William Goldman — screenwriter, script doctor, novelist, and journalist, the man who assured us that nobody knows anything and whose memory will always be entwined with the Sundance name — has died at the age of 87. And we miss him already.
Back in the ’60s, the Columbia literature grad was the writer of sexy novels you stole from the grownups and read with a flashlight under the covers (“Boys and Girls Together,” “The Temple of Gold”). Most cinephiles have on their bookshelf his classic, “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” and its sequel, “Which Lie Did I Tell?” along with the Oscar-winning screenplays for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men” and another classic, “The Princess Bride,” which he adapted from his fantasy novel and which many parents still read to their kids.
Goldman created memorable characters that would define the careers of Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Redford (the Sundance Kid lives on as the Sundance Institute and its film festival), not to mention “Princess Bride” star Mandy Patinkin, who still loves to repeat the line “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Goldman could also craft a tight thriller like “Marathon Man” (adapted from his book) or Oscar-winner “Misery,” adapted from Stephen King. In Goldman’s heyday, which lasted about three decades, he was the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, commanding over $1 million a script, and was regarded as the script doctor who could fix anything.
The thing is, he was also a journalist. His 1969 book “The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway” provided a model for those who pursue behind-the-scenes reporting that explains how things work and the psychology behind the economics of a business. It inspired my 2014 book, “The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System.”
I was thrilled to interview Goldman once years ago (he was challenging, thoughtful, and delightfully candid), and got a huge kick out of a more recent Master Class conversation between Goldman and Aaron Sorkin, who considered him a mentor and thanks him for helping him to learn how to write his first screenplay adaptation of his play, “A Few Good Men.”
Nobody has ever explained the inner workings of Hollywood better, and anyone who seeks a career in the entertainment industry would do well to remember the oft-repeated line that he knew would be included in every obituary of him: “Nobody knows anything.”