WILLIAM GOLDMAN - 1931-2018
From my interview with William Goldman on August 21, 2003.
Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman says 95 per cent of his work has been "ruined" by Hollywood and just because he’s paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get him.
He said -
Fact one: Directors, producers and studios spoil most of what he writes.
Fact two: He is about to be blacklisted and "treated like a leper" for the second time in his career.
Fact three: He couldn't give a shit.
It's 7.30am Melbourne time when Goldman calls from New York to discuss his new movie, the Scott Hicks directed Hearts in Atlantis.
He rarely talks on behalf of his films, so he must like this one: "Bill Goldman, here. What time is it there? I'm lead to believe it's the middle of the night. What do you want to talk about?"
I want to talk about everything. Goldman wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man and All the President's Men before being thrown on the scrap heap at the age of 49. It was during this period he wrote a best-selling book mocking everyone he ever worked with, particularly "time-wasters" Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and director Alan Pakula.
Then, Hollywood embraced him again.
"There's a wonderful sign a New York playwright friend has above his desk. It says, 'Nobody made you be a writer'," Goldman says.
"One of the awful things about being a writer is that you know you are not going to be any good. You're not going to be as good as the people who made you want to be a writer. That sort of thing dogs me every day. But it's true. Nobody made me do it."
Goldman's screenplays have made him an industry icon, but it was his scandalous, warts-and-all journal, Adventures in the Screentrade, that brought him public fame. Goldman says the book's gimmick, he says, was truth.
"I don't want to sound grandiose but in the US, the movies have become centre of our culture," he says. "There is so much horse---- and lying about the movies. Everyone gets damaged when they start out. Everyone gets lied to. Everyone has unnecessary pain. And I had read so many books on how wonderful the entertainment business is and I thought, 'I can't have that on my conscience. I have to write about what it has been like for me.'
"I never thought people wouldn't speak to me again because they were not speaking to me in the first place. I was a leper. I had five or six years between 1979 and 1985 where the phone didn't ring. So the book couldn't have hurt my career because I didn't have one."
Goldman won Oscars for Butch Cassidy in 1969 and All the President's Men in 1976. He had risen from short story writer whose "masterpieces" were rejected from the university newspaper to celebrated novelist and screenwriter. After the boom, there was the bust. By 1979, three years after he collected his second gold statue, Hollywood decided he could no longer write.
"I didn't realise I'd become a leper," he says. "What happened was I had written a bunch of movies that hadn't got made. Producers don't hire you any more when your movies aren't getting made. They think, 'Why am I paying this areshole so much money and nothing happens. I had four or five movies in a row that didn't happen at all. Then, all of a sudden, the phone stopped ringing.
"Everybody in the movie business knows they are going to become a leper at one point. It just happens. It happened to Orson Wells. It happens to everyone. I will become a leper again. I will because I'm old. And they're very age-ist in Hollywood. But I'm forestalling that as much as I can."
Goldman is proud of his reputation for standing up to megalomaniac directors who treat his work as nothing more than a guide and his fellow practitioners as if they are Hollywood's underclass.
And if they aren't intimidated by Goldman's front, his books will get them every time. Scott Hicks made "the mistake" of reading What Lie Did I Tell? - Goldman's follow-up to Adventures in the Screentrade - while on his way to meet with him in LA.
"I wished I hadn't read it," Hicks says of the book. "He's pretty savage about directors. He hasn't got a very high opinion of many."
In Adventures in the Screentrade Goldman gives a vivid account of how Redford played him against Watergate journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the making of All the President's Men. Redford, who produced the movie, had commissioned Goodman to write the screenplay. Then, behind Goodman's back and after his first draft had been delivered, Redford asked Bernstein and Woodward to write their own script. In his book, Goodman calls Redford's behavior "a gutless betrayal". He then goes onto mock Redford's desire for the Woodward character, which he played in the movie, to have a love interest just because Bernstein, played by Hoffman, has a scene where he kisses his wife.
There are equally disparaging moments where Goldman calls President's Men director Pakula a "notorious" pendant "unable to make up his mind".
Still, he does not believe these people or anyone else set out to "deliberately fuck up one of Bill Goldman's screenplays" - nor does he claim to be courageous in speaking out.
"I'm not remotely brave," he says. "I had nothing to lose in writing about them. None of us were going to work together again, anyway. Whatever rotten things I said about those people were valid. And if anyone learned anything about what it's like working with them _ that's not so terrible. It's nothing to do with whether or not they're gifted."
A screenwriter's greatest pleasure is hearing his lines spoken by a competent actor. Goldman has been luckier than most. Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Dustan Hoffman, Lauren Bacall and Anthony Hopkins have all lent their hearts and souls to his words. But his favourite is Laurence Olivier - "the actor of the last century".
"The one thing Olivier used to do was he'd walk on set - and this is not bullshit - he'd go to the director and he's say, 'Can you help me? I'm feeling very nervous and very scared. What can I do?'
"I mean, this was a man, who, when he was playing Othello, had Maggie Smith, who was playing Desdemona, knock on his dressing room door and saying, 'I just have to tell you that was stunning.' And Olivier was there in his brown robe, staring at the wall, with a tumbler of whisky in his hand - 'I know. But I don't know how I did it'."
It's time for Goldman to go now. He says he's had a wonderful chat. "No seriously, wonderful." But there are words to write - a novel, a screenplay and "some journalism. It's my favourite." And it must be done before they all lose interest.
"In America, the baseball managers wake up every morning knowing they are going to be fired," he says. "That's me. That's what I feel. That's part of my life."