William Goldman, writer of the cult-classic film The Princess Bride died on Friday at the age of 87 in New York City. The novelist and screenwriting star is also celebrated for his two Academy Award-winning screenplays, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969 and All the President’s Men in 1976.

A rocky start

Born in Chicago, Goldman attended Oberlin College in Ohio where he called his attempts at writing “horrible” and remembered he “got the worst grade” in his creative writing course. Goldman, along with other classmates, served as editors of the school literary magazine. Being that submissions were anonymous, Goldman mustered the courage to submit his short stories to be considered for publication. In turn, he endured the other editors’ sharp criticism of his work, one saying, “We can’t possibly publish this s***.” Indeed, throughout his career, Goldman would continue to use disparaging words to describe his written works.

After being drafted into the Army where he served as a clerk at the Pentagon, Goldman earned a master’s degree in English from Columbia University in New York. Still, in his twenties, he hoped to write poetry, short stories, and novels. But, according to Goldman, he received about a hundred rejection slips for his short stories from various publishers.

“I realized I had gotten a masters, and I wanted to be a writer. I showed no signs of talent. No one ever had the least notion that I would succeed as a writer,” he recalled. However, “in a frenzy of three weeks,” he wrote his first novel The Temple of Gold. Much to his shock, it got published, and it launched his writing career. In fact, Goldman published five novels before the age of 33.

Goldman was asked to help on the 1965 script Masquerade and thus began his over two-decade-long scriptwriting period. He adapted some of his own novels including Marathon Man which starred Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier; Magic starring Anthony Hopkins; and Heat starring Burt Reynolds. Also, he adapted other authors’ novels like the film Harper starring Paul Newman in 1966. It turned out to be a big hit in theaters and launched Goldman as a screenwriter.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Next, Goldman wrote his first original screenplay–a western called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid–which he’d been researching for eight years. He sold it for a record-breaking sum of $400,000 at the time, which amounts to about $3 million today. The film is famous for its big leap of faith and the quote, “Who are those guys?” The movie was a great critical and commercial success, and Goldman earned his first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

All the President’s Men

Indeed, Goldman took home his second Oscar for his All the President’s Men screenplay, a film famous for the line, “Follow the money.” Goldman wasn’t happy with the film as he had to write a frustrating amount of versions of the script. In his memoir, he said if he could do it over again, he’d have written all the same screenplays, “Only I wouldn’t have come near ‘All the President’s Men.’” That being said, IGN described the script as a “model of storytelling clarity … and artful manipulation.”

The Princess Bride

Goldman adapted his 1973 comedy-fantasy novel entitled The Princess Bride for the 1987 Rob Reiner film of the same name. The whimsical story of enchanting love and adventure told with slapstick humor is famous for its quotable lines: “Inconceivable!” “As you wish!” and “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!” Bravo includes the film on its 100 Funniest Movies list and AFI ranks it among its greatest film love stories.

Goldman had a hand in so many movies, it can be hard to keep track of them all. Other screenplays he adapted include The Stepford Wives, Stephen King’s Misery, and Absolute Power. Then, he created screenplays like The Great Waldo Pepper. And he based some screenplays on real people such as those involved with the Watergate scandal in All the President’s Men and the comedian Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin. He also served as a script doctor doing uncredited work on films including A Few Good Men, Indecent Proposal, and Dolores Claiborne.

Looking back at his prolific works, Goldman once said, “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 things I’ve ever written–not that I’m proud of–but that I can look at without humiliation.”

Author Sean Egan described Goldman as “one of the late twentieth century’s most popular storytellers.” Goldman’s many fans certainly would agree with that!

 

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