Partway through the last panel at New York Comic Con 2014, a young woman in the front row erupted in a minor coughing fit. Luckily for her, a gallant farm boy was sitting a few feet away on the dais.
Cary Elwes, the actor who played Westley in the beloved 1987 film The Princess Bride, poured a cup of water and handed it to the woman, as the rest of the audience went "aww." Elwes was speaking at NYCC for the express purpose of hawking his new book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride — he even went as far with the shameless self-promotion as to exhort the crowd to whip out their smartphones and pre-order the book on Amazon — but none of that seemed to put off the fans in attendance.
Of course, most celebrity panelists at conventions like NYCC are there to promote something. And fans are often happy just to see them in person, just to be in the same room. Indeed, the audience at Elwes' panel sat with rapt attention as he recounted a variety of behind-the-scenes stories from The Princess Bride, a sample of the book's contents. But it was the way in which he did it that made the session something special.
Ever the consummate showman, Elwes worked the crowd like a pro, asking them if they actually wanted to hear him utter "those three words" and then telling them to prepare their phones to record him saying "as you wish." He spoke of performing a Fat Albert impression "for some reason" for The Princess Bride director Rob Reiner during their initial casting meeting in 1986, then did the goofy "hey hey hey" line for the audience. Elwes also did a number of other voices as he told his tales, including Reiner's heavy New York accent and the deep French-tinged grunting of the André the Giant.
In fact, much of the panel consisted of remembrances of the late wrestler, who played Fezzik in The Princess Bride. Elwes said André "had a smile on his face all the time," and he called him "one of the sweetest guys I ever met." Elwes spoke about his co-star like a dear, departed friend, and it was clear that the "gentle giant" had left a strong impression.
"I think that André knew that his time on this planet was limited," said Elwes, recalling an exchange between André and Billy Crystal, who played the medicine man Miracle Max, in which André remarked that giants and dwarfs are both shortchanged in terms of life expectancy. Elwes discussed the severe back pain André suffered as a result of his professional wrestling career and his condition, and told a tall tale of the way he dealt with it, since conventional painkillers didn't do the job: drinking entire pitchers filled with a cocktail of vodka, gin, brandy, whiskey, "sometimes wine," vermouth and other types of alcohol.
Elwes' stories painted André as a tragic figure, and indeed, the wrestler died in 1993 at the age of 46. But Elwes spoke of him with a warmth that was infectious and touching — interspersed with plenty of humor, of course, especially in his final André memory, with which Elwes closed the panel. Elwes recalled filming the scene where Westley wakes up on a parapet of Price Humperdinck's castle in Florin City after his revival from being "mostly dead." In the middle of the first take, André let loose a thunderous fart — as Elwes told it, the cast and crew thought it might have been an earthquake, and grabbed hold of anything they could.
After the lengthy expulsion of gas, Elwes asked André if he was OK.
"I am now," the giant replied.
As You Wish, written by Elwes with Joe Layden, and including a foreword from Reiner, is now available from Touchstone Books. In addition to stories from Elwes, the book contains production photographs, along with interviews with the cast and with Reiner, William Goldman — the writer of the film's screenplay and the original 1973 book it is based on — and producer Norman Lear.