How William Goldman Killed Westley

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  • 7/29/2019 How William Goldman Killed Westley


    How William Goldman Killed Westley

    by William J. Lee

    When I started to think about taking my online writing seriously and figure out how it

    could figure into helping me make a move back into generating revenue from my

    writing, I made an unexpected discovery.

    The initial plan for my posting material on Scribd had been to promote myself as a

    knowledgeable resource for tips and advice on writing, screenwriting in particular.

    Maybe I could develop that specialty into a career as a paid consultant for writers and

    producers, especially since I had been paid for my writing ability before.

    As a produced screenwriter and independent producer with over twenty five years

    experience in the film and television industry, in addition to having been immersed in the

    Internet industry since 1991, I felt I could help writers promote themselves and maybe

    avoid some of the pitfalls I had encountered along my own journey.

    After several months of intermittent posting on Scribd, I went back to the site and

    checked the number of reads on the various pieces I had put up, and was surprised to

    find that the most popular material of mine was related to fear. A lot of the writing was

    about how to overcome and deal with fear, especially from a creative perspective.

    This was a topic that was of great interest to me because fear is something Iver dealt

    with for a long time. Fear as it concerns my creative ability and desire to write. And it is

    especially relevant in the context of the past six years of my life. 2005 was a difficult

    period developing and producing three independent movies, two of which I had written

    and one I directed.

    The movies, financially and creatively, did not turn out as well as I had envisioned, the

    work more than imagined. And what fear and doubt made me do was to limit my vision

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    to those aspects of that period and those projects that did not work, rather than look at

    the things that did work and what I had achieved.

    Just the fact that money was raised, scripts were written, actors were hired, and those

    projects were made -- in an unusually short space of time -- should have helped offset

    the downside that fear kept shoving in my face. But unfortunately my lizard brain didnt

    allow for any personal satisfaction or the acknowledgement of any success on my part.

    So it should not have been such a surprise when I discovered that the most sought after

    reading material by a lot of other creatives and artists out there, would be about how to

    overcome fear. But it was. A big surprise.

    What I often forget as I plod along my creative journey are all the wonderful anecdotes I

    picked up from people Ive met, mentored with, or read. And one of the most important

    things to learn and remember is that without failure, there can be no success.

    Fear is not selective, nor is it our own personal escort. Fear is the marching companion

    of all those individuals trying to create something out of nothing. Whether its a career; a

    book; poem; screenplay; painting; relationship; or a new business; fear is right there

    sitting on your shoulder, tapping you on the head and feeding you a million ready

    reasons why you cant do what youre trying to do, or want to do, and it constantly

    reminds you why you are going to fail.

    So I, we, must come to terms with my, our, constant companion. And we must let it know

    that, yes, you can sit on my shoulder and tell me day in and day out all the reasons why

    not, but I am going to do my best to keep moving forward and remind myself that, yes,

    maybe I can. At the least, Im going to try.

    Today while soaking in the tub and trying to drown this mornings version of why not, I

    came across an appropriate passage from William Goldmans (mentor) Which Lie Did I

    Tell. So with thanks and appreciation to that wonderful screenwriter and novelist, Id like

    to share it with you here and hope it will lend you the same confidence and support it

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    did me. And read his books and screenplays, including Adventures in The Screen

    Trade. Theres a great and telling anecdote in Which Lie Did I Tell on page 186 about

    the time William Goldman met his writing idol Irwin Shaw for lunch in New York.

    Heres the excerpt from Which Lie Did I Tell, by William Goldman, that inspired me


    The Princess Bride


    Here is how the novel The Princess Bridehappened.

    I loved telling stories to my daughters. When they were small, I would go into their

    room and stories would just be there. Anyone who knows me knows that I dont think

    much of what I do is very terrific, but, my God, I was wonderful those early evenings.

    Stuff just came. I knew that because the girls would sneak out and tell their mother and

    she would say to me, Write it down, write it down, and I told her I didnt need to, I was

    on such a hot streak I knew Id remember.

    All gone, of course, and of all the stuff Ive done over almost forty-five years of

    storytelling, more than anything I wish I had those moments back. Doesnt matter, really.

    Woulda shoulda coulda.... At any rate, I was on my way to Magic Town around 1970,

    and I said to them both, to Jenny, then seven, and Susanna, then four, Ill write you a

    story, what do you most want it to be about? And one of them said princesses and

    the other one said brides.

    Then that will be the title, I told them. And so it has remained.

    The first snippets are gone. A couple of pages maybe, maybe a little m ore, sent from

    the Beverly Hills Hotel to home. Since it was to be a kids saga, the early names were

    silly names: Buttercup, Humperdinck. Im sure those pages werent much. I have never

    been able to write in Southern California. (My fault, of course. I find it just too much, we

    ll, wun-derful. There was a time, before the recent madness, when people actually

    thought of L.A. as being that, wunderful.

