Was My Western, 'Magic' Is My Hitchcock". The New York Times. New York, NY. p. D23.
  15. Brady p 91
  16. "Featured Filmmaker: William Goldman". Movies. IGN. February 18, 2003. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
  17. Brady p 120
  18. Andersen, Richard (1979). William Goldman. Twayne. p. 20.
  19. Brady p 130
  20. Brown, Dennis (1992). Shoptalk. Newmarket. p. 75.
  21. Rosenfield, Paul (February 18, 1979). "Westward They Come, Big Bucks for Big Books". Los Angeles Times. p. n1.
  22. Brady p 109
  23. Rich, Frank (June 12, 2005). "Don't Follow the Money". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  24. Woodward & Bernstein 1974, p. 248.
  25. Stayton, Richard (April–May 2011). "Fade In". Written By. Los Angeles: Writers Guild of America, West. ISSN 1092-468X. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  26. Lussler, Germain (May 30, 2011). "New Robert Redford Biography Claims William Goldman Didn't Write 'All The President's Men'". /Film. /Film. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  27. Callan, Michael Feeney (April 2011). "Washington Monument". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on May 30, 2011. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  28. "Sea kings". Script shadow. November 2009.
  29. Goldman 1983, p. 39.
  30. Williams, Christian (February 12, 2006). "If You're Out By Monday, Never Ask Why". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL. Retrieved July 11, 2011. I had heard that the rules were different in Hollywood, where, as the screenwriter William Goldman famously put it, 'nobody knows anything.'
  31. Turan, Kenneth (January 17, 2007). "What dark horse will be the next 'Sunshine'?". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL. Retrieved July 11, 2011. ...it becomes more apparent every year that William Goldman's great rule of studio film-making applies to the independent world as well: Nobody knows anything.
  32. Stasio, Marilyn; Stasio, Marilyn (November 16, 2015). "Broadway Review: 'Misery' With Bruce Willis, Laurie Metcalf".
  33. Kleiner, Art (Summer 1987). "Adventures in the Screen Trade". Whole Earth Review. San Francisco: Point Foundation: 120.
  34. Egan 2014, p. 2.
  35. Goldman 2000, pp. 151–152.
  36. Egan 2014, p. 17.
  37. Bernstein, Adam. "William Goldman, Oscar-winning screenwriter of ‘Butch Cassidy’ and ‘All the President’s Men,’ dies at 87" Washington Post, November 16, 2018
  38. Taylor, Angela (August 26, 1973). "Fashions For Fall Looking Good On The Go". The NY times. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  39. "RITES SCHEDULED FRIDAY FOR ENTERTAINER ALLEN CASE". The Dallas Morning News. News bank. August 27, 1986. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  40. "Butch Cassidy screenwriter Goldman dies". BBC News. November 16, 2018. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  41. Rifkin, Glenn (November 16, 2018). "William Goldman, Screenwriting Star and Hollywood Skeptic, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  42. Naderzad, Ali. "William Goldman, author of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" dead at 87". Screen Comment. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  43. Ilson, Carol. Harold Prince: a director's journey. p. 56.
  44. Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third series. 1964. p. 18.
  45. Andrew Gans (February 16, 2007). "Goldman and Guettel Part Ways on Princess Bride Musical". Playbill. Retrieved July 23, 2017.
  46. "Series IV: Manuscripts William Goldman papers". Columbia University.
  47. Goldman 2000, pp. 238–239.
  48. Martin, Betty (July 11, 1966). "Robson Gets 'Escape Route'". Los Angeles Times. p. c17.
  49. Goldman 1983, pp. 262–273.
  50. Goldman, William. "Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade (Excerpt)".
  51. "Just mean to the girls". The Guardian. London, UK. August 11, 1979. p. 11.
  52. Goldman 2000, pp. 6–7.
  53. Goldman 2000, p. 8.
  54. Goldman 2000, pp. 267–268.
  55. Stax (March 24, 2003). "Goldman on Shazam!". ign.com. Retrieved July 23, 2017.
  56. "Wigger". WorldCat. Retrieved February 18, 2013.

Books cited

  • Brady, John (1981). The Craft of the Screenwriter. Simon & Schuster.
  • Egan, Sean (2014). William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller. BearManor Media. ISBN 1-59393-583-8.
  • Goldman, William (1983). Adventures in the Screen Trade. Abacus. ISBN 978-0-349-10705-9.
  • Goldman, William (2000). Which Lie Did I Tell?. Bloomsbury.
  • Woodward, Bob; Bernstein, Carl (1974). All the President's Men. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-21781-5.
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