- This article is about the screenwriter/novelist. For the mathematician, see William Goldman (professor).
Goldman grew up in a Jewish
family in the Chicago
suburb of Highland Park, Illinois
obtained a BA degree at Oberlin College
in 1952 and a MA degree at Columbia University
According to Goldman's memoir, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Goldman began writing when he took a creative writing course in college. He did not originally intend to become a screenwriter. His main interests were poetry, short stories, and novels. William Goldman published five novels and had three plays produced on Broadway before he began to write screenplays. He wrote mostly serious literary works until the death of his first agent when he then began writing thrillers starting with Marathon Man.
Goldman researched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for eight years and used Harry Longbaugh (a variant spelling of the Sundance Kid's real name) as his pseudonym for No Way to Treat a Lady. After deciding he did not want to write a cowboy novel, he turned the story into his first original screenplay and sold it for a record $400,000. He went on to use several of his novels as the foundation for his screenplays, such as the The Princess Bride. Among the many other popular scripts written by Goldman are The Stepford Wives (1975), Marathon Man (based on his novel) (1976); A Bridge Too Far (1977); Misery (1990); Chaplin (1992); Maverick (1994) and Absolute Power (1997).
In the 1980s he wrote a series of memoirs looking at his professional life on Broadway and in Hollywood. In one of these he famously sized up the entertainment industry by concluding: "Nobody knows anything."
Goldman has won two Academy Awards: an Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay for All the President's Men. He has 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 own 1976 novel) in 1979.
He was married to Ilene Jones until their divorce in 1991. The couple had two daughters.
is both a pseudonym
and a narrative device invented by Goldman to add another layer to his novel The Princess Bride
. He presents his novel as being an abridged version of a work by the fictional Morgenstern, an author from the equally fictional country of Florin.
The details of Goldman's life given in the introduction and commentary for The Princess Bride are also largely fictional. For instance, he says that his wife is a psychiatrist and that he was inspired to abridge Morgenstern's The Princess Bride for his only child, a son. (The Princess Bride actually originated as a bedtime story for Goldman's two daughters.) He not only treats Morgenstern and the countries of Florin and Guilder as real, but even claims that his own father was Florinese and had emigrated to America.
At one point in The Princess Bride, Goldman's commentary indicates that he had wanted to add a passage elaborating a scene skipped over by Morgenstern. He explains that his editors would not allow him to take such liberties with the "original" text, and encourages readers to write to his publisher to request a copy of this scene. Both the original publisher and its successor have responded to such requests with letters describing their supposed legal problems with the Morgenstern estate.
In the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Princess Bride, Goldman claimed that he wanted to adapt the sequel written by Morgenstern, Buttercup's Baby, but he was unable to do so because Morgenstern's estate wanted Stephen King to do the abridgment instead. He also continued the fictional details of his own life, claiming that his psychiatrist wife had divorced him, and his son had grown to have a son of his own.
Goldman also wrote The Silent Gondoliers under the Morgenstern name.
- Favorite writers: Irwin Shaw, Ingmar Bergman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ross Macdonald.
- His three favorite directors are Elia Kazan, Ingmar Bergman, and George Stevens.
- In Which Lie Did I Tell? Goldman discusses his dislike for “bloodbath action” movies and his spoof of them in Last Action Hero when he was hired for $1 million for a month's work on the script.
- Turned down The Graduate (“didn't get the book”), The Godfather (loved the book, but didn't want to glamorise the Mafia) and Superman (a big comic fan, but he didn't want to write with a major movie star in the lead, as was the original plan, so they hired Mario Puzo).
- William Goldman was referred to in Stephen King's 1986 novel It. In that book he is said to be the only good writer to ever go to Hollywood and remain good. Goldman later wrote the screenplays for King's novels Misery, Hearts in Atlantis, and Dreamcatcher.
- Goldman wrote the famous line "Follow the money" for the screenplay of All the President's Men. Most journalists attribute it to Deep Throat, the informant in the Watergate scandal, but it is not in Bob Woodward’s notes nor in Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book or articles.
- Gave the Oberlin College commencement address in May 1985, and said that whenever he is mistaken for William Golding, the late British author and Nobel Prize for Literature winner best known for the novel Lord of the Flies, Goldman smiles and graciously accepts compliments on Golding's writing.
- A widespread rumor was that Good Will Hunting was actually written by William Goldman instead of its credited writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. In his book Which Lie Did I Tell? Goldman dismisses this, claiming only to have advised them on their script.
- In the DVD commentary for Fight Club, actor Edward Norton refers to William Goldman as one "ranting and raving about their own obsolescence" in reference to Goldman's criticism of the quality of modern films, particularly those of 1999, the year Fight Club was released.
Non-fiction and memoirs
- New World Writing Number 17 - 1960
- A collection of stories, poems and articles by several authors, with an 11-page story entitled "Da Vinci" by Goldman
- The Craft of the Screenwriter by John Brady - 1981
- Includes a profile on Goldman and a lengthy interview about his craft
- The Movie Business Book by James E. Squire (Editor) - 1992
- Includes an As Told By William Goldman piece
- Writers on Directors by Susan Gray - 1999
- Goldman has a piece on Rob Reiner in this book, and another on Norman Jewison
- The First Time I Got Paid For It: Writers' Tales From the Hollywood Trenches - 2000
- Goldman speaks candidly about his writing process in American Film Foundation's series Screenwriters: Words into Motion.
- Goldman interviewed by Laurent Vachaud inPositif- 1990.