R.I.P, William Goldman—and thanks for the memories
The author and screenwriter William Goldman has died at the age of 87. Goldman is best known for writing the The Princess Bride, which he subsequently turned into a screenplay; the movie has moved beyond cult-classic status to become a cultural icon. Goldman’s first screenplay was the Oscar-winning Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Later, he won another Oscar for his adaptation of Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men. He also turned two more of his own novels into movie scripts, adapted Stephen King’s Misery for both screen and stage, and wrote a definitive book on screenwriting, Adventures in the Screen Trade.
I’m grateful to William Goldman not only for The Princess Bride and his other works, but for something more personal. Goldman was a graduate of Oberlin College; he returned to give the commencement address to my graduating class. His speech was warm and funny and encouraging, yet to my regret, I remember little of the actual content. I do remember that he spoke about the fictional author he invented for The Princess Bride, and that some readers believed the fiction that he (Goldman) had abridged a longer work. (What I didn’t know until recently is that his own autobiographical details, as given in the foreword, are also largely fictional.) At that time, The Princess Bride had not yet been turned into a movie, and I hadn’t even encountered the book; after hearing him speak, I resolved to read it, and found it delightful.
But what made the biggest impression on me was a story he told about his own graduation. A friend who had graduated some years earlier told him to look around the campus and said to him,
“You see those kids on their bikes? They want you to leave. All this belongs to them now, not you. You don’t belong here anymore. Nobody wants you here anymore. There’s no room for you here now and there never will be again. Your time is over.”*
No, it wasn’t, Goldman assured us. Oberlin would always be there for us.
He was right.
*Thanks to Jenny at the Sweat and Sprezzatura blog for preserving those words. I tried to find a full transcript of Goldman’s commencement speech, but couldn’t locate one.
Photo courtesy of William Goldman’s Goodreads page.