The princess bride, p.30
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Princess Bride, p.30

           William Goldman
 

  No one--please believe this--no one thought anyone would actually request my version. But Harcourt, the original hardcover publisher, got deluged, and later Ballantine, the first paperback publisher, got deluged even more. I loved that. Publishers having to spend money. My reunion scene was poised for mailing--but not one was ever sent.

  What follows is the explanatory letter I wrote that was mailed to the tens of thousands of people who had written in over the years asking for the scene.

  Dear Reader,

  Thank you for sending in and no, this is not the reunion scene, because of a certain roadblock named Kermit Shog.

  As soon as bound books were ready, I got a call from my lawyer, Charley--(you may not remember, but Charley's the one I called from California to go down in the blizzard and buy The Princess Bride from the used-book dealer). Anyway, he usually begins with Talmudic humor, wisdom jokes, only this time he just says, "Bill, I think you better get down here," and before I'm even allowed a "why?" he adds, "Right away if you can."

  Panicked, I zoom down, wondering who could have died, did I flunk my tax audit, what? His secretary lets me into his office and Charley says, "This is Mr. Shog, Bill."

  And there he is, sitting in the corner, hands on his briefcase, looking exactly like an oily version of Peter Lorre. I really expected him to say, "Give me the Falcon, you must, or I will be forced to keeel you."

  "Mr. Shog is a lawyer," Charley goes on. And then this next was said underlined: "He represents the Morgenstern estate."

  Who knew? Who could have dreamed such a thing existed, an estate of a man dead at least a million years that no one ever heard of over here anyway? "Perhaps you will give me the Falcon now," Mr. Shog said. That's not true. What he said was "Perhaps you will like a few words with your client alone now," and Charley nodded and out he went and once he was done I said, "Charley, my God, I never figured--" and he said, "Did Harcourt?" and I said, "Not that they ever mentioned," and he said, "Ooch," the grunting sound lawyers make when they know they've backed a loser. "What does he want?" I said. "A meeting with Mr. Jovanovich," Charley answered....

  It turned out that Kermit Shog did not just want a meeting with William Jovanovich, the brilliant man who ran the firm. He also wanted amazing amounts of money and he also wanted the unabridged The Princess Bride version printed with a huge first printing (100,000), and, of course, the idea of little me sending out the reunion scene died that day.

  But the lawsuits began. Over the years, a grand total of thirteen--only eleven directly concerning me. It was horrible, but the one good thing was that the copyright on Morgenstern ran out in '78. So I told everyone who sent in for the reunion scene that their names were being put on a list and kept and once '78 rolled around, voila...but I was wrong again. Here is part of the next note I sent out to all people requesting the reunion scene.

  I'm really sorry about this but you know the story that ends, "Disregard previous wire, letter follows"? Well, you've got to disregard the business about the Morgenstern copyright running out in '78. That was a definitely a boo-boo but Mr. Shog, being Florinese, has trouble, naturally, with our numbering system. The copyright runs out in '87, not '78.

  Worse, he died. Mr. Shog, I mean. (Don't ask how you could tell. It was easy. One morning he just stopped sweating, so there it was.) What makes it worse is that the whole affair is now in the hands of his kid, named--wait for it--Mandrake Shog. Mandrake moves with all the verve and speed of a lizard flaked out on a riverbank.

  The only good thing that's happened in this whole mess is I finally got a shot at reading some of Buttercup's Baby. Up at Columbia, they feel it's definitely superior to The Princess Bride in satirical content. Personally, I don't have the emotional attachment to it, but it's a helluva story, no question.

  It's funny, looking back, but at the time I had really zero interest in Buttercup's Baby.

  Many reasons, but among them this: I was writing my own novels then. To make sense of that, I suppose I ought to tell you what I did with The Princess Bride. I know the book cover just says "abridged by" and, yes, I jumped from "good part" to "good part." But it was really a good deal more than that.

  Morgenstern's The Princess Bride is a thousand-page manuscript. I got it down to three hundred. But I didn't just cut out his satiric interludes. I made elisions constantly. And there was all kinds of stuff, some of it wonderful, I got rid of. Example: Westley's terrible childhood and how he came to be the Farm Boy. Example: How the King and Queen went to Miracle Max because they knew they had somehow given birth to a monster (Humperdinck), and could Max change that? Max's failure is what led to his firing, which in turn, caused his crisis in confidence. (His wife, Valerie, refers to it when she says to Inigo: "He is afraid he's done, that the miracles are gone from his once majestic fingers..." (page 289 in this version.)

  I felt all this, exciting and moving as a lot of it is, to be off the spine of the story. I went with true love and high adventure and I think I was right to do that. And I think the results have proved that. Morgenstern never had any audience for his book--except in Florin, of course. I brought it to people everywhere and, with the movie, to a wider audience still. So, sure, I abridged it.

  But, I'm sorry, I shaped it. I also brought it to life. I don't know what you want to call that, but whatever I did, it's sure something.

  SO BUTTERCUP'S BABY was just not for me at that time. The workload was one thing. It would have meant thousands of hours of labor. But that was nothing compared to the constant attacks by the Shogs. Lawsuit after awful lawsuit, and each time I had to defend myself, had to give depositions, which I frankly found hateful because they were all attacks on my honesty.

