William Goldman, Oscar-Winning Writer of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and ‘All the President’s Men’, Dies at 87

Screenwriter William Goldman attends the 8th Annual Tribeca Film Festival’s Tribeca Drive-In presentations of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” at the North Cove at World Financial Center Plaza on April 24, 2009 in New York City.

William Goldman, who won Oscars for his original screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and his adaptation of “All the President’s Men,” died on Friday in his Manhattan home, according to the the Washington Post. He was 87.

His daughter Jenny Goldman cited complications from colon cancer and pneumonia as the cause of his death.

“Butch Cassidy,” a revisionist Western that helped popularize the buddy movie, announced Goldman as a screenwriter able to balance big laughs with a sense of adventure, while “All the President’s Men” cemented his status as a deft writer of suspense. The two are considered to be among the finest screenplays ever written and exemplify Goldman’s range and versatility.

In a 2015 interview with Signature, Goldman was asked about his ability to bounce from genre to genre.

“You cross your fingers and never stop,” he said. “Praying is also good.”

Goldman, who frequently transferred his novels, such as “Magic,” “The Princess Bride” and “Marathon Man,” to the screen, was also a chronicler of the movie business. His books, “Adventures in the Screen Trade” and “Hype and Glory,” offer an unvarnished look at the kind of meddling and risk aversion by studio big wigs that all too often neuters creativity. Of the movie business he once famously observed “nobody knows anything,” a bit of wry wisdom that is often quoted on studio lots and executive suites.

Goldman also turned his penetrating eyes towards the stage and professional sports, collaborating on accounts of those industries. As with his scripts, he brought acute observation, entertainment value and, especially, wit to even his most serious enterprises. He also did uncredited touch ups on such films as “Indecent Proposal,” “The Right Stuff” and “Good Will Hunting” as well as some films he was probably happy not to have on his resume, such as the Arnold Schwarzenegger flop “The Last Action Hero.”

In an April 2015 piece on Goldman, the Writers Guild magazine Written By declared: “What’s remarkable about ‘Butch Cassidy’ and Bill Goldman is how many kids they encouraged and how many would-be writers turned themselves into screenwriters by studying the script and the movie and Goldman’s memoir ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade.’” Further detailing his influence, the magazine said: “His descriptive style, with its literary origins and frequent use of asides and comments, provides a map to a screenwriting path followed enthusiastically by writers from Shane Black to Vince Gilligan.”

His 1964 novel “Boys and Girls Together” failed to impress critics, but it became Goldman’s first bestseller. That same year came “No Way to Treat a Lady,” a comic thriller that also later became a film. It was published under one of the many pseudonyms he used, Harry Longbaugh, the real name of the Sundance Kid.

A screenwriting career came about by accident, Goldman said. Having read an early draft of “No Way,” actor Cliff Robertson thought it a film treatment and asked Goldman to adapt the short story “Flowers for Algernon” to the screen. Though none of Goldman’s work made it into the movie eventually called “Charley,” it was through Robertson that Goldman was brought in to work on the 1965 caper movie “Masquerade,” his first produced film, for which he shared the script credit with Michael Relph. He next adapted Ross MacDonald’s “The Moving Target,” which became the 1966 Paul Newman vehicle “Harper.”

Goldman spent a year exploring the 1967-68 Broadway season — doing everything from attending out-of-town tryouts of every production and to conducting interviews with actors and directors. “The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway” was criticized for bias and snark when it was published in 1969, but reviewers conceded that it was a highly entertaining read.

Also in 1969, Goldman received what was then a high-water mark of $400,000 for his original screenplay “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The film starring Newman and Robert Redford was one of the biggest hits of the decade and made Goldman a screenwriter in demand.

Goldman adapted his 1974 novel “Marathon Man” as a bigscreen vehicle for Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. The ending of the movie was changed without his consent, but the film contained a memorable sequence of torture that still leaves viewers reluctant to return to the dentist’s chair. His 1976 novel “Magic” later made it to the screen with Anthony Hopkins.

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SOURCE: Variety, Richard Natale

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