William Goldman

This article is about the screenwriter/novelist. For the mathematician, see William Goldman (mathematician). For the Lord of the Flies author, see William Golding.
"Harry Longbaugh" redirects here. For "Harry Longabaugh" a subject of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, see Sundance Kid.
William Goldman

Goldman at the 2008 Screenwriting Expo
Born (1931-08-12) August 12, 1931
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Pen name S. Morgenstern
Occupation Non-fiction author, novelist, playwright, screenwriter
Alma mater
Genre Drama, fiction, literature, thriller
Spouse Ilene Jones (1961–1991; divorced; 2 children, Jenny Rebecca and Susanna)
Relatives James Goldman (brother)

William Goldman (born August 12, 1931) is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He came to prominence in the 1950s as a novelist, before turning to writing for film. He has won two Academy Awards for his screenplays, first for the western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and again for All the President's Men (1976), about journalists who broke the Watergate scandal of President Richard Nixon. Both films starred Robert Redford.

His other notable works include his thriller novel Marathon Man and comedy-fantasy novel The Princess Bride, both of which Goldman adapted for film.

Author Sean Egan has described Goldman as "one of the late twentieth century’s most popular storytellers."[1]

Early life

Goldman was born in Chicago and grew up in a Jewish family[2] in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois, the son of Marion (née Weil) and Maurice Clarence Goldman, who worked in business.[lower-alpha 1]

Goldman's father initially was a successful businessman, working in Chicago and then in partnership, but his alcoholism eventually sank his business. He "came home to live and he was in his pajamas for the last five years of his life," according to Goldman.[4] Maurice Goldman killed himself while his son was still in high school. Marion Goldman's deafness increased the stress in the home.[5]


Goldman received a bachelor of arts degree from Oberlin College in 1952, then went into the army. He knew how to type, so was sent to the Pentagon, where he worked as a clerk until discharged with the rank of corporal in September 1954. He then matriculated at Columbia University, where he earned a master of arts degree in 1956. Throughout all this, Goldman wrote short stories in the evenings but struggled to have them published.

After graduating, Goldman received an offer to teach at a high school and also considered working in advertising. But he really wanted to write.


Novelist, playwright and screenwriter

According to his memoir, Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), Goldman began writing when he took a creative-writing course in college. His grades in the class were "horrible".[6] An editor of Oberlin's literary magazine, he would submit short stories to the magazine anonymously; he recalls that the other editors, upon reading his submissions, remarked "We can't possibly publish this shit."[6] He did not originally intend to become a screenwriter. His main interests were poetry, short stories, and novels. In 1956 he completed an MA thesis at Columbia University on the comedy of manners in America.[7]

His brother, James Goldman, who died in 1998, was a playwright and screenwriter. They shared an apartment in New York with their friend John Kander (also Oberlin and Columbia MA) and helped out Kander, a composer, by writing the libretto for his dissertation. All three later won separate Academy Awards (Kander was the composer of Cabaret, Chicago, and a dozen other famous musicals).[6]

On 25 June 1956 Goldman started writing what became his first novel, The Temple of Gold. It was written in less than three weeks[8] and was picked up for publication. It sold well enough to launch Goldman on his career.[9]

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 started writing thrillers, the first of which was Marathon Man.

Goldman began writing screenplays in his 30s when Cliff Robertson hired him to adapt Flowers for Algernon, later retitled Charly, for which Robertson won the Academy Award for Best Actor.[6][10] Robertson then hired him to do some rewriting on Masquerade, which was Goldman's first screen credit.

Goldman researched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for eight years. 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 in the late 1960s.[6] Goldman felt that the script's potential, and the eight years of research involved in writing it, justified the fee.[6] He used Harry Longbaugh (a variant spelling of the Sundance Kid's real name) as his pen name for No Way to Treat a Lady. He went on to use several of his novels as the foundation for his screenplays, such as The Princess Bride. His book No Way to Treat a Lady was made into a film in 1968, but Goldman did not write the adaptation, which varied from the book.[11]

In 1973, Goldman contracted a rare strain of pneumonia which resulted in his being hospitalized and affected his health for months. This inspired him into a burst of creativity, including several novels and screenplays.[12] He says his novel writing moved in a more commercial direction following the death of his editor Hiram Haydn.[13]

