Movies

In Memoriam: How William Goldman Narrated My Childhood

William Goldman died today. While many may not quite be able to place him … isn’t he the guy who wrote … did he do … I know exactly who William Goldman is. He is a mother f**king legend.

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I was ten years old when The Princess Bride came out. I liked pirates. And I enjoyed a good fairy tale. And I was a wrestling fan. And I liked Billy Crystal because I watched reruns of Soap. And I am not about to apologize for a single f**king one of those. So a swashbuckling fairy tale of adventure and love starring Andre the Giant and featuring Billy Crystal? Yes, please. More of those things.

The Princess Bride became my spirit animal. I watched it more times than I care to admit. I quoted it. It was my heart song. And, therefore, I followed each and every one of those who came from it. This film is the reason I love Cary Elwes too much. It’s the reason I watched Criminal Minds and House of Cards and The Wonder Years and Columbo. And it is the reason I poured myself into William Goldman.

After finding and reading his novel upon which Goldman based his screenplay for The Princess Bride (and it may be even better than the movie … for real), I discovered other films William Goldman wrote. I read his advice on screenwriting. I devoured everything I could from the man. But I didn’t know until I was much older that I was witnessing iconic film moments.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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One of his first and one of his original screenplays. Nothing will ever match it. Robert Redford and Paul Newman firing away into the sunset together in one of the most legendary endings of any movie ever.

The Stepford Wives

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Goldman’s adaption of the Ira Levin novel gave us new terminology. The term Stepford Wife has ingrained itself into our lexicon so completely that many say it without even knowing its origin.

All the President’s Men

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I challenge you to read the book, and then see the movie. What Goldman did with this source material was cinematic genius. Not to say the book is bad, but the movie is brilliant. It’s a thriller.

Marathon Man

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Working from another of his novels, Goldman went to work once again with Dustin Hoffman to give us yet another line we hear all the time without fully remembering where it came from. “Is it safe?”

Misery

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This is one of several people either forget or never knew Goldman wrote. Although he had some excellent source material to work with here, still … what a f**king movie.

Later Films

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Later in his career, Goldman churned out some screenplays that, while not quite as iconic, were every bit the finger-nail-chewing thrillers. Absolute Power, The General’s Daughter, The Chamber, Maverick, Year of the Comet. These ranged from underrated (Maverick) to overacted (General’s Daughter), but they all shared one thing in common: great screenplays.

Call this one last fanboy love letter to an idol. Or call it a eulogy for one of the greats. But these films came together to become the background noise of my formative years. I watch them in much the same way I look at childhood photos.

If these things happen in threes, after Stan Lee and William Goldman, my stomach hurts thinking about who could be next. But if you have some time on the couch this weekend, and you’re looking for something to watch, do yourself a favor. Check out a classic William Goldman movie. Any of them. For me, I’ll be settling in to return to my childhood. I hear people all the time refer to screenwriters as brilliant.

And every time, I think of Goldman. A real genius of a screenwriter. And I chuckle to myself, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

 

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Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman writes mysteries, comedies, and irreverent analyses of pop culture. He is the author of JUGGLING KITTENS and GRAFFITI CREEK, both of which have too many bad words for his mom's liking. You can find him at mattcolemanbooks.com.

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