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NO ONE KNOWS WHAT ‘SAFE’ IS

From:WILLIAM GOLDMAN HAS NO SECRETS

William Goldman, screenwriter, in speech at the WGA Theater, March 2003, with Moderator, WGAw member and journalist F.X. Feeney

FEENEY:

Maybe you don’t remember exactly how it came to you, but in Marathon Man there’s that awful, beautiful line where the dentist says, “Is if safe?” It’s such a great, ambiguous, terrifying line. I was wondering if it just sort of popped out of you and you had to figure out what it meant.

GOLDMAN:

I don’t know, but I’ll tell you a wonderful story. I was writing, at that time, in a building with a swimming pool in the basement. I had a bad back, and I would swim all the time. One day I was waiting for the elevator and a German woman was standing there. And she turned to me and she said, “I just vant you to know, I know everysing that is going on in your apartment.”

You must understand, I’m alone in my pit all fucking day. Nothing goes on in my apartment. It is the most boring, horrible place in all the world. I went home and told my then wonderful wife, “Isn’t this the weirdest thing?”

And I realized a few days later I had been writing the dental scene, the “Is it safe?” scene when Babe gets drilled and starts screaming. I didn’t know this, but I talk when I write. One day, years ago, we had rented an architect’s house up in Massachusetts, and he was this sadistic idiot because he had very few walls. I came down for lunch and my kids were little and giggling, and they said,

“You know, you talk when you write.” I said, “I don’t.” And they said, “Yes, you do,” and they started quoting lines from The Great Waldo Pepper. So I had been screaming in my office as I tortured myself on the dental scene. I don’t know why, “Is it safe?” It worked. What can I tell you?


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