William Goldman, writer of The Princess Bride and All the President's Men, dead at 87

Oscar-winning screenwriter and novelist William Goldman has died. He was 87. Goldman won Academy Awards for the comic western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the political thriller All the President's Men.

'Nobody knows anything,' Goldman famously said about Hollywood

Screenwriter William Goldman, seen attending a 2009 screening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in New York, has died at 87. (Will Ragozzino/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

William Goldman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and Hollywood wise man who won Academy Awards for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men and summed up the mystery of making a box office hit by declaring "Nobody knows anything," has died. He was 87.

Goldman's daughter Jenny said her father died early Friday in New York due to complications from colon cancer and pneumonia.

"So much of what's he's written can express who he was and what he was about," she said, adding that the last few weeks, while Goldman was ailing, revealed how many people considered him family.

Goldman, who also converted his novels Marathon ManMagicThe Princess Bride and Heat into screenplays, clearly knew more than most about what the audience wanted. He was not only a successful filmwriter, but a top script doctor, the industry title for an uncredited writer brought in to improve or "punch up" weak screenplays.

Goldman also made political history by coining the phrase, "Follow the money" in his script for All the President's Men, adapted from the book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the Watergate political scandal. 

Goldman accepts his best screenplay Oscar for All The President's Men in March 1977. (Associated Press)

The film starred Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein. Standing in the shadows, Hal Holbrook was the mystery man code-named Deep Throat who helped the reporters pursue the evidence.

His advice, "Follow the money," became so widely quoted that few people realized it was never said during the actual scandal.

'The dean of American screenwriters'

A confirmed New Yorker, Goldman declined to work in Hollywood. Instead, he would fly to Los Angeles for two-day conferences with directors and producers, then return home to fashion a script, which he did with amazing speed. In his 1985 book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, he expressed disdain for an industry that elaborately produced and tested a movie, only to see it dismissed by the public during its first weekend in theatres.

"Nobody knows anything," he remarked.

Goldman, left, is seen with director Norman Jewison and actress Olympia Dukakis in New York in 2007. (Steven Henry/Getty Images)

Screenwriter and filmmaker Aaron Sorkin called Goldman a mentor.

"He was the dean of American screenwriters and generations of filmmakers will continue to walk in the footprints he laid," Sorkin said in a statement.

"He wrote so many unforgettable movies, so many thunderous novels and works of non-fiction, and while I'll always wish he'd written one more, I'll always be grateful for what he's left us."

Goldman launched his writing career after receiving a master's degree in English from Columbia University in 1956. Weary of academia, he declined the chance to earn a PhD, choosing instead to write the novel The Temple of Gold in 10 days. Knopf agreed to publish it.

"If the book had not been taken," he told an interviewer, "I would have gone into advertising ... or something."

Instead, he wrote other novels, including Soldier in the Rain, which became a movie starring Steve McQueen. Goldman also co-authored a play and a musical with his older brother, James, but both failed on Broadway.

James Goldman would later write the historical play The Lion in Winter, which he converted to film, winning the 1968 Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

Breakthrough with Butch Cassidy

William Goldman had come to screenwriting by accident after actor Cliff Robertson read one of his books, No Way to Treat a Lady, and thought it was a film treatment. After he hired the young writer to fashion a script from a short story, Goldman rushed out to buy a book on screenwriting.

Robertson rejected the script but found Goldman a job working on a screenplay for a British thriller. After that he adapted his novel Harper for a 1966 film starring Paul Newman as a private eye.

He broke through in 1969 with the blockbuster Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Newman and Redford. Based on the exploits of the real-life Hole in the Wall Gang of bank robbers, the movie began a long association with Redford, who also appeared in The Hot RockThe Great Waldo Pepper and Indecent Proposal.

Other notable Goldman films included The Stepford Wives, A Bridge Too Far and Misery. The latter, adapted from a Stephen King suspense novel, won the 1990 Oscar for Kathy Bates as lead actress.

In 1961 Goldman married Ilene Jones, a photographer, and they had two daughters, Jenny and Susanna. The couple divorced in 1991.

Born in Chicago on Aug. 12, 1931, Goldman grew up in the suburb of Highland Park. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1952 and served two years in the U.S. Army.

Despite his success as a screenwriter, Goldman always considered himself a novelist and didn't rate his scripts as great artistic achievements.

"A screenplay is a piece of carpentry," he once said. "And except in the case of Ingmar Bergman, it's not an art, it's a craft."


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