Goldman wrote the famous line "Follow the money" for the screenplay of All the President's Men; while the line is often attributed to Deep Throat, it is not found in Bob Woodward’s notes nor in Woodward and Carl Bernstein's book or articles.[14] However, the book does have the far less quotable line from Woodward to Senator Sam Ervin, who was about to begin his own investigation: "The key was the secret campaign cash, and it should all be traced..."[15]

Goldman was unhappy with the movie; The Guardian says that he changes the subject when asked about the movie, but suggests that his displeasure may be because he was pressured to add a romantic interest to the film.[6] In his memoir, Goldman says of the film that if he could live his life over, he would have written the same screenplays, "Only I wouldn't have come near All the President's Men."[16] He said that he has never written as many versions of a screenplay as he did for that movie.[16] Speaking of his choice to write the script, he said "Many movies that get made are not long on art and are long on commerce. This was a project that seemed it might be both. You don't get many and you can't turn them down."[8]

In Michael Feeney Callan's book Robert Redford: The Biography Redford stated that Goldman did not actually write the filming screenplay for the movie,[17] a story that was excerpted in Vanity Fair.[18] Written By magazine conducted a thorough investigation of the screenplay's many drafts and concluded, "Goldman was the sole author of All The President's Men. Period."[16]

Goldman was the original screenwriter for the film version of Tom Wolfe's novel The Right Stuff; director Philip Kaufman wrote his own screenplay without using Goldman's material, because Kaufman wanted to include Chuck Yeager as a character; Goldman did not.[11]

He wrote the screenplay for Rob Reiner's 1990 adaptation of Stephen King's novel Misery, considered "one of [King's] least adaptable novels".[11] The movie performed well with critics and at the box office, and earned Kathy Bates an Academy Award.[11]

Goldman (left) and James Caan while shooting A Bridge Too Far in 1976

Among the other scripts Goldman has written are The Stepford Wives (1975), Marathon Man (based on his novel) (1976), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Chaplin (1992), Maverick (1994) and Absolute Power (1997).

One of Goldman's best-known unproduced scripts is a pirate adventure, The Sea Kings. It reportedly was to star Sean Connery and Roger Moore as pirates Blackbeard and Bonnet, but the budget was too high and the project was scrapped.[19]


In the 1980s, Goldman wrote a series of memoirs about his professional life on Broadway and in Hollywood. In the first of these, Adventures in the Screen Trade, he famously summed up the entertainment industry in the opening sentence of the book, "Nobody knows anything."[20][21][22] (The title is a pun on the title Adventures In The Skin Trade, a collection of stories by Dylan Thomas.) Reviewing the book, writer Art Kleiner wrote, "This is one of the three most engrossing 'creative confessional' books I've ever read... One third of the book talks about the roles of Hollywood film-making: how a film is affected by the star, the producer, the writer, and the other players. The next third tells the story of each film in Goldman's life; the final third takes you step-by-step through the making of Butch Cassidy, including a presentation of the full screenplay. This is a book of gossip with heart, gossip specifically chosen to enlighten you (and, it's pretty clear, to help Goldman himself work out his feelings about this business)."[23]

Michael Sragow, reviewing The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood? and Other Essays, writes, "Much of his gruff humor and charm derives from emphatic statements of the obvious. In writing about movies, seeing the obvious is an undeniable giftand pounding it home conveys how difficult it can be for common sense to penetrate hype. Goldman also applies a fine-honed sledgehammer to Good Will Hunting, a movie on which he consulted for one day and insists he likes. He observes that Robin Williams, playing (he chortles) 'the shrink with only one patient,' finds an awesomely simple solution to curing the mental torment of the young genius Matt Damon: he tells the boy, 'It's not your fault,' 10 times. Goldman, like a gleeful prosecutor, repeats the phrase for us 10 times, in italics.[24]

Sragow also describes Which Lie Did I Tell? (More Adventures in the Screen Trade): "In addition to brief descriptions of topics like spitballing (brainstorming story notions) and expansions or reprints of behind-the-scenes stories already published as introductions to Goldman's screenplays, it contains famous scenes from other writers' screenplays; how-to advice on judging ideas, on turning ideas into stories and on writing them in a way that hooks the attention of a director or a star; and a partial draft of a script, with reactions from esteemed peers."[24] School Library Journal wrote about Which Lie Did I Tell?, "From The Memoirs of an Invisible Man to Absolute Power, this master storyteller explains his role and his thought processes for each film, at the same time delivering an exposition on how stories are written and films are made. Sprinkled throughout is his advice for future screenwriters. In the second section, he analyzes classic film sequences, setting each scene, quoting excerpts from the screenplays, and then explaining what made them great. Finally, the author offers story ideas and examines their potential for the big screen."[25]

