UPDATED: I have been informed by friends of the family that William Goldman died last night. He was 87. Goldman, who twice won screenwriting Oscars for All The President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, passed away last night in his Manhattan home, surrounded by family and friends. His health had been failing for some time, and over the summer his condition deteriorated.
We will be following this and building out the story today, but I wanted to let Deadline readers know straight away. From his scripting work to his books like Adventures in the Screen Trade, Goldman is one of the greats, a true legend.
Goldman began as a novelist and transitioned to writing scripts with Masquerade in 1965. While his greatest hits were the indelible pairing of Robert Redford with Paul Newman in the George Roy Hill-directed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the Alan Pakula-directed toppling of President Richard Nixon drama All The President’s Men, he wrote the scripts for many other great movies. The list includes the Hoffman-starrer Marathon Man (Goldman also wrote the novel, which made dentist visits even more undesirable),as well as The Princess Bride, The Stepford Wives, The Great Waldo Pepper, A Bridge Too Far, Chaplin and Misery. He also did a lot of behind the scenes script doctoring without taking a screen credit, as on films that included A Few Good Men and Indecent Proposal.
Beyond that, Goldman was a renowned memoirist. His travelogue through the movie business, Adventures In The Screen Trade, was a primer for wannabe screenwriters and for journalists covering them. When I first got to Variety about 30 years ago, veteran reporters there told me Adventures was the best book to understand the chaos, randomness, the headaches, futility and joy of the movie business. Goldman is probably best known for his apt description of Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.” I still have the book on my shelf.
There will be people better versed to describe the fact that Goldman knew more than many, but I will recount an anecdote that the late Jonathan Demme told me when I did a look back on the 25th anniversary of the making of The Silence of the Lambs. Demme had the picture locked, and had a friends and family screening of the film before he turned in the cut. One of the attendees was Goldman, whom Demme didn’t know all that well. The following day, Goldman called. Well, better to let Demme tell it:
“We watched the movie,” Demme said. “It played like gangbusters, and we got terrific response from the audience. Craig [McKay, the film’s editor] and I were high-fiving each other. Okay, we’re locked, baby. I got a phone call the next day at my house. ‘Hi, this is William Goldman calling.’ I was like, ‘Oh, hi. God, one of my favorite writers of all time.’ He said he thought the picture was terrific, but he thought there was one section that was holding it back from its full potential power. This came after Dr. Lecter escapes, and there was this scene that took somewhere between eight and twelve minutes. Jack Crawford is called on the carpet. They are summoned by the attorney general, who was played by Roger Corman. Crawford’s kicked off the case. Clarice is kicked out of the academy. They go downstairs, and there’s this blistering, really terrific scene on the steps. Clarice just can’t let go of saving the senator’s daughter. Her brain is going a mile a minute, and Crawford is telling her, ‘Didn’t you hear what happened up there? I’m off the case. You’re out of this thing. There’s no way on earth…’ But she said she was going to Calumet. Clarice looks at Crawford and says, ‘God Dammit Jack, I’m going.’ We cut to her in the car, crossing the bridge where she’s about to encounter Buffalo Bill. So Goldman said, ‘Take all that out.’ I’m like, ‘What? That’s one of the biggest scenes in the movie. Really? What?’ And he says, ‘That’s what my gut’s telling me. You guys should really take a look at it.’ So I was like, ‘Well, listen, thank you for this. Goodbye.’
“I got to the cutting room and told Craig about this conversation, almost laughing about it. Craig was not really pleased because we were really…locked. But we said, let’s just take that section out, and watch the movie again, right here on the Steenbeck in the cutting room. So we lifted it out, watched it. And the power of just going to Jodie without all that other stuff…I think Goldman might’ve called it ‘the third act launchpad exposition stuff.’ It was just an extraordinary difference, an immeasurable improvement. That is William Goldman.”