William Goldman, Oscar-Winning Screenwriter, Dies At 87 William Goldman wrote the scripts for more than 30 movies, including Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, All the President's Men and The Princess Bride.

William Goldman, Oscar-Winning Screenwriter, Dies At 87

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We are sorry to tell you that William Goldman has died. He was 87 years old. Even if you don't know the name, you may well know his work because he wrote the scripts for more than 30 movies, including classics like "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" and "The Princess Bride." NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: For just one person to write all of the movies William Goldman wrote, it's nearly...


WALLACE SHAWN: (As Vizzini) Inconceivable.

ULABY: "The Princess Bride" and "Marathon Man," where Laurence Olivier tortures Dustin Hoffman in a dentist's chair.


LAURENCE OLIVIER: (As Szell) I just drill into a healthy tooth until I reach the pulp.

ULABY: And Goldman adapted "All The President's Men," one of the great newspaper books, into a great newspaper movie.


JACK WARDEN: (As Harry Rosenfeld) Woodward, Bernstein, you're both on the story. Now, don't [expletive] it up.

ULABY: Goldman also wrote the screenplays for "Heat," "Chaplin," "Misery," "The Stepford Wives" and many, many more. But he started as a novelist, and a successful one, not as a screenwriter.


WILLIAM GOLDMAN: I was 33 before I ever saw a screenplay.

ULABY: William Goldman on a DVD commentary for his first original screenplay, "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid."


GOLDMAN: I was an amateur at screenwriting at this point. And I went down and I bought the only book that was available all those years ago, and I thought, I can't write in this form. It was all full of numbers and capital letters and stuff.

ULABY: Goldman's screenplay set a record when it sold for almost half a million dollars in the late 1960s. It won four Oscars, including best original screenplay, and it made the career of Robert Redford, who, alongside Paul Newman, played an outlaw on the lam.


PAUL NEWMAN: (As Butch Cassidy) Boy. You know, every time I see Hole-in-the-Wall again, it's like seeing it fresh for the first time. And every time that happens, I keep asking myself the same question. How can I be so damn stupid as to keep coming back here?

ULABY: When William Goldman decided to write his own book about screenwriting, his fans included writer, director and screenwriting professor George Huang. He read "Adventures In The Screen Trade" not long after it was published in 1983.

GEORGE HUANG: Everything in that book is still accurate today.

ULABY: Huang says Goldman's book was gossipy and useful, filled with such tips as story is structure.

HUANG: Almost canon. It was, like, the Bible in the industry.

ULABY: The man who demystified movies was a Midwesterner, born in Chicago and educated in Ohio. Goldman said he was such a bad writer back then he could not get anything published in Oberlin's college magazine in spite of being the fiction editor. But Goldman would go on to write novels, a book about Broadway and all of those movies. With most of them, Goldman said, he could only see his mistakes. He claimed to love only two, "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" and "The Princess Bride."

It began as a present to his two young daughters. Here's Goldman on NPR in 1987.


GOLDMAN: I said, I'll write a children's story for you. What do you want it to be about? And one of them said princesses, and one of them said brides. And I said, that'll be the title.

ULABY: The title of an all-ages fairy tale front-loaded with pirates, giants and catchphrases.


MANDY PATINKIN: (As Inigo Montoya) My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

SHAWN: (As Vizzini) Ha-ha, you fool. You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia.

PATINKIN: (As Inigo Montoya) As you wish.

ULABY: William Goldman liked to say about Hollywood that nobody knows anything, meaning nobody knows what makes a hit. He was famously pragmatic.


GOLDMAN: I have great difficulty taking movies seriously as capital-A art.

ULABY: Goldman on NPR in 1987.


GOLDMAN: If you've been around the movie business and you know the compromises that are made and the changes that are made, I don't think Rembrandt went through those compromises and changes. I think he felt, I'll paint the hand this way, and this is how the hand came out. I don't think anybody said, gee, let's not have a hand. Let's have a foot.

ULABY: A hand for William Goldman, a great storyteller and, yes, an artist. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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