William Goldman Glitters with a New Novel About Tinseltown
William Goldman's ingenious approach backfired: Robertson rejected his draft and hired Stirling Silliphant. Goldman rebounded to write the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the movie adaptation of Woodward and Bernstein's All the President's Men (both of which won him Academy Awards). His novels include the best-selling Marathon Man, Magic and Boys and Girls Together. Goldman's latest work is the just published Tinsel (Delacorte, $10.95), a novel of lust and power-mongering on the casting couches of Hollywood.
Born in Chicago (his brother James wrote the plays The Lion in Winter and Follies), Bill now lives in Manhattan with his wife, Ilene Jones, a photographer, and two daughters, Jenny, 17, and Susanna, 14. Notoriously shy of interviews ("I hate people asking me about money"), the 47-year-old author nevertheless talked to Suzy Kalter of PEOPLE.
Is Tinsel your version of what Hollywood is all about?
Some people will go to any lengths to get a movie made, and this book is about people like that. It's also about how Hollywood treats women. I think it's the worst place in the world for a woman to grow old. It's brutal.
Is it true you get $500,000 for a screenplay?
Yes, but Hollywood has traditionally paid writers a lot for their silence. You're supposed to write and shut up.
Despite all the movies you've written, you live in New York. Why?
Because it's too beautiful in Los Angeles. I'd never get any work done. Out there actors can get famous and then divorce their old wives and marry new wives because they don't want to be reminded of who they were before. I think there's something very important about a writer remembering his childhood and who he was.
Thinking back to your own childhood, did you always excel in writing?
I was terrible. At Oberlin and Northwestern I got Cs in writing. I kept writing short stories. I sent out the best 69 times. It still hasn't been published.
What was your breakthrough?
I was 24 and had this wild drive to get something down on paper. I wrote in a frenzy and I came up with Temple of Gold (about a young man's coming of age). If Knopf, which was the first house I took it to, hadn't bought it, I never would have written again.
What are your writing habits?
I tend to go at it morning and night, weekday and weekend. I start slowly and pick up speed as I hit the finish line. I go to my office every day, even when I'm not writing. It gives validity to what I do.
What don't you like about writing?
I hate being physically alone in the room. I put on chamber music immediately because I can't stand the silence. That's why I like endings—because it means you can have meetings and that's social.
What are your next projects?
I never know until I sit down at the typewriter. Of course, I keep notes. I jot down incidents and clip newspaper articles. Sometimes years later they pressure their way into my head and I either go with it or I don't. On April 1, when I started Tinsel, I actually began two books. I wrote three pages on each book for five days until I gained confidence in Tinsel. I plan to start another novel in the fall. Maybe I'll pick up the other story, maybe I'll start something new. I've learned to trust my instincts. I never plan ahead. I just let it happen.