IT'S STILL MY favorite book in all the world.
And more than ever, I wish I had written it. Sometimes I like to fantasize that I did, that I came up with Fezzik (my favorite character), that my imagination summoned the iocane sequence, the ensuing battle of wits to the death.
Alas, Morgenstern invented it all, and I must be contented with the fact that my abridgement (though killed by all Florinese experts back in '73—the reviews in the learned journals brutalized me; in my book-writing career, only Boys and Girls Together got a worse savaging) at least brought Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition Morgenstern to a wider American audience.
What is stronger than childhood memory? Nothing, at least for me. I still have a recurring dream of my poor, sad father reading the book out loud—only in the dream he wasn't poor and sad; he'd had a wonderful life, a life equal to his decency, and as he read, his English, so painful in truth, was splendid. And he was happy. And my mother so proud....
But the movie is the reason we're back together. I doubt that my publishers would have sprung for this edition if Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition the movie hadn't happened. If you're reading this, dollars to donuts you've seen the movie. It was a mild success when it first hit theaters, but word of mouth caught up with it when the videocassette came out. It was a big hit in video stores then, still is. If you have kids, you've probably watched it with them. Robin Wright in the title role began her film career as Buttercup, and I'm sure we all fell in love with her again in Forrest Gump. (Personally, I think she was the reason for that Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition phenomenon. She was so lovely and warm, you just ached for poor dopey Tom Hanks to live happily with someone like that.)
Most of us love movie stories. Maybe back when Broadway held sway, people loved theater stories, but I don't think anymore. And I'll bet no one begs Julia Louis-Dreyfus to talk about what it was like shooting Seinfeld episode number 89. And novelist stories? Can you imagine cornering Dostoyevsky and begging him for funny stuff about The Idiot?
Anyway, these are some movie memories pertaining to The Princess Bride I thought you might not know.
I Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition had taken time off from writing The Stepford Wives screenplay to abridge the Morgenstern. And then someone at Fox heard about it, got hold of a manuscript copy of the book, liked it, was interested in making a movie out of it. This is early '73 we're talking about. The "someone" at Fox was their Greenlight Guy. (Referred to hereinafter as the GG.)
You will read, in such magazines as Premiere and Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair, endless lists about the "100 most powerful" studio figures. These various idiots all have titles: Vice President in charge of this, Chief Executive in Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition charge of that, etc.
The truth: they are all oil slicks.
Only one person per studio has anything resembling power, and that is the GG. The GG, you see, can make a picture happen. He (or she) is the one who releases the fifty million bucks—if your movie is aimed for Sundance. Triple that if it's a special effects job.
Anyway, the GG at Fox liked The Princess Bride.
Problem: he wasn't sure it was a movie. So we struck a peculiar arrangement—they would buy the book, but they would not buy Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition the screenplay unless they decided to move forward. In other words, we both owned half the pie. So even though I was tired from finishing the abridgement, I went on nervous energy and did the screenplay immediately after.
My very great agent, Evarts Ziegler, came to town. Ziegler was the one who orchestrated the Butch Cassidy deal, which, along with The Temple of Gold, my first novel, changed my life as much as anything. We went to lunch at Lutéce, chatted, enjoyed each other, parted, me to my office on the Upper East Side in a building that had a Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition swimming pool. I used to swim every day because I had a very bad back then, and the swimming eased things. I was heading for the pool when I realized this: I didn't want to swim.
I didn't want to do anything but get home fast. Because I was shivering terribly now. I made it home, got to bed, the shivering replaced by fire. Helen, my superstar-shrink wife, came in from work, took one look at me, got me to New York Hospital.
All kinds of doctors came in—everybody knew something was seriously wrong, nobody Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition had a guess as to what it might be.
I woke at four in the morning. And I knew what was wrong. Somehow, the awful pneumonia that almost killed me when I was ten—the reason my father read The Princess Bride to me in the first place was to get me through those first woeful posthospital days—well, that pneumonia had come back to finish the job.
And right then, in that hospital (and, yes, I expect this will sound nutty to you) as I woke in pain and delirium, somehow I knew that if I Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition was to live, I had to get back to that place where I was as a child. I started yelling for the night nurse—
—because somehow my life and The Princess Bride were forever joined.
The night nurse came in and I told her to read me the Morgenstern.
"The what, Mr. Goldman?" she said.
"Start with the Zoo of Death," I told her. Then I said, "No, no, forget that, start with the Cliffs of Insanity."
She took one close look at me, nodded, said, "Oh, right, that's exactly where I'll start, but I left my Morgenstern Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition at the desk, I'll just go get it."
The next thing I knew, here came Helen. And several other doctors. "I went to your office, I think I picked up the right pages. Now what is it you want me to read?"
