William Goldman Dead? Inconceivable!

William Goldman at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009. He was attending a screening of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” one of two films for which he won the Academy Award.CreditCreditJoe Kohen/WireImage, via Getty Images

William Goldman at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009. He was attending a screening of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” one of two films for which he won the Academy Award.CreditCreditJoe Kohen/WireImage, via Getty Images

William Goldman, novelist and screenwriter, died in Manhattan this past Friday. He was 87 years old.1

Vizzini: Inconceivable!
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

While he won Academy Awards for his screenplays for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men,” and wrote a dozen or more other highly successful screenplays, including “Misery,” “A Bridge Too Far,” “The Stepford Wives” and “Chaplin,” He’s probably best known for two his own novels he adapted for the screen, “The Princess Bride” and “Marathon Man.” And best known – or at least quoted most often – for “The Princess Bride.”

Inigo Montoya: Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!
Count Rugen: Stop saying that!

WC was first introduced to William Goldman’s work via the novel version of “The Princess Bride,” published, weirdly enough, by the Science Fiction Book Club. WC was unimpressed. A post-modern fairy tale, it had at that first reading a smirky, smug tone that grated on WC. The 1986 movie was better; Billy Crystal’s work as Miracle Max – a movie addition, reportedly improv from Crystal, not in the book – was worth the price of admission by itself.

Buttercup: You mock my pain!
Man in Black: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

The book’s conceit, if you haven’t read it, is that Goldman’s father read Goldman the story as a child. S. Morgenstern’s “classic tale of true love and high adventure,”  but left out the tedious, boring, mushy and nasty bits.2

Miracle Max and Valerie: Have fun stormin’ da castle.

The breezy, self-consciously ironic tone of “The Princess Bride” left WC unprepared for the second Goldman novel WC read, “Marathon Man.” WC stayed away from dentists for a couple of years after that.

Vizzini: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders—the most famous of which is, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”—but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line”! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha…[thunk].

WC was dragged to the movie, reluctant because of his dislike for the book, and enjoyed himself immensely. While Goldman thought he was a novelist who supported himself as a screenwriter, history – and WC’s own experience – suggests Goldman had it backwards. Goldman will be remembered for his movie scripts.

Man in Black: You were already more beautiful than anything I dared to dream. In our years apart, my imaginings did their best to improve on you perfection. At night, your face was forever behind my eyes. And now I see that that vision who kept me company in my loneliness was a hag compared to the beauty now before me.
Buttercup: Enough about my beauty. Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I’ve got a mind, Westley. Talk about that.

Which, ironically enough, is ironic, because Goldman disliked Hollywood. In 1983, he wrote, “Adventures in the Skin Trade,” an insider’s immensely unflattering view of Hollywood. In “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” Goldman made headlines and enemies in that famously thin-skinned industry when he declared, “Nobody knows anything.” Yet his harsh summary assessment of the movie business was embraced by actors, directors and critics. Expanding on his comment, he wrote, “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work.”

Inigo Montoya: Who are you?
Man in Black: No one of consequence.
Inigo Montoya: I must know.
Man in Black: Get used to disappointment.

Of screen-writing he said, “It’s a skill; it’s carpentry; it’s structure. I don’t mean to knock it — it ain’t easy. But if it’s all you do, if you only write screenplays, it is ultimately denigrating to the soul. You may get lucky and get rich, but you sure won’t get happy.” Or as he wrote in “All the President’s Men,” “Follow the money.”

Miracle Max: He’s only mostly dead. If he were all dead, there’s only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: And what’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his pockets and look for loose change.

R.I.P. William Goldman, 1931-2018.

In a business where most screenwriters labor in anonymity, Goldman was a star. So WC will give him the last word:

William Goldman: Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.


  1. This and all other quotes save the last are from the movie version of “The Princess Bride.” 
  2.  Not everyone got the joke. You can still find reviewers on Amazon asking how they can get S. Morgenstern’s “unabridged version.”