Magazine article The Spectator

'William Goldman', by Sean Egan - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'William Goldman', by Sean Egan - Review

Article excerpt

William Goldman Sean Egan

BearManor Media, pp.284, £17.20, ISBN: 9781593935832

Should one say 'vicious circle' or 'vicious cycle'? That's a question that just goes round and round inside my head.

In the case of the American novelist and screenwriter William Goldman, he has always abhorred reviewers ('whores and failures', in his eyes), and the reviewers have returned the compliment. When he was paid $400,000 for the script of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, it was the highest price ever for a screenplay, and the pundits were quick to pan it. The public differed, and the film was a smash hit (the script, of course, is a masterpiece). But it's interesting to consider why Goldman has always been quite so critical of the critics.

Part of it, I believe, is a rebellious attitude -- anti-old, anti-system -- stemming from arrested development caused by two adolescent traumas. The first was the suicide of his alcoholic father, for which Goldman always blamed himself (if he'd only got home earlier that day). The second was his mother telling him her deafness was the result of complications when she gave birth to him -- which wasn't true, as she revealed on her deathbed. From this it followed, if my theory is correct, that Goldman's mindset became fixed at around the age of 15.

Perfect, in other words, for penning some of the greatest movie scripts of his time. Goldman was originally going to place his younger character first and call his best-known film The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy , but was persuaded out of it on the basis that the actor playing Butch (Paul Newman) was a star, while the Kid (Robert Redford) was unknown. The idea was that the film should flout the hoary conventions of the Western, with heroes who were beautiful rather than butch (Newman's genial portrayal rendering his character name comically ill-fitting), more likely to crack jokes than skulls, and willing to play unfair if necessary: witness the kick in the groin by which Butch neutralises, and nearly neuters, a mutinous gang-member.

That script won Goldman an Oscar, as did his script for All the President's Men (1976), which told perhaps the greatest anti-establishment story of the 20th century. Goldman being Goldman, he didn't bother to turn up to either ceremony, on the grounds, he claimed, that he didn't think he'd win, and in any case, the awards weren't such a big deal in those days. …

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