William Goldman, Oscar-winning screenwriter who put words in the mouths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, dead at age 87

“Who are those guys?”

“Follow the money.”

“Is it safe?”

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

These much-quoted lines are from such films as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men,” “Marathon Man” and “The Princess Bride.” But they were the creation of one man, William Goldman, an Oscar-winning screenwriter whose 1983 memoir, “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” is considered one of the best books about what it takes to make a living producing successful movie scripts.

Sadly, his flow of on-screen catchy dialogue has come to an end. Goldman, who once summed up the state of Hollywood creativity in just three words in his book – “Nobody knows anything” – is dead at age 87.

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He tried to write novels at first, and would do so eventually,  but decided to try an original screenplay instead. Goldman spent eight years researching the real-life outlaws who were part of the late 19th-century Hole in the Wall Gang and he found he had a hot property on his hands. The off-beat buddy Western that would star Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as the Kid sold for a then-record $400,000 to Richard Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. It would become the biggest box-office hit of 1969 with a then-princely sum of $102 million. It also did well at Oscar time, collecting seven nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for George Roy Hill. It came away with four wins, one for his screenplay.

Goldman became a favorite of Redford’s. They collaborated again on “The Hot Rock” (1972), “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1975) and, most successfully,  “All the President’s Men” (1976). The Watergate drama was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for  Alan J. Pakula. It won four, including for his adapted screenplay.

His other notable movies include “The Stepford Wives” (1975), “Magic” (1978), Misery (1990) and “Chaplin” (1992). He basically wrote films for adults with mass appeal without insulting their intelligence. That is a commodity that is too often in short supply today. His secret? The key is to write about what you care about. As Goldman once wisely said, “If, for example, you don’t like special effects movies, don’t try to write one because it will suck.”

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