‘As You Wish’: Remembering William Goldman

William Goldman was the 10th dentist, the outlier among the nine out of 10 dentists who recommend Crest. Untrained and unlicensed, he did more to fight cavities than a global communist conspiracy to fluoridate America’s water supply. His secret: a Nazi dentist—redundant, I know—who introduced himself to patients, before introducing the instruments of torture, by way of an innocuous question; a banal inquiry: “Is it safe?”

Cut to Laurence Olivier as Dr. Christian Szell, “The White Angel,” holding, in one hand, a stainless steel periodontal scaler with an angled terminal shank—a miniature scythe—and a bottle of clove oil in the other, before he pries Dustin Hoffman’s mouth open and begins to extract information by drilling for it; by drilling into Hoffman’s teeth, as we see Olivier’s back—as we look at the silk back of his suit vest—while the sound of the drill spinning muffles Hoffman’s screams.

Fade to black, and fade-in on a subterranean parking garage as dark as the deepest depths of the sea—an oceanic noir of ink—where Robert Redford (as Bob Woodward) approaches Hal Holbrook (as Deep Throat). The latter, who is barely visible, further conceals his eyes behind a cloud of cigarette smoke while he says the most memorable line about Watergate that never was. In three words, he uses history to make history: “Follow the money.”

The rest is, well, history.

William Goldman was, indeed, that good.

He was wise, too, because he knew what Hollywood is loath to admit; that “nobody knows anything”; that there is no secret; that there is no formula; that there is no poll, pollster, or prophet who knows how to make nothing but profitable films.

To the naysayers and critics—to all who refuse to listen—I say: “As you wish.”

Photo credit: Joe Kohen/Getty Images

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