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The Untold Truth Of The Princess Bride

In October 1987, a fantasy action comedy with a title that sounded like a rom-com, a very low budget, and a deadpan sense of humor hit cinema screens and promptly fizzled out. But it was resurrected from its mostly dead state by a miracle. In this case, it didn't come from a vengeful Miracle Man — that we know of, anyway. It came from sales of VHS tapes and replays on movie channels. 

Audiences started to discover The Princess Bride from their couches, and they fell in twooooo wuv. They quoted it to their friends. They got tattoos. They showed it to their kids. (There are enough things only adults notice in The Princess Bride to make it truly a multi-generational movie.) Today, The Princess Bride has ascended to its rightful place as an '80s classic, and memes have only seen it further embed itself in pop culture. Who among us has not thrown out an "inconceivable!" on Twitter?

Despite the low budget and lack of love from the studio marketing team, the cast and creators put everything into the movie. Some even endured physical injury. Here's the untold truth of The Princess Bride, a kissing story and a fairy tale but also so much more.

The name came from an unlikely source

If you've ever wondered why a film about fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles has such a misleading title, you should know that it came from two little girls.

They were the daughters of Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman. Goldman wrote the book The Princess Bride, which was published in 1973, and the screenplay for the 1987 movie adaptation. (Of course, the person who wrote the original story was esteemed Florinese writer S. Morgenstern...) Goldman was inspired by the fairy tales he made up for his daughters. He told Entertainment Weekly that when they were around four and seven, he asked them what they wanted to hear a story about. One said a princess, the other said a bride, and that's how he came up with the title.

In his not-entirely non-fiction introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of the book, Goldman explained that he nearly didn't get the chance to work on the movie adaptation. Fox bought the book rights the year The Princess Bride was published. Goldman wrote a screenplay, but the studio refused to buy it until they were sure the movie was going ahead. Eventually, Fox attached director Richard Lester, but internal politics saw that version fall apart. Goldman realized Fox could hire another writer to adapt his beloved book, so he bought back the rights. It took numerous deals and disappointments before he found a perfect partner in director Rob Reiner.

Robin Wright's first audition for The Princess Bride was a flop

When you see what the cast of The Princess Bride looks like today, it's clear that Robin Wright would still make an excellent Buttercup, the most beautiful woman in the world. But a less than impressive first audition nearly lost Wright the part.

Casting director Jane Jenkins told Vice, "Frankly, she wasn't that brilliant when she came in to read," and Jenkins put it down to the fact Wright was still very new to acting. Her major credit at that point was in the soap opera Santa Barbara. However, Jenkins said that Wright reminded her of Grace Kelly, which is a pretty good endorsement when you're looking for what Goldman described to Entertainment Weekly as "staggering" beauty. In a second go-round, Jenkins asked Wright to read the lines in a British accent — and Texan Wright delivered. She had an inside edge, as her stepfather was British.

Jenkins said that after that reading, she knew she'd found their Buttercup, and director Rob Reiner agreed. In commentary at a screening, he described finding Wright as "the greatest gift." Wright herself was more modest. She told Entertainment Weekly, "I was literally the 500th ingenue to read for Rob, and I think he was so exhausted at that point ... he was like, 'Ugh, god, just hire her.'" She also admitted to CNN that she spent the whole shoot trying not to "be an idiot" in front of the more established actors.

Andre the Giant nearly missed out on Fezzik

André René Roussimoff, best known as Andre the Giant, went from living a quiet life in a tiny French village to becoming one of the most beloved wrestlers in WWE history. By 1987, when he played lovable giant and rhyme master Fezzik, Andre was already a legend in the ring thanks to an undefeated streak that spanned nearly 15 years.

