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R.I.P. The Princess Bride and All The President’s Men screenwriter William Goldman

Photo: Peter Jones (Getty Images)

William Goldman, the prolific writer behind several American film classics, died last night. Deadline reported the news this morning, saying Goldman died surrounded by friends and family after his health began to deteriorate over the summer. He was 87.

Though Goldman’s name is attached to a number of memorable films, his work on All The President’s Men and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid won him Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay, respectively. Also on his resume are the scripts for Marathon Man, Misery, The Stepford Wives, Flowers For Algernon, and The Princess Bride, which he adapted from his own novel. His first script was 1965's Masquerade, which he completed after beginning his career as a novelist.


You can also thank Goldman for being one of Hollywood’s best behind-the-scenes script doctors. He helped Aaron Sorkin with A Few Good Men, Amy Holden Jones with Indecent Proposal, and even tried to help Shane Black unlock Last Action Hero. Deadline also shared a tale from Jonathan Demme, who credits Goldman with making his Oscar-winning The Silence Of The Lambs better. Read Demme’s account from Deadline’s 25th anniversary retrospective on the film:

“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.”

Goldman is also lauded in Hollywood for his memoir, Adventures In The Screen Trade, which is a treasured tome among aspiring screenwriters. He was cherished by many in Hollywood, and the tributes began pouring in soon after his death was revealed. See some below.


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Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.