A Nod to the Screenwriters who Wrote for Robin Williams

Robin_Williams_2011a_(2)When it comes to actors, Robin Williams was about as perfect as they come. If an actor’s job is to breathe humanity into a character who starts out as nothing more than words on a page, then Mr. Williams did it better than almost anyone.

How many times have you seen a movie and quickly forgotten who played the leading roles? You remember the story, but can only recall that the lead male actor was one of those handsome, brown-haired guys with pretty eyes and a strong chin who resembled a handful of other handsome, brown-haired guys with pretty eyes and strong chins.

That was never the case with Robin Williams. He fully inhabited every role he ever played, to the point where no one could’ve imagined anyone else taking his place. Who but Williams could’ve played Mrs. Doubtfire, or John Keating in Dead Poets Society, or Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, or Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam, or T.S. Garp in The World According to Garp? And those are just a few of his remarkably memorable characters.

Look no further than social media and the thousands of quotes from Williams’ movies that people have posted as memorials to get a sense of how deeply the man moved everyone who experienced his performances. I also have no doubt–no doubt at all–that when Robin Williams was handed a movie script, he did a lot of editing and improvising. Just as Frank Sinatra brought his unique style and personality to every song he sang (although he didn’t get writing credits for most of them) Robin Williams brought fully developed characters to life while adding a healthy dose of Robin Williams to every single one of them. His gift was enormous, and his capacity to share it with the world truly amazing.

And yet, every time I read one of those quotes from his movies, I can’t help thinking about the writers who originally imagined the characters Williams played, and wrote many of the words he spoke on screen. I wonder about the thrill Matt Damon and Ben Affleck–who first became famous for writing Good Will Hunting–must’ve felt when they saw Williams turning the words they’d written into celluloid history. And let’s not forget Mitch Markowitz who wrote Good Morning Vietnam, Tom Schulman who penned Dead Poets Society, and Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon, who wrote the screenplay for Mrs. Doubtfire, which was based on a novel by Anne Fine. And we have John Irving to thank for the novel The World According to Garp, which was then brilliantly adapted for the screen by Steve Tesich.

Of course, there are so many others–too many to list here–but I think it’s important to pay tribute to those wonderful writers who provided Williams with at least some of the material that he turned into his own brand of magic. I can’t imagine what an honor it must’ve been to know that Robin Williams had been cast in a movie you’d written, but I also believe that Williams–with his generous spirit–would’ve wanted us to make sure that those writers were remembered too.

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About Mary Rowen

My novel LEAVING THE BEACH (a 2016 IPPY Award winner) is about music and obsession, and LIVING BY EAR focuses on divorce and following your passions. I live in the Boston area with my family, cat, and dog.
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12 Responses to A Nod to the Screenwriters who Wrote for Robin Williams

  1. Sheila says:

    Such a great perspective Mary! And you’re right…it must have been beyond thrilling to hear Williams speaking your words and then, of course, adding his own into the mix. 🙂

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  2. jan says:

    I would have been a great honor to have him star in a movie based on a book or screenplay you’d written – though I’m sure he added his special touch. jan

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  3. You know, one of the many tributes to Mr. Williams I was reading referenced all his wise sayings and when I looked, they were all quotes from various movies he starred in. I said to my husband “I know he was famous for improvising and I’m not at all downplaying his passing, but I’m pretty sure the screenwriters created at least some of these sayings!” I guess when you’re that good an actor people forget that you’re acting? In any event, well said, Mary!

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  4. Anne Marie says:

    What a wonderful post, Mary!

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  5. Thanks, Mary! It was indeed a thrill, a privilege and an honor to hear Robin speak any words that I imagined. He changed my life, and I’ll be forever grateful.

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    • Mary Rowen says:

      Randi, thank you for commenting! It’s an honor just to know you found this post. Mrs. Doubtfire is one of my all time favorite movies. I saw it in the theater twice when it came out, and my kids love to watch it with friends. It’s absolutely brilliant, and has truly stood the test of time. I can’t even imagine how amazing it must’ve felt when you saw that movie for the first time, but without your script, there would’ve been no movie, and I’m certain Robin Williams was equally thrilled to have been given such a great material!

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