William Goldman always had Andre in mind for Fezzik. When director Rob Reiner and casting director Jane Jenkins asked for a model of the character, Goldman pointed to Andre. He even asked Reiner to directly approach the wrestler. But Reiner was skeptical that a guy that popular would be available, and he turned out to be right. Andre had a wrestling match scheduled in Japan — one worth $5 million, Jenkins told Vice — that conflicted with shooting. Jenkins also considered Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was a fan of the book, and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the part.

Fortunately for the giant-less moviemakers, Andre's match was canceled, and Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman left in the middle of an audition to meet him in Paris. However, Reiner's initial impression threw up another issue. He told Entertainment Weekly that while Andre was "physically perfect" at 7' 4" and around 500 lb, his thick French accent made his reading of the English lines hard to understand. Reiner ended up recording the lines on a cassette tape for Andre to learn phonetically. "He got pretty good!" the director understated.

Wallace Shawn was dismayed to learn that this actor was the first choice for Vizzini

It's inconceivable now that anyone other than Wallace Shawn could've played scheming Sicilian mastermind Vizzini. But another very famous actor was the first choice — and it affected Shawn's performance.

In an interview with The A.V. Club, Shawn said that his agent let him know that he was the third choice for the role — not exactly a confidence boost. Even worse, he learned that Danny DeVito was the filmmakers' original pick. Talking to Entertainment Weekly, Shawn described DeVito as "inimitable," adding, "Each scene we did, I pictured how he would have done it, and I knew I could never possibly have done it the way he could have done it. It made it challenging."

There was a specific reason for Shawn's insecurity. As director Rob Reiner explained at a screening, "Wally Shawn is probably the furthest thing from a Sicilian. ... He thought we were going to fire him after the first day." But Reiner wasn't bothered by Shawn's non-existent Sicilian accent. He said he told Shawn, "'We want the Sicilian to sound just like you.'" Shawn ultimately gives Reiner the credit for his performance, telling The A.V. Club that he didn't understand the movie's sense of humor, and the director gave him line readings that he would imitate. "I must have done it adequately, as people compliment me on it on a daily basis," he added.

Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes trained vigorously for their sword fight

When you're charged with performing the greatest sword fight the world has ever seen, you'd better do your homework. Mandy Patinkin, who played Spanish fencing wizard Inigo, had learned swordplay at Julliard a decade before landing the role, and he spent the four months prior to filming reprising his studies at Yale. Cary Elwes did not study up, and he was behind when he arrived at the London set.

On set, both men were trained by the two best sword fighting stuntmen in the business. Peter Diamond taught original swashbuckler Errol Flynn all his moves and was the stunt coordinator for the original Star Wars trilogy. Bob Anderson was a former Olympic fencer for Great Britain and Darth Vader's stunt double.

Patinkin and Elwes spent all their downtime practicing. They learned how to fight left- and right-handed to play their ambidextrous characters, and they memorized each other's choreography to reduce the risk of accidents. Ironically, their hard work left them overprepared. They executed the choreography so well that the scene was over too quickly for director Rob Reiner's liking. The set decorators extended the terrain, while the stuntmen and actors added more fencing moves, interaction with the scenery, and even flips. Those were doubled by gymnast Jeff Davis, but the actors did all the swordplay. They also studied other movies for tips and tricks. The extra work satisfied Reiner, who declared it "the best sword fight in movie history" to Vanity Fair.

Andre the Giant couldn't lift his Princess Bride co-stars

Despite his gigantic reputation as an undefeated WWE wrestler — or rather, because of it — Andre the Giant was in so much pain from years in the ring that he could barely carry Cary Elwes or Robin Wright. In fact, for the scenes in which he was supposed to pick Wright up and carry her, he had to have a special cable rigged to his back. Wright told Entertainment Weekly, "He was in physical pain all the time. ... He could barely lift me because his back was in agony."

