William Goldman leaves Hollywood legacy behind
When I was a teen in the 1970s, my mother often rewarded patience on shopping expeditions with a paperback from those massive book-racks that were then so prevalent in pharmacies and department stores.
One year, I picked up a well-reviewed thriller by an author who was new to me: William Goldman. The book was “Marathon Man,” and it knocked me out. Its many merits included a dazzling mid-book twist that was, incidentally, impossible to pull off in the subsequent movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider and Laurence Olivier.
Most folks know “Marathon Man” from that film-with its grueling dental-torture scene and sinister catchphrase, “Is it safe?” And this is fitting: When Goldman died at 87 on Nov. 16, he left a Hollywood legacy that outshines his literary output. The author is, after all, best known for his Oscar-winning scripts.
Goldman took his first Academy Award for 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” directed by George Roy Hill (“The Sting”). With music by Burt Bacharach and photography by lensing legend Conrad Hall, this story of two real-life outlaws took Goldman eight years to research and made a star of then-unknown Robert Redford. (The Sundance role had been turned down by Jack Lemmon, Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty.)
Seven years later, Goldman won again for Alan J. Pakula’s Watergate drama “All the President’s Men,” also starring Redford-along with Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards.
But the author’s many fans are probably wondering how I got so far through this tribute without mentioning his most beloved work–a 1987 film called “The Princess Bride,” based on his own novel.
Directed by Rob Reiner and starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage and Peter Falk, this cult-fave fairy tale also gave us a number of catchphrases: Shawn’s “Inconceivable!”; Elwes’ “As you wish”; and Patinkin’s “My name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father; prepare to die.”
Goldman wrote the script for that film, as he did for “Marathon Man” and another of his lesser-known books-the first-rate thriller “Magic,” released on-screen to strong reviews in 1978. Directed by Richard Attenborough, this creepy story of a crazed ventriloquist being taken over by his murderous manikin stars Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith.
Another neglected Goldman gem was the 1920s biplane drama “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1975), directed by Hill and again starring Redford, here supported by Margot Kidder and Susan Sarandon.
Appreciating his work on “Princess Bride,” Reiner asked Goldman to script Stephen King’s “Misery,” a first-rate chiller that won Kathy Bates an Oscar for her role as a demented former nurse caring for and then tormenting an injured novelist (James Caan). Goldman later adapted this for the stage; its 2015 Broadway premiere featured Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf.
His other screenplays include “The Stepford Wives” (1975), “Chaplin” (1992) and “Harper” (1966). The latter, based on one of Ross Macdonald’s acclaimed Lew Archer books, won Goldman an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America-and he later took a second of these coveted prizes for “Magic.”
With a dozen other novels to his credit, Goldman also penned six nonfiction books about his career; the best known of these is 1983’s “Adventures in the Screen Trade.”
Though his was not exactly a household name, there can scarcely be a Baby Boomer anywhere who hasn’t enjoyed at least one of his works.
For younger folks who haven’t, try “Butch Cassidy,” “Princess Bride” or “Marathon Man.”