"I don't want you to read anything, Helen, you never liked the book, you don't want to read to me, you're just humoring me, and besides there's no part for you—"
"I could be Buttercup—"
"Oh, come on, she's twenty-one—"
"Is that a screenplay?" this handsome doctor said then. "I always wanted Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition to be a movie star."
"You be the man in black," I told him. Then I pointed to the big doctor in the doorway. "Give Fezzik a shot."
That was how I first heard the screenplay. These medicos and my genius wife struggling with it in the middle of the night while I froze and sweated and the fever raged inside me.
I passed out after a little while. And I remember thinking at the last that the big doctor wasn't bad and Helen, miscast and all, was an OK Buttercup, and so what if Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition the handsome doctor was a stiff, I was going to live.
Well, that was the beginning of the life of the screenplay.
The GG at Fox sent it to Richard Lester in London—Lester directed, among others, A Hard Day's Night, the first wonderful Beatles film—and we met, worked, solved problems. The GG was thrilled, we were a go—
—then he got fired, and a new GG came in to replace him.
Here is what happens Out There when that happens: the old GG is stripped of his epaulets and his ability to get into Morton's Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition on Monday nights and off he goes, very rich—he had a deal in place for this inevitability—but disgraced.
And the new GG takes the throne with but one rule firmly writ in stone: nothing his predecessor had in motion must ever get made. Why? Say it gets made. Say it's a hit. Who gets the credit? The old GG. And when the new GG, who can now get into Morton's on Mondays, has to run the gauntlet there, he knows all his peers are sniggering: "That asshole, it wasn't his picture."
So The Princess Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition Bride was buried, conceivably forever.
And I realized that I had let control of it go. Fox had the book. So what if I had the screenplay; they could commission another. They could change anything they wanted. So I did something of which I am genuinely proud. I bought the book back from the studio, with my own money. I think they were suspicious I had some deal or plan, but I didn't. I just didn't want some idiot destroying what I had come to realize was the most important thing I would ever be involved Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition with.
After a good bit of negotiating, it was again mine. I was the only idiot who could destroy it now.
I READ RECENTLY that the fine Jack Finney novel Time and Again has taken close to twenty years and still hasn't made it to the screen. The Princess Bride didn't take that long, but not a lot less either. I didn't keep notes, so this is from memory. Understand, in order for someone to make a movie, they need two things: passion and money. A lot of people, it turned out, loved The Princess Bride. I know Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition of at least two different GGs who were mad about it. Who shook hands with me on the deal. Who wanted to make it more than any other movie.
Who both got fired the weekend before they were going to set things in motion. One studio (a small one) even closed the weekend before they were going to set things in motion. The screenplay began to get a certain reputation—one magazine article listed it among the best that had never been shot.
The truth is, after a decade and more, I thought it would never happen. Every time Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition there was interest, I kept waiting for the other shoe to come clunking down—and it always did. But, without my knowledge, events had been put in motion a decade before that eventually would be my salvation.
When Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was done, I took myself out of the movie business for a while. (We are back in the late '60s now.) I wanted to try something I had never done, non-fiction.
I wrote a book about Broadway called The Season. In the course of a year I went to the theater hundreds of times, both Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition in New York and out of town, saw everything at least once. But the show I saw most was a terrific comedy called Something Different, written by Carl Reiner.
Reiner was terribly helpful to me, and I liked him a lot. When The Season was done I sent him a copy. A few years later, when The Princess Bride was finished, I sent him the novel. And one day he gave it to his eldest son. "Here's something," he said to his boy Robert. "I think you'll like this."
Rob was a decade away from Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition starting his directing career then, but in '85 we met, and Norman Lear (bless him) gave us the money to go forward with the movie.
Keep hope alive.
WE HAD OUR first script reading in a hotel in London in the spring of '86. Rob was there, as was his producer Andy Scheinman. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, Westley and Buttercup, were there. So, too, were Chris Sarandon and Chris Guest, the villains Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen, and Wally Shawn, the evil genius Vizzini. Mandy Patinkin, who played Inigo, was very much there. And sitting by himself, quietly—he always tried Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition to sit quietly—was Andre the Giant who was Fezzik.
Not your ordinary Hadassah group.
Sitting suavely in a corner was moi. Two of the major figures of my years in the entertainment business—Elia Kazan and George Roy Hill—said the same thing to me in interviews: that by the time of the first cast reading, the crucial work was done. If you had gotten the script to work and cast it properly, then you had a chance for something of quality. But if you had not, it didn't matter how skillful the rest of Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition the process was; you were dead in the water.
This probably sounds like madness to the uninitiated, and it should, but it is very much true. The reason it sounds like madness is this: Premiere magazine isn't around when the script is being prepared. Entertainment Tonight isn't around for casting. They are only around during the shooting of a flick, which is the least important part of the making of any movie. Remember this: shooting is just the factory putting together the car.