    Wandering now, I suppose nothing surprises me more than Los Angeless becoming

    a place people leave. For the first half-century of my life, it was, he says in a cornball a

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    way as he can muster, the American dream. Walls closing in? Just drive to the western

    ocean, youll be fine. For me, abrasiveness helps, so I have always written in New York.

    Anyway the early pages disappeared. As did the notion of writing something for my

    ladies. At least consciously. (I dont understand the creative process. Actually, I make

    more than a concerted effort notto understand it. I dont know what it is or how it works

    but I am terrifiedthat one green morning it will decide to not work anymore, so I have

    always given it as wide a bypass as possible.

    There is a story of Olivier after a particularly remarkable performance of Othello.

    Maggie Smith, his Desdemona, knocked on his dressing room door as she was on her

    way out of the theater and saw him staring at the wall, holding a tumbler of whiskey.

    She told him his work that night was magic. And he said, in, I suspect, tears and

    despair, I know it was.... and I dont know how I did it.

    This relates to me in but one way: The Princess Brideis the only novel of mine I

    really like. And I dont know how I did it.

    I remember doing the first chapter about how Buttercup became the most beautiful

    woman in the world. And the second chapter, which is a rather unflattering intro of

    Prince Humperdinck, the animal killer in his Zoo of Death.

    But then I went dry.

    The nightmare of all of us who put words on paper. I stormed around the city, wild

    with ineptitude, because, you see, all these moments had already happened in my head

    -- the sword fight on the Cliffs of Insanity, for example; Inigo and his quest for the six

    fingered man, for example; Fezzik and his rhymes -- but I didnt know how to getto

    them, had no way to string them together. And I could feel the window of creativity

    starting to close. We move on, we move on, its okay, well find other stories left to


    But I didnt wantto tell other stories, I wanted to tell thisone. And I couldnt find a

    way. I suppose the most desperate I have ever been was when I was twenty-four and

    done with grad school and done with the army and about to become an accursed

    copywriter in some ad agency in Chicago when I wrote my first novel, The Temple of

    Gold, in three weeks. It was a couple of hundreds pages long and I had never written

    anything more than thirty and I remember thinking, when I was on page 75 or 100 or

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    150, I dont know where I am, all I know is Ive never been here before. But the book

    got published and suddenly I was what I always dreamt of but never thought Id be, a


    Then I got the idea of the good parts, that the whole Princess Bridestory would be

    an abridgment of another, longer, book.

    That made the novel possible. Mybook would be an abridgment of an earlier book,

    written by S. Morgenstern. Morgensterns book would be one my father had had read to

    him by his father when he was sick (in the movie its the grandfather reading it to me)

    and from which my father read me only the good parts because he didnt want to bore


    Which meant I could jump wherever I wanted. I was free. So I did the opening

    chapter which explains how I got sick and my father started reading to me --

    -- and then I started to fly.

    For the only time, I was happy with what I was doing. You cant know what that

    means if, most of your life, you havent been stuck in your pit, locked forever with your

    own limitations, unable to tap the wonderful stuff that lurks there in your head but

    flattens out whenever it comes near paper.

    The most startling creative moment of my life happened here. I remember going to

    my office and Westley was in the Zoo of Death (the Pit of Despair in the movie --

    budgetary reasons), and he was being tormented by the evil Count Rugen, who got his

    Ph.D. in pain (or would have, but doctorates didnt exist then, this was after education

    but before educators realized the real money was in diplomas). Westley is strapped in

    The Machine and Prince Humperdinck roars down and turns it all the way up and Inigo

    and Fezzik are on the way to the rescue when the Deathscream begins and they track it

    and as I was going to work that morning I kind of wondered how I was going to get

    Westley out of it. I sat at my desk and had coffee and read the papers and fiddled a

    while. Then I realized, I wasntgoing to get him out of it. And I wrote these words:

    Westley lay there dead by The Machine.

    I think I must have ;looked at them for a long time. Westley lay dead by The

    Machine. He was perfect and beautiful but it hadnt made him conceited. He understood

    suffering and was no stranger to love or pain, yet the words were still there.

  • 7/29/2019 How William Goldman Killed Westley


    Westley lay dead by The Machine...

    You killed him, I thought. You killed Westley. how could you do such a thing? I stared

    at the words some more, and then I lost it, began to cry. I was alone, you see, no one

    could help me get out of where I was and I was helpless. Even now, more than twenty

    years after, I can still truly feel the shocking heat of my tears. I pushed away from my

    desk, made it to the bathroom and ran water on my face. I looked up and there in the

    mirror this red-faced and wracked person was staring back at me, wondering who in

    the world were we and how were we going to survive?

    I tell you this because I guess I want you to know that although I dont think it is a

    good life, writing, not insofar as having relationships with other people, having loves, all

    that emotional stuff we all long for, or say we long for, still, there are worthwhile time.

    And if you were to ask me the high point of my creative life, I would say it was that day

    when Westley and I were joined.

    The rest of the book went the way its supposed to but never does. Hiram Haydn, my

    editor, loved it, but more than that, I loved it. After it was done I got very sick, was

    hospitalized, thought I was going to die.