'Young Sheldon' Writer: William Goldman Was My Pen Pal for 40 Years (Guest Column)

Getty Images; Inset: Courtesy of David Bickel
William Goldman (Inset: David Bickel)

When David Bickel sent a childhood fan note to the legendary screenwriter of 'The Princess Bride,' 'All the President's Men' and 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' who died on Nov 17 at 87, it initiated "one of the longest non-familial relationships of my life."

For my 12th birthday, my cousin Nancy gave me a paperback. She might as well have given me underwear, that's how disinterested I was.

But as it happened I had a book report due in English and this one wasn't especially thick so I gave it a read.

I loved it.

The book was The Princess Bride, and when I finished it I not only crushed the report, I wrote a letter to the author William Goldman to tell him how much I enjoyed it (and to complain that the back cover promised sex parts that weren’t, in fact, in the book).

A week or so later he wrote me back, and not just an obligatory fan mail response. It was a letter, typewritten with mistakes x’d out, in which he not only addressed the whole “sex part” controversy, he gave a shout-out to my Grandma Toots and good-naturedly took a swipe at my hometown of Yonkers, New York.

I wrote back. He wrote back. And on it went.

For almost 40 years.

It was one of the longest non-familial relationships of my life. To put it into perspective: When we first started writing to each other I was preparing for my bar mitzvah. (I sent him an invite, secretly hoping he’d come to it and fall in love with my widowed mother. Neither happened.) It continued on through my wedding, to my two sons being born, and, finally, to my sons’ bar mitzvahs. (I invited him to both; after all, my mom was still available.)

What began very much as “dopey fan kid corresponding with his literary hero” blossomed into an actual friendship. About 15 years in, he stopped signing his letters "Goldman" and instead wrote "Bill G.” Like a friend would do.

Professionally, Bill’s influence was immeasurable. Not just because of his writing style — I admittedly pattern my own writing style (such as it is) after his. He became my mentor, all through letters and emails. When I decided I wanted to be a writer, he read my shit (his word, not mine). He gave me notes on my spec TV scripts and features I'd written. He put me in contact with his agent at CAA and an exec he knew at Castle Rock. For a writer trying to break through in Hollywood, this is the equivalent of the Willy Wonka golden ticket. Talk about a mensch.

A couple of years ago, I stopped getting responses to my emails. I wasn't sure what the story was; I just hoped he was OK.

This past April I decided to take one last shot and I wrote him an email to tell him basically everything I've said here, what a huge part of my life he's been and how much I appreciate this strange and wonderful relationship we've had since Jimmy Carter was president.

I didn't hear back from him.

I chose to think that he was fine, that he read the email and just didn’t feel like answering me. That after almost 40 years of my silly ramblings, he'd finally had enough of the dopey kid from Yonkers.

David Bickel is a veteran TV writer and a co-executive producer on CBS’s 'Young Sheldon.'

This story also appears in the Nov. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.