His brother James was an extremely talented writer, as well, with works that include the play and movie, A Lion in Winter, for which he too won a Best Screenplay Oscar, and the the book for the Stephen Sondheim musical, Follies.
This may now seem like a pointless digression, but trust me, it's not.
I've mentioned on these pages attending a summer camp in Wisconsin, Camp Nebagamon, for many years, as a very young family-camper, doctor's son, camper and counselor. Many decades ago, during my counselor phase, some friends picked me up after camp ended one year and we all went on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. That winter, I was talking with one of them on the phone when we both away at college, and he mentioned he'd just finished reading a novel, Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow, which takes place at a summer camp, and he said that it reminded him so much of Camp Nebagamon, which he had seen for about a total of 90 minutes, especially the drive in along the lake front. After I noted that the book was by William Goldman, I asked him to guess what summer camp Goldman had gone to. Yes, Camp Nebagamon. In fact, when I went to the library shortly after and found the book the passage where the main character enters the camp is a near-exact description of the lakefront path into the camp.
Little known fun-fact. There was an unsuccessful musical written in the early 1960s, A Family Affair, that nonetheless had quite a wonderful pedigree. It was written by three young mn near the beginnings of their respective careers -- William Goldman, James Goldman and composer John Kander, (who went on to write Cabaret and Chicago, among a great many others, but with a different partner, Fred Ebb). What most people wouldn't know, though, is that the three all met at Camp Nebagamon. (Well, okay, Bill and Jim knew each other before...)
Other than that tangential overlap with Goldman, I actually had a couple of real-life overlaps.
The Goldman family was from Highland Park, Illinois, which is the town that borders Glencoe, where I grew up, and where my dad had his medical office. I think possibly my grandparents may have slightly known William Goldman's parents, though I know that my parents did, since they both belonged to Northmoor Country Club there. One summer, after getting my Masters degree in screenwriting my UCLA, I was home, and stopped by the pool where my mother was sitting with Goldman's mother. My mom introduced us and explained I had just got my post-graduated degree in screenwriting, and Mrs. Goldman said that I "should write Billy" and gave me his address in New York City.
After returning to Los Angeles, I did write him, and got back one of my most cherished letters, which I still have. It was a one-page typed note, complete with cross-outs that was as thoughtful, interesting and bluntly curmudgeonly as was William Goldman's reputation. (See photo above...) It also was virtually a one-page version of Adventures in the Screen Trade many years before that book was written -- and even includes the line, "No one knows anything." There are two other favorite passages in the letter. One is when he writes that he can be of absolutely no help to me in any way, shape or form, not even with a contact to his agent who is getting on in years and not taking on new clients, but that "You should use all the contacts you have (like my mother)". I still laugh when I think of that line. And the letter concludes with, "It is a mean, nasty, brutish business, but no one made you go into it." About as Goldmanesque as you can get. The very end of the letter says that with any luck I'll be in hock on a house and car and he wishes me luck.
The other path-crossing came when I was a very minor executive at Universal Pictures. I had read the novel of The Princess Bride a few years before, and loved it, recommended by my friend Adam Bezark, but it was still a lesser-known work, the movie not having been made yet, nor would be for years. I was curious though if a screenplay had ever been written and it turns out that Goldman had indeed done so, and I tracked down a copy. Not shockingly, it was very good, though being a movie it only could tell the story on two levels (the main adventure and the one with the young boy with his grandfather, which in the book is his father) -- the third level, with Goldman talking directly to the reader about him supposedly adapting the "original book" by S. Morgenstern (which is not real) is hilarious, but totally literally and not something you could do in a movie. Anyway, I had my secretary find Goldman himself, and I called him to discuss making a movie of the book. (What can I say, I was years ahead of my time. Again...)
It was a fascinating, and odd conversation. He was crusty (see photo above...), and had dealt with far too many studio executives at that point to care deeply about one more, let alone a punk kid. Out of semi-desperation I broke the ice a bit by noting that I'd written to him years before through his mother, and our Camp Nebagamon connection. That helped, though only a small bit. What what did break through was when I mentioned I was friends with another Nebagamonite, Adam Bezark (also like the Goldmans from Highland Park), whose father Bud had gone to camp with the Goldman brothers, and I knew they had stayed friends. That helped with a connection being made. But then the memorable exchange occurred.
One of the reasons why I wanted to talk with him before pitching the project to my direct boss, who was the head of the studio, was that "third level" which wasn't in the screenplay, the author talking to the reader. I wanted to know anything about it being left out, or if he'd ever done something with that in any other draft? But being young, and a little in awe, I didn't phrase it well, and any goodwill I'd built up was instantly gone. Instantly. He got immediately snarky and said something like, "No, when I wrote the script, I decided not to do the best job I could and didn't include what would I knew would make it even better." As I began to panic, though, The Miracle occurred, and the gods stepped in and saved me. The phone line actually went dead in mid-sentence. I had my secretary reconnect us, but during that interim of relief I quickly tried desperately to figure out what I could say to save myself. And I came up with something. When we got connected again, I profusely apologized for my lack of clarity and said that what I really was trying to ask was whether or not he'd written other versions of the script for another medium -- like the theater or as a TV mini-series -- where he could use the narrator that was so wonderful in the book? (Okay, that wasn't precisely what I really had been asking, only tangentially, but I figured it was close enough and a far better explanation than how I had bumbled through.) The explanation happily placated him, he even seemed to appreciate it, and said no, he'd only written it as a screenplay. The call concluded well, but unfortunately my bosses did not follow-up and make a movie of The Princess Bride. And about five years later, someone else did.
Fun side note: About five years ago, I read an article that Goldman was involved with adapting The Princess Bride for...the theater!!!! Perhaps as a musical. Nothing came of it -- yet at least, so who knows? -- but once again: years ahead of my time.
Very sorry to read about William Goldman's passing. Very happy for all the great work he left behind.