Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Getting It Write

The first screenwriter I knew about was Paddy Chayefsky. He wrote Network, and when he won an Oscar for it, I was just old enough to figure that he was the bomb. And he was. For a time. This opened the door for me to start paying attention to the screenplay credits of all the movies I watched. And while I was waiting for Mister Chayefsky to turn out another masterpiece, there was this guy who seemed to have a pretty good gig going: William Goldman.
I am probably dating myself by suggesting that everyone should see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. At least once. Made in 1969, it was the prototype for buddy movies that came by the crate-full shortly after that. And while many of them were quite enjoyable and well made in their own right, they didn't have the wit and buoyancy of the original. All through the seventies and eighties, when the credits included "screenplay by William Goldman," you could be pretty sure you were in for a fun ride. He wrote the novel Marathon Man and adapted it for the screen, giving us all a legitimate fear of Nazi dentists. He adapted Ira Levin's novel The Stepford Wives, giving us all a legitimate fear of suburbia. He turned Stephen King's Misery into a movie that made us all fear our number one fan.
Then there was this book my wife, before we ever started dating, insisted that I read: The Princess Bride. It was written by S. Morgenstern, and retold in a "good parts" version by William Goldman. Yes. That William Goldman. When all that fencing and fighting and torture and true love was made into a film, it was only right that William Goldman should prepare it for the screen. I hope that I am not dating myself again by suggesting that if you were alive in the past thirty years and have not seen The Princess Bride, then you are not as happy as you could be. And though she would complain bitterly that the omission of the first chapter of the book makes it a lesser work, my wife will always watch every frame, because it was written by William Goldman.
And now the man who made so many of those favorite moments has gone. He left dozens of screenplays and inspired a generation of screenwriters, and would-be screenwriters like me. He brought the Terra to life for Butch and Sundance to stomp on, and for Buttercup and Westley to find each other. He will be missed.
Aloha, Mister Goldman.

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