A. R. ROUSSIMOFF was our biggest gamble that rehearsal morning. Under the name of Andre Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition the Giant, he was the most famous wrestler in the world. I had become convinced that if there ever was to be a movie, he should be Fezzik, the strongest man.
Rob thought Andre might be good for the part, too. The problem was, no one could find him. He wrestled 330 plus days a year, always on the move.
So we went ahead trying to find someone else. Strangest casting calls I ever saw. These big guys came in—we are talking immense here—but they weren't giants. Occasionally we would find a giant—but either he Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition couldn't act or he was skinny, and a skinny giant was not at all what we needed.
Still, no Andre.
One day Rob and Andy were in Florin doing final location scouting when a call came—Andre would be in Paris the next afternoon. They flew over to meet him. Not easy, since Florin City has zero nonstops to any of the major capitals of Europe. Not to mention that their scheduling depends on load—all Florin Air's flights are jammed because they wait until they are before they'll take off. They even allow people to stand Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition in the aisles. (I had only seen that myself once, in Russia, on a nightmare jaunt from Tblisi to Saint Petersburg.) Eventually, Rob and Andy had to charter a tiny propeller plane to make the meeting. They got to the Ritz, where the doorman said, in a weird voice, "There is a man waiting for you in the bar."
Andre, for me, was like the Pentagon—no matter how big you're told it's going to be, when you get close, it's bigger.
Andre was bigger.
His listed size was 550 pounds, seven-and-a-half-feet tall Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition. But he wasn't really sure and he didn't spend a lot of time fretting on the scale each morning. He was sick once, he told me, and lost 100 pounds in three weeks. But other than that he never talked about his dimensions.
They chatted in the bar, then went up to Rob's room where they went over the script. A couple of things were clear: Andre had a clock-stopping French accent and, worse, his voice came from the subbasement.
Rob gambled, gave him the role. He also recorded Andre's part on tape for him—line for Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition line, inflections hopefully included—so Andre could take it with him on the road and study it in the months before rehearsal began.
Rehearsal that London morning was intentionally light: a couple of readings of the script, few comments. It was a beautiful afternoon when we broke for lunch, and we found a nearby bistro with outside tables. It was perfect except the chair was far too small for Andre—the width was for normal people, the arms way too close. There was a table inside that had a bench, and someone suggested we eat there Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition. But Andre wouldn't hear of it. So we sat outside. I can still see him pulling the metal arms of the chair wide apart, squeezing in, then watching the arms all but snapping back into place where they pinioned him for the remainder of the meal. He ate very little. And the utensils were like baby toys, dwarfed by his hands.
After lunch we rehearsed again, doing scenes now, and Andre was working with our Inigo, Mandy Patinkin. Andre had clearly studied Rob's tapes—but it was undeniable that his readings were slow, with more than a little rote quality Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition.
They were doing one of their scenes after they have been reunited. Mandy was trying to get some information out of Andre and Andre was giving one of his slow, memorized readings. Mandy as Inigo tried to get Fezzik to go faster. Andre gave back another of his slow, rote responses. They went back and tried it again and again. Mandy as Inigo asked Andre as Fezzik to go faster—and Andre came back at the same speed as before—
—which was when Mandy said, "Faster, Fezzik!" And with no warning he slapped the Giant hard in the face Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition.
I can still see Andre's eyes go wide. I don't think he had been slapped outside the ring since he was a little boy. He looked at Mandy ... and there was a brief pause. A very dead silence filled the room.
And then Andre started speaking faster. He just rose to the occasion, gave it more pace and energy. You could almost see his mind: "Oh, this is how you do it outside the ring, let's try it for a while." In truth, that slap was the beginning of the happiest period of Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition his life.
It was a wonderful time for me, too. After the decade plus of waiting, the most important book of my youth was coming to life in front of me. When it was finished and I saw it finally, I realized that, in my entire career, I only really loved two of the movies I've been involved with: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride.
But the movie did so much more than just please me. It brought the book back to life. I began getting these wonderful letters again. Got one today—Scout's honor—from Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition a guy in L.A. who had been dumped by his Buttercup and, after a decade of separation, heard she was in trouble. So he sent her a copy of the novel and, well, obviously they are together now. You think that isn't wonderful—especially for someone like me who spends his life in his pit, writing—touching another human? Can't get better.
Of course, along with the good, I have regrets. I'm sorry about the legal troubles with the Morgenstern estate, about which more later. I'm sorry Helen and I went pffft Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition. (Not that we both didn't know it was coming—but did she have to leave the very day the movie opened in New York?) And I'm sorry the Cliffs of Insanity have now become the biggest tourist attraction in Florin, making life hell for their forest rangers.
But this is life on earth, you can't have everything.