Sunday, December 21, 2014

As You Wish: An Evening with Cary Elwes

When this book was first published a few weeks ago, it immediately popped up on my list of most desirable Christmas gifts to give or to receive. After all, "The Princess Bride" may be everyone's favorite childhood movie from the 1980s. It is beloved by millions and it is so endlessly quotable that it is probably recognizable, even to those who have not seen it, "Inconceivable."

My daughter Amanda is much quicker to act on some things than I am and she had the book ordered for her mother before I could say, "When I was your age, television was called books." We tried to keep it a secret from her that the book even existed. That was a tall task and it was likely she'd heard about it. Anyway, after the book arrived, my daughter received a Christmas gift from her friend Kili, a pass to a special screening of "The Princess Bride", along with a Q and A session with the man in Black himself, the star of the film and author of the book, Cary Elwes. "Lucky Kid" I cursed under my breath". Kili was going to go with her before she returned home to Hawaii to spend the holidays with her family. Unfortunately, the book tour schedule got changed and the date for the screening rolled back a weekend. Kili would already be gone and she offered Amanda her pass as well. Since it was a gift for her Mother, I insisted she take her Mom with her to the show.

My wife is a wonderful woman but she does have a couple of health issues that make some activities difficult. Vertigo, a bad hip and a neurological condition that influence her gait, make it hard to be as mobile as she would like to be. The screening was to be at an historic movie palace in downtown L.A., and they were not sure about the parking situation and the theater is not exactly handicapped friendly. They decided they would need some help, so they twisted my arm and forced me to buy a ticket to the event as well. Now they did not have to worry about parking and there would be back up on some of the hard to navigate parts of the evening.

So last night we went downtown to the Broadway district that the hipsters and others are trying to revive. I dropped them off at the theater, parked in a building structure that is part of one of the Jewelry Exchange buildings in the neighborhood and then i joined them in line to wait for admission. We got there early so the difficult issues could be managed, but the event did not open until 6 pm. A half hour wait was pleasant enough,and the busy streets at Christmas time felt very much like a Holiday evening.

The event is sponsored by a coalition of local eateries that sold their foods in the lower lobby of the theater. Wrist bands were provided for those who had purchased an advance copy of the book, which they received just inside the door, and then they were entitled to the priority line up to get their book signed. There was a second line for crashers like me who had only purchased tickets for the movie and Q and A. I had the copy that Amanda had bought for her mother and all three of us waited in two different lines.
The signing was to be done on the stage which meant that we entered on stage left, crossed the downstage area, got our signature and then exited stage right through the wings.The problem is that there is a set of narrow stairs leading from the auditorium up to the left stage area. The doorway at the end of the narrow passage is also undersized, this beautiful auditorium was built in 1911 and designed for Vaudeville before movies started playing a dozen years later. This was one of the tricky parts of the evening. The ladies with their priority wristbands went first and there were some especially nice volunteers from the organization that helped my wife navigate these obstacles with my daughter while I was far back in the other line. When I saw how much trouble they'd had getting up. I abandoned my spot in line and raced to the other side after they got their books signed and helped her get through an even smaller door on stage right.

The Palace theater is one of a number of old movie palaces in downtown that have been largely abandoned but for which a conservancy has struggled to save. There are a lot of restoration features to admire, and it has two balcony suite area above the main floor. There are some gorgeous old style paintings on either side of the stage and the proscenium is also very impressive.

There are several inserted pieces of art in circular cutouts on the ceiling as you can see here.

Another reason for my presence at the event came when my wife needed to visit the bathroom. It is not located on the main floor. There are bathrooms on the balcony level and in the basement area. Each choice offered two sets of deep stairways that are rife with danger for the vertigo afflicted, it was at least thirty steps regardless of which direction we chose and there is no elevator. We took the stairs down and it took a couple of minutes to get there. We also had to maneuver around the traffic of people purchasing and eating dinner and desserts from the restaurants that were participating that night. The Gentlemen's  room was large with marble stalls and modern fixtures, but my wife told me that she broke out laughing when the first stall in the ladies room was marked "Handicapped". Without an elevator, unless someone in a wheelchair can apparate as they do at Hogwarts, it is unclear who gets first call on that location.