Autobiographical fiction

Simon Morgenstern is both a pseudonym and a narrative device invented by Goldman to add another layer to his novel The Princess Bride.[26] He presents his novel as an abridged version of a work by the fictional Morgenstern, an author from the equally fictional country of Florin. The name may be a reference to Johann Carl Simon Morgenstern, who coined the term Bildungsroman.

The details of Goldman's life given in the introduction and commentary for The Princess Bride are also largely fictional. For instance, he claims his wife Helen 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, and his wife's name was Ilene.) 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 immigrated to America. At one point in The Princess Bride, Goldman's commentary indicates that he had wanted to add a passage elaborating a scene Morgenstern skipped over. 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 15th and 25th Anniversary Editions of The Princess Bride, Goldman claimed that he wanted to adapt Morgenstern's sequel, Buttercup's Baby, but 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 pseudonym.

Critical reception

In their feature on Goldman, IGN said "It's a testament to just how truly great William Goldman is at his best that I actually had to think hard about what to select as his 'Must-See' cinematic work".[11] The site described his script for All the President's Men as a "model of storytelling clarity... and artful manipulation".[11]

Art Kleiner, writing in 1987, said, "William Goldman, a very skilled storyteller, wrote several of the most well-known films of the past 18 years—including Marathon Man, part of All the President's Men, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."[23]

Three of Goldman's scripts have been voted into the Writers Guild of America hall-of-fame's 101 Greatest Screenplays list.[16]

In his book evaluating Goldman's work, William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller (2014), Sean Egan said Goldman's achievements were made "without ever lunging for the lowest common denominator. Although his body of work has been consumed by millions, he has never let his populism overwhelm a glittering intelligence and penchant for upending expectation."[27]


In 2000, Goldman said of his writing:

Someone pointed out to me that the most sympathetic characters in my books always died miserably. I didn't consciously know I was doing that. I didn't. I mean, I didn't wake up each morning and think, today I think I'll make a really terrific guy so I can kill him. It just worked out that way. I haven't written a novel in over a decade... and someone very wise suggested that I might have stopped writing novels because my rage was gone. It's possible. All this doesn't mean a helluva lot, except probably there is a reason I was the guy who gave Babe over to Szell in the "Is it safe?" scene and that I was the guy who put Westley into The Machine. I think I have a way with pain. When I come to that kind of sequence I have a certain confidence that I can make it play. Because I come from such a dark corner.[28]

Goldman has also said of his work: "I [don’t] like my writing. I wrote a movie called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and I wrote a novel called The Princess Bride and those are the only two things I’ve ever written, not that I’m proud of, but that I can look at without humiliation."[29]


He has won two Academy Awards: an Award for Best Original Screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and an Award for Best 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 1976 novel) in 1979. In 1985, he received the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement from the Writers Guild of America.

Personal life

He was married to Ilene Jones from 1961 until their divorce in 1991; the couple have two daughters, Jenny Rebecca and Susanna.[30] Ilene, a native of Texas, modeled for Neiman Marcus; Ilene's brother was actor Allen Case.[31][32]

In an Internet chat hosted by CNN, Goldman said that his favorite writers are Miguel de Cervantes, Anton Chekhov, Somerset Maugham, Irwin Shaw, and Leo Tolstoy.[8]

He is well known in sports circles as a die-hard fan of the New York Knicks, having held season tickets at Madison Square Garden for over 40 years. He contributed a writing section to Bill Simmons's bestselling book about the history of the NBA, where he discusses the career of Dave DeBusschere.