Andre couldn't lift Elwes at all, much less wrestle him, which posed a problem for director Rob Reiner, who'd assumed that having a professional wrestler would mean their fight scene would be taken care of. For the scenes showing Fezzik and Westley's wrestling match on the clifftop, they hired a double. But there was only one Andre the Giant, and the best they could do was a 6' 5" stuntman, who was about a foot shorter than 7' 5" Andre. It just about worked for wide shots, but close-ups showing Westley clinging to Fezzik's back required movie magic of the low budget variety. Reiner explained that Elwes rested his feet on a plank of wood to take the weight off Andre during those moments. However, there was one bit Andre could manage — barely registering an impact when Elwes charged into him.

Cary Elwes was convinced this mistake would get him fired from The Princess Bride

Of all the obstacles the Man in Black faced, it was an accident that had nothing to do with the plot that could've ended Cary Elwes' role in The Princess Bride. Elwes recalled that a week into the shoot, Andre the Giant persuaded him to have a go driving his all-terrain vehicle. Somehow, Elwes caught his left big toe between the gear pedal and a rock, bending it all the way back until it snapped. Describing it as "the most cringe-worthy moment of my life" to the Chicago Tribune, Elwes says he tried to hide the injury from director Rob Reiner. "You can't have a hopping Dread Pirate Roberts. ... I was really scared of being fired," he explained.

Reiner inevitably found out, but he reassured Elwes that his job was secure. Years later, Reiner told Entertainment Weekly that Elwes was irreplaceable as Westley. "He was the only person I could imagine doing it with." In fact, Reiner even moved the epic sword fight to the end of the shoot, which at least gave Elwes more time to practice his arm work.

But before Elwes could go to the hospital, he had to shoot the scene in which he and Robin Wright's Buttercup run through the Fire Swamp. "The show must go on," he told the Chicago Tribune. The next time you rewatch the movie, pay particular attention to Elwes' left foot. "She's running, I'm hopping. ... You can probably spot it," he admitted.

Robin Wright and Cary Elwes both had crushes on each other

True love doesn't happen every day, but as Buttercup and Westley, Robin Wright and Cary Elwes convinced audiences that their characters' romance was one such momentous love story. It may have helped that they both had crushes on each other during filming.

In his book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, Elwes wrote, "I fell in love with Robin from the moment we met. ... I like to think that the chemistry between us translated onto the screen." And Wright felt the same. She once described Elwes as "gorgeous" and "the blonde Zorro" and said they "clicked right away." And in 2014, Wright joked to Town and Country magazine, "I was convinced we were going to be married."

The actors both found happy endings with different people, but they're still friends and stay in touch "quite a lot," as Elwes told Us Weekly. Fans even got to see a brief public reunion when the pair teamed up to promote The Princess Bride's arrival on Disney+.

Billy Crystal and Carol Kane went the extra mile for their cameos

Working miracles is a tough job, but Billy Crystal was delighted to play the man who did it. Princess Bride director Rob Reiner offered his old friend a cameo as Miracle Max, thinking it would be fun. And it was, but it was also hard work.

That was partly thanks to the prosthetics, which saw Crystal and Carol Kane, who played his witch/wife Valerie, arrive on set at 2 AM for hours of specialty makeup. And it took an hour to get off at the end of the day.

Some of the extra work was also due to Crystal and Kane's extraordinary commitment to their jobs. Kane told Entertainment Weekly that they spent a night coming up with a backstory for this couple who'd been together for over a century (112 years, Crystal told Variety.) And on set, they ad-libbed a lot of material, including Crystal's memorable line, "Have fun storming the castle!" Many jokes were cut, but they still found an appreciative audience, as Reiner and the actors all struggled to keep from laughing. Reiner laughed so much at the MLT line that he had to leave the set.

The filmmakers had to spring at least one of the R.O.U.S. stuntmen from jail

The Rodents of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S.) are fearsome in the Fire Swamp, but they're no match for the real life Brute Squad that is the British police. Director Rob Reiner and Cary Elwes both recalled incidents involving the stuntmen who played R.O.U.S., but each of their accounts is slightly different.

