Who wrote "All the President’s Men"?

May 29th, 2011 by
Recently IndieWire had an article delving into an interesting subject:
It goes without saying that screenwriter William Goldman is a legend. His scripts are practically textbooks for any aspiring writer and his filmography boasts stuff like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Marathon Man,” “The Princess Bride,” “Misery” and countless others. But his crowning achievement is arguably “All the President’s Men,” the thrilling account of Woodward and Bernstein‘s investigation into the Watergate break in. The film earned him his second Oscar, a Writer’s Guild Award and other honors, but it also became one of the benchmark films about the intersection of journalism and politics. However, according to Robert Redford‘s forthcoming biography excerpted by Vanity Fair, the actor claims that most of Goldman’s script was tossed out and that he and director Alan J. Pakula largely rewrote the film. Huh?

“Redford booked rooms at the Madison Hotel, across from the Post offices, for one month, and he and Pakula repaired there to re-draft the screenplay. About one-tenth of Goldman’s draft remained in the end,” the biography says with Woodward claiming, “Bill gave the start point and the ending and those never changed.” However, a blistering, brave and fascinating piece by Richard Stayton in the latest issue of Written By gets to the bottom of Redford’s claims, revealing the actor’s recollections to be…severely misinformed at best.

I read Stayton’s article in Written By and for screenwriting fans, it’s a fascinating piece of investigative journalism involving source criticism, something I studied extensively at Yale. In comparing the many script drafts available of All the President’s Men, Slayton concludes:

William Goldman was the sole author of All the President’s Men. Period. End of paper trail.

Having been involved in numerous WGA credit arbitrations, I can safely say there is a tendency of later writers to think what they are writing / have written is new when in fact it is heavily shaped and influenced by the original script. And the original writers always deserve credit for any narrative elements they decide to include in their drafts. Those are critical choices, oftentimes overlooked by subsequent writers who may change every word of dialogue, but not alter the substance of the story in terms of structure, scenes, sequences, characterizations and themes.

For more of the IndieWire article, go here.

For more of the Written By article, go here.

5 thoughts on “Who wrote "All the President’s Men"?

  1. mooderino says:

    Kind of interesting but ultimately a non-story where if everyone had kept there mouths shut nothing would have changed. We heard aliens were attacking from Mars, but it turns out they weren't. Read all about it.

    Also, no one has ever thought of ATPM as Goldman's crowning glory. Not even arguably.


  2. joe says:

    agree it's not his crowning achievement but given the story he himself told of redford calling a meeting to announce the real bernstein had written his own draft of the script (in which he was a ladies man intrepid james bond-type reporter), it's not shocking to hear redford trying to claim credit 35 years later

  3. Scott says:

    I referenced the ATPM story for several reasons, the most significant being the one I noted in my comments: The tendency of later writers, including directors and actors, to assert they "rewrote the entire script" which may be true — technically — but often is untrue in substance. And while this may seem an insignificant issue to you now, if you're ever in a WGA credit dispute, it will be hugely important to you, so it pays to learn about the process.

  4. mooderino says:

    The WGA is well known for putting the arbitrary in arbitration. Their decisions are due to numerous factors, many of them unreasonable or just plain wrong. And sometimes they get it right. But this particular story is more to do with a calculated effort to publicise a book release (I wonder where the original press release for this story originated, hmmm…).

    I appreciate the point you're making, but a superstar celeb spat about a matter that was resolved half a century ago isn't going to reveal anything other than confirming Bob Redford's publishers know that contentious sells.

  5. DeafEars says:

    @mooderino – you speak with a lot of authority about the WGA arbitration process – have you ever been arbitrated, or sat as a judge in an arbitration?

    You may be right about the publisher wanting an issue to heat up sales for the book, but Redford's statements are still a slur on Goldman's professionalism, and borderline libelous IMNSHO. I'm guessing that WG has moved on and surmises that most people will see through "Bob's" bullshit.

Leave a Reply