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  • Eulogy for a Writer

    “As a writer I believe that all the basic human truths are known. And what we try to do as best we can is come at those truths from our own unique angle, to re-illuminate those truths in a hopefully different way.” — William Goldman

    If you took away all the writers I’ve met and seen over the years, all the novelists, essayists, screenwriters and playwrights I’ve admired, and left me with just the work of William Goldman, I probably would be OK with that.

    Goldman died today. He was 87, with a six-decade career that saw him pen acclaimed novels and essay collections, win two Academy Awards, and have his plays produced on Broadway. To sum up, his life was not a bad gig.

    He may not be a household name, but chances are you’ve seen or read his work — the original screenplay to “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid”; the adaptations of “All the President’s Men” and “Misery”; the novels and screenplays for “Magic,” “Marathon Man,” and “The Princess Bride.” His books on writing for the movies — “Adventures in the Screen Trade” and “Which Lie Did I Tell?” — are indispensable.

    This is where the professional summation ends and the personal one begins. What I liked most about Goldman was his sense of humor, in large part because it was so similar to my dad’s and (hopefully) my own.

    I distinctly remember seeing “Butch Cassidy” with my father when I was a kid. One of his favorites, he could quote many of the punchlines, and “Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?” always brought a smile to his face. This was in the pre-cable days of mid-1970s, and network censors failed to fully take out Robert Redford’s “Ohhhhh … shiiiiiit!” during the waterfall scene.

    I turned to my father with the, "Did you just hear what I just heard?" look and he smiled. It's the first time I remember hearing profanity in a movie.

    In 1999, a special edition came out on DVD for the movie’s 30th anniversary. Even though I didn’t have a DVD player at the time, I bought it and watched it on my computer. It took me back to those days of sitting on my couch late at night with my dad, and I called him the next day to excitedly tell him about the “extras” on the DVD. 

    Several years later, when Ben was 8 or 9 and just getting into acting, the first “adult” movie I showed him was “Butch Cassidy.” The mix of humor and action helped turn him into a third-generation movie fan.

    Another memory: Ninth-grade World History class, taught by Mrs. Selman. At the start of the year, she told us she would read a book to us on Fridays. Many in the class rolled their eyes as she opened Chapter One of “The Princess Bride” and started acting out all the parts of Goldman’s cheeky fairytale; by the end of class, we could hardly wait until the next Friday.

    Years later, I don’t remember a thing about World History, but I will never forget Mrs. Selman reading that book, or seeing the tagline on the back jacket of her tattered paperback: “What happens when the most beautiful woman in the world meets the handsomest prince in the world, and he turns out to be a son-of-a-bitch?”

    It still is one of my best memories of high school.

    As these things can do, the news of Goldman’s death sucker punched me as Jill and I drove to Pittsburgh to see Emma. Our youngest daughter is performing this evening in an unofficial kickoff — or continuation, depending on your opinion — of the professional and familial tilt-a-whirl that doesn’t slow down until Nicholas gets married next February.

    With our kids now (almost) fully grown, we’ve been trying to simplify. We’ve gotten rid of or stored most of the things from our old house in moving into our empty nest. Kate, now a big movie fan herself, has most of the posters that were up in our old basement.

    The one movie poster in the new house — “The Princess Bride.”