David Zelag Goodman dies at 81; Oscar-nominated screenwriter

David Zelag Goodman, a screenwriter best known for such 1970s films as the controversial psychological thriller “Straw Dogs” and “Lovers and Other Strangers,” a comedy that earned him an Oscar nomination, has died. He was 81.

Goodman died Monday at an assisted-living facility in Oakland of progressive supranuclear palsy, a brain disorder, said his daughter, Kevis Goodman.

“He was a man for all seasons,” said his close friend Zev Braun, a film and television producer. “He went from biblical scholar [as a young man] to playwright to television and motion pictures and did some of the best of the ‘70s movies. That was when he was really on fire, so to speak.”

During his movie-writing heyday in the 1970s, Goodman shared an Oscar nomination with Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor for co-writing the screenplay for “Lovers and Other Strangers,” a 1970 comedy based on Bologna and Taylor’s play.


Goodman teamed with director Sam Peckinpah to co-write the screenplay for “Straw Dogs,” the Peckinpah-directed 1971 film starring Dustin Hoffman as a mild-mannered American mathematician living with his British wife (Susan George) in an English country village, a location that proves to be less than tranquil for the couple.

The film, which generated controversy for its violence, was described by Charles Champlin, then The Times’ film critic, as “an overpowering piece of storytelling, certain to remind every viewer of the wells of primal emotion lurking within himself, beneath the fragile veneer of civilized control.”

Goodman’s other film credits as a co-writer include “Monte Walsh,” a 1970 western starring Lee Marvin and “Eyes of Laura Mars,” a 1978 thriller starring Faye Dunaway.

He also wrote the screenplays for “Farewell, My Lovely,” a 1975 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel starring Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe; and “Logan’s Run,” the 1976 science-fiction film starring Michael York.

His writing career included a 1954 off-Broadway production of his antiwar drama “High Named Today” and episodes of TV’s “The Untouchables,” “Combat!” and “Mr. Broadway” in the 1960s.

Goodman also was a “go-to writer” for a number of producer friends who were having trouble with scripts. He could immediately pinpoint what was wrong, said Braun, whose work with Goodman included “Freedom Road,” a 1979 miniseries with Muhammad Ali and Kris Kristofferson.

“It’s his integrity as a writer that made him a good writer, not only his talent,” Braun said. “He also had integrity as a person. Anybody who knew him would tell you that.”

Born Jan. 15, 1930, in New York City, Goodman earned a degree in English from Queens College and studied drama at Yale University.

During most of his career, he spent part of each year in Los Angeles while continuing to live in New York. In 1999, he and his wife, Marjorie, moved to Berkeley, where their daughter is an English professor at UC Berkeley.

In addition to his daughter and his wife of 61 years, Goodman is survived by his sister, Florence Pirofski.