At a screening, Reiner recalled that one morning he was looking for a stuntman named Anthony, who was especially good at quick movements. He was told that Anthony had been arrested that morning for burning down the kennel he and his wife owned while they were in the heat of an argument. However, in his book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, Elwes wrote that he arrived on set on the final day of shooting the R.O.U.S. scenes to learn that a different stuntman, Danny, was AWOL because he'd been arrested for drunk driving the night before.

Whether it was Anthony or Danny or both, the end result was the filmmakers bailing their performer out of jail so they could come back to set, put on the unbearably hot rat suit, and battle Elwes. It's not all glamour at the movies.

There may be a musical adaptation of The Princess Bride

If you've ever thought, "Hey, I love The Princess Bride, but it really needs more singing," well, we've got some good news for you.

In March 2019, The Princess Bride took one step closer to appearing on the stage. Disney Theatrical Productions assigned Bob Martin and Rick Elice to adapt the book for a stage musical, with David Yazbek creating the score. (Princess Bride screenwriter William Goldman died at 87 in November 2018, so he won't have to sit through someone else's version of his and S. Morgenstern's book.)

Clearly, things in the theater world have changed since that announcement, with venues closing and productions stalling. However, in May 2020, the president of Disney Theatrical Productions, Thomas Schumacher, gave a spark of hope in a letter to his staff in which he noted that they're still developing The Princess Bride musical. Miracles do happen, after all.

The Princess Bride cast had a blast together

The history of filmmaking is littered with actors who flat out refused to work together thanks to off-screen tension, but the cast of The Princess Bride had no such issues. Even the people playing villains were embraced by the group. Christopher Guest, who played cold-blooded, six-fingered Count Rugen, described the atmosphere to Entertainment Weekly as "a movie camp." "There are a lot of times when you're on a movie on location, and you're kind of a loner, and you stay in your room. This was an uncommonly friendly gang of people," he said. For the same article, Wright recalled that they would all eat dinner together in Reiner's room. In his memoir about making the movie, Elwes revealed why. Reiner, tired of the local English food, had had a hibachi grill installed in his hotel suite, from which he would serve burgers and hot dogs.

The most popular member of the cast was Andre the Giant, who sadly died in 1993. Elwes described him to Entertainment Weekly as "filled with life and fun and so sweet, such a truly gentle soul." The remaining cast members are still in touch. Elwes told Us Weekly, "We're all part of this wonderful family now. We all check in on each other every time there's a birthday or any kind of holiday ... and then intermittently we check in." Fairy tale endings aren't real, but off-screen, the cast's relationships are exactly as you wish.

This creative Princess Bride remake has an incredible cast

If you spent a lot of time acting out your favorite Princess Bride scenes as a kid, then you'll absolutely lovely this imaginative remake.

Short-form streaming service Quibi has remade the classic movie into bite-sized chapters, airing every day for two weeks from June 29, 2020. Directed by Jason Reitman, it was filmed on smartphones while its many stars were in isolation during the pandemic. And speaking of stars, the cast list is a fantasy in itself.

The roles rotate through different beloved actors. For example, one section reunites not just Inigo, Vizzini, and Fezzik but the accounting department of The Office, with Oscar Nuñez, Angela Kinsey, and Briam Baumgartner playing the parts, respectively. In other segments, Westley is played by a series of dashing heroes, including Common, Chris Pine, and Jack Black. We also see multiple beautiful people play Buttercup, including Tiffany Haddish, Jennifer Garner, and Joe Jonas, who's gender-swapping the role with his wife, Sophie Turner, another Westley. 

It's still a kissing story, but thanks to the pandemic-induced public health risks of saliva exchanges, on-screen kissing will be between real-life couples. Also look out for pets, Lego stuntmen, and children. And in a crossover we didn't know we needed until now, the Muppets will be making an appearance.

At least one person who was involved with the original movie is returning — although you may not recognize his face. Rob Reiner, director of The Princess Bride, will be playing the Grandfather for one section.