Theatre (unproduced)

Screenplays (produced)

Screenplays (unproduced)




Non-fiction and memoirs

Children's books

Short stories

Notable articles


  1. He graduated from Highland Park High School in 1948.[3]


  1. Egan, Sean (2014), William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller, BearManor Media, p. 1.
  2. Erens, Patricia (1998). The Jew in American Cinema. Indiana University Press. p. 392. ISBN 978-0-253-20493-6.
  3. William Goldman Biography (1931–), Film reference.
  4. Egan p 6
  5. Egan p 6-7
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Queenan, Joe (April 25, 2009). "Newman, Hoffman, Redford and me". The Guardian. London. p. 6. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  7. William Goldman Papers, 1949–1997, Columbia University.
  8. 1 2 3 Goldman, William (December 1, 2001). "Chat books". CNN.com (transcript). Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  9. Egan p 8
  10. Tyler, Ralph (November 12, 1978), "'Butch Cassidy' Was My Western, 'Magic' Is My Hitchcock", The New York Times, New York, NY, p. D23.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Featured Filmmaker: William Goldman". Movies. IGN. February 18, 2003. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
  12. Andersen, Richard (1979), William Goldman, Twayne, p. 20.
  13. Brown, Dennis (1992), Shoptalk, Newmarket, p. 75.
  14. Rich, Frank (June 12, 2005). "Don't Follow the Money". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  15. Woodward & Bernstein 1974, p. 248.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Stayton, Richard (April–May 2011). "Fade In". Written By. Los Angeles: Writers Guild of America, West. ISSN 1092-468X. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  17. Lussler, Germain (May 30, 2011). "New Robert Redford Biography Claims William Goldman Didn't Write 'All The President's Men'". /Film. /Film. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  18. Callan, Michael Feeney (April 2011). "Washington Monument". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  19. "Sea kings", Script shadow (Blogger), Google, November 2009.
  20. Goldman 1983, p. 39.
  21. Williams, Christian (February 12, 2006). "If You're Out By Monday, Never Ask Why". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL. Retrieved July 11, 2011. I had heard that the rules were different in Hollywood, where, as the screenwriter William Goldman famously put it, 'nobody knows anything.'
  22. Turan, Kenneth (January 17, 2007). "What dark horse will be the next 'Sunshine'?". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL. Retrieved July 11, 2011. ...it becomes more apparent every year that William Goldman's great rule of studio film-making applies to the independent world as well: Nobody knows anything.
  23. 1 2 Kleiner, Art (Summer 1987). "Adventures in the Screen Trade". Whole Earth Review. San Francisco: Point Foundation: 120.
  24. 1 2 Sragow, Michael (April 9, 2000). "Famous Screenwriter's School: William Goldman on how to succeed in movies and still be ticked off". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 18, 2013.
  25. Drabkin, Jane S. (Sep 2000). "Which Lie Did I Tell: More Adventures in the Screen Trade". School Library Journal. 46 (9): 260.
  26. Zipes, Jack (1995). Sanders, Joseph L, ed. Functions of the Fantastic: selected essays from the Thirteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts Vol. 65. Thirteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (Recent Trends in the Contemporary American Fairy Tale from Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 8–9. ISBN 978-0-313-29521-8. Goldman recreates himself as the fictitious author of this work; that is, he uses a mask in the tradition of eighteenth-century novels...
  27. Egan, Sean (2014), William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller, BearManor Media, p. 2.
  28. Goldman 2000, pp. 151–2.
  29. Egan, Sean (2014), William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller, BearManor Media, p. 17.
  30. Julia Noël Goldman
  31. Taylor, Angela (August 26, 1973). "Fashions For Fall Looking Good On The Go". The NY times. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  32. "RITES SCHEDULED FRIDAY FOR ENTERTAINER ALLEN CASE". The Dallas Morning News. News bank. August 27, 1986. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  33. Ilson, Carol, Harold Prince: a director's journey, p. 56.
  34. Series IV: Manuscripts William Goldman papers, Columbia University.
  35. Goldman 2000, pp. 238–9.
  36. Robson Gets 'Escape Route' Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 July 1966: c17.
  37. Goldman 1982, pp. 262–73.
  38. Goldman, William, Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade (Excerpt).
  39. "Just mean to the girls", The Guardian, 1959–2003, London, UK, p. 11, August 11, 1979.
  40. Goldman 2000, pp. 6–7.
  41. Goldman 2000, p. 8.
  42. Goldman 2000, pp. 267–8.
  43. http://au.ign.com/articles/2003/03/24/goldman-on-shazam
  44. "Wigger". WorldCat. Retrieved February 18, 2013.

Books cited

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