When it was my turn to make way through the narrow left stage area and meet Mr, Elwes, I was happy that I decided to come after all (sarcasm is intended here). The line got shorter, my chance to shake hands and say thank you for all he did in the movie and for coming to the event arrived and he was charming as all get out. Maybe the British accent makes the common pleasantries we might exchange in a situation like this feel more significant, but it was still a fun moment.
My daughter user a better phone camera than I had to capture the moment from the audience perspective, so that is me in the burnt orange shirt, lumbering over to greet the Man in Black.As he signed I mentioned that I had heard him on the "Mark and Lynda" podcast and appreciated that he was using some new tools for reaching the audience he wants to connect with. He smiled and said thank you and the moment was officially over.

After a longer than expected break between the signing and the start of the program, Cary Elwes came back out on stage and showed again that he is quite the raconteur. I had listened to him promoting "Saw" ten years ago on the Mark and Brian radio show and he was hypnotic when he told the story of being a p.a. on "Superman" and essentially having to wrangle Marlon Brando. He was a guest on their show several more times was was always gracious and interesting. Last night was no exception.
Having chosen a very appropriate wardrobe for the evening, he answered a few questions from the Organization's representative for the evening. She wisely let him range all over the place as he told several interesting behind the scenes stories about the making of the film. 

Mr. Elwes frequently did spot on imitations of several of the participants in the movie, including director Rob Reiner and Co-Stars Wallace Shawn and Andre the Giant. If you read the book you will know the story of Andre the Giant's intestinal eruption on the first day he was shooting. Cary got at least five minutes of laughs from this scatological moment and no one seemed the least offended. If anything they were even more endeared with Fezzick after this.

A second story involved Andre the Giant in a more peripheral manner. He basically egged Cary on to take a ride on his three wheeled ATV on the set one day. That short moment ended up with an injury that might have threatened Elwes job and put the movie substantially off schedule. That it was all worked out with an amiable director, a paranoid actor and a somewhat understated set nurse is one of the miracles of "The Princess Bride".

Everyone enjoyed the stories he told of Billy Crystal's shooting days and the improvisational way that he made "Miracle Max" come to life. The fact that Cary and Rob Reiner basically got booted from their own set because they could not contain their laughter while Billy was riffing during his scenes is also very funny. The tribute he paid to Wallace Shawn was great and if you can imagine it, we were spared the sight of Danny DeVito as Vizzini because of costs but also because Rob Reiner just thought Shawn was funny in the way he spoke. The insecure Mr. Shawn it seems was told by his agent that they had originally wanted DeVito, and the specter of his ghost hung over Shawn's head for the whole time he was on the set.

Since the Interview started late and went longer than expected, there was not time to take audience questions but no one was grousing.  We had all been entertained by a masterful story teller about some of the episodes that occurred during the film of a favorite film. He closed and introduced the film by asking us all to "have fun storming the castle,".

At this point, because the structure I parked in closed at ten and the difficulty of exiting while the movie ran because of my wife's walker and vertigo, we decided to skip the screening of the movie. I walked her to the foyer and told her to wait while I got the car, our daughter went downstairs to use the bathroom, and Dolores was standing there alone. Sure enough, while the movie was playing inside, Cary Elwes came out front and saw her standing there and started talking with her. He was incredibly kind and she told him how she reads the novel of the book to her students in the third and fourth grade classes she teaches and then how the kids write letters to the characters. "Buttercup" is frequently told she can trust the Man in Black in those letters. He was amused and quite impressed with the activity. He thanked her and another teacher who had come out to the lobby and came up to them while they were speaking. That woman also taught in the same city as my wife although in an adjoining district. He said he really appreciated the hard work that teachers do and wished them both a nice holiday as he left. Of course my daughter and I only saw him walking away, so this turned into a very special moment for Dolores, which is what got this Christmas present started in the first place.

"Let me explain.
No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

It was a wonderful evening.


le0pard13 said...

Indeed, this sounded like a wonderful evening. Great summary of an extraordinary event you and yours were part of.

Richard Kirkham said...

It was great, they do these things all the time. When I find the calendar I'm going to post it. Merry Christmas Michael, our best to your family.