  I had had, then, enough of Mr. Morgenstern for a while.

  I didn't actually read Buttercup's Baby, either. I happened to be at Columbia University one afternoon--I gave my papers to Columbia--and some Florinese kid stopped by, handed me a rough translation to glance at. The full title of the book is this: Buttercup's Baby: S. Morgenstern's Glorious Examination of courage Matched Against the Death of the Heart. Had a great opening page, a real shocker, but that was mostly what I remember. It was just another book to me then, you see. It had not become lodged in my heart.

  Yet.

  ***

  SO WHAT CHANGED things?

  To tell you the truth, and I might as well, my life the last dozen years has been, how can I put it, what's the reverse of giddy? Oh, I've written plenty of screenplays and some nonfiction, but I haven't written a novel, and please remember that that's painful for me because in my heart that's what I am, a novelist, a novelist who happens to write screenplays. (I hate it when I sometimes meet people and they say, "Well, when's the next book coming out?" and I always make a smile and lie that I'm on the homestretch now.) And the movies I've been involved with--except for Misery--have all brought their share of disappointment.

  I live alone here in New York, in a nice hotel, room service twenty-four hours, all that's great, but I feel, sometimes, that whatever I wrote once that maybe had some quality, well, maybe those days are gone.

  But to balance the bad, there was always my son, Jason.

  You all remember how when he was ten he was this humorless blimp, this waddler? Well that was his thin phase. Helen and I used to fight about it all the time.

  He had just passed three hundred biggies when he turned fifteen. I had come home from work early, hollered my presence, was heading for the wine closet when I heard this heartbreaking sound--

  --sobbing--

  --coming from the kid's room. I took a breath, went to his door, knocked. Jason and I were not close at this point. The truth is, he didn't care for me all that much. He barely acknowledged my existence, pissed on the movies I wrote, never dreamed of opening any of the books. It killed me, of course, but I never let on.

  "Jason?" I said from just outside his door.

  The awful sobbing continued.

  "What is it?"

  "You can't help--no one c
an help--nothing can help--" And then this forlorn wahhhhhh....

  I knew the last person he wanted to see was me. But I had to go in. "I promise I won't tell anybody."

  He came rolling into my arms, his face fiery, distorted. "Oh, Daddy, I'm ugly and I've got no friends and all the girls laugh at me and make fun because I'm so fat."

  I had to blink back tears myself--because it was all true, y'see. I was trapped there in that moment. I didn't know if he wanted to hear the truth from me or not. Finally I had to say it. "Who cares?" I told him. "I love you."

  He grabbed me so hard. "Poppa," he managed, "Poppa," the first blessed time he ever called me that, his hot tears fresh on my skin.

  That was our turning point.

  For the past twenty years, no one could have asked for a better son. More than that, Jason's the best friend I have in the world. But our real clincher happened the next day.

  I took him down to the Strand Bookstore, on Broadway and 12th Street, where I go a lot, research mostly, and we were about to enter when he stopped and pointed to a photograph in the window, the front cover of a book of photographs.

  "I wonder who that is?" Jason said, staring.

  "He's an Austrian bodybuilder, trying to make it as an actor. I met him when I was in L.A. last. He wants to be Fezzik if The Princess Bride ever happens." (This was the late '70s now, twenty years back. Schwarzenegger was nothing then, but when The Princess Bride did finally happen, he was such a huge star we couldn't afford him in our budget.) "I liked him. Very bright young guy."

  Jason could not take his eyes off the picture.

  Then I said what I guess turned out to be the magic words: "He was pudgy once too."

  Jason looked at me then. "I don't think so," he said.

  I didn't think so either, but it didn't hurt to say it.

  "It came up in conversation." I said. "He said he thought he had gone as far in the bodybuilding world as he could. What drove him was he didn't like the way he looked when he was young." An aside about Arnold, which I bet you didn't know: he was friends with Andre the Giant. (I guess strong guys all know each other.) Following is a story he told me. I used it in the obit I wrote when Andre, alas, died.

  Andre once invited Schwarzenegger to a wrestling arena in Mexico where he was performing in front of 25,000 screaming fans, and after he'd pinned his opponent, he gestured for Schwarzenegger to come into the ring.

  So through the noise, Schwarzenegger climbs up. Andre says, "Take off your shirt, they are all crazy for you to take off your shirt, I speak Spanish." So Schwarzenegger, embarrassed, does what Andre tells him. Off comes his jacket, his shirt, his undershirt, and he begins striking poses. And then Andre goes to the locker room while Schwarzenegger goes back to his friends.

  And it had all been a practical joke. God knows what the crowd was screaming for, but it wasn't for Schwarzenegger to semistrip and pose: "Nobody gave a s----if I took my shirt off or not, but I fell for it. Andre could do that to you."

  "I wonder how much that picture book is?" Jason said then. (We're still outside of the Strand, remember, and we didn't know it, but the earth has moved.)

  Are you surprised to learn I bought it for him?

  This is what happened to Jason in the next two years: he went from 308 to 230. He went from five-foot-six-and-a-half to six-foot-three. He had always been tops in his class at Dalton, but now, ripped and gorgeous, he was popular too.

  This is what happened to Jason in the years after that. College, Medical School, the decision to be a shrink like his mom. (Except Jason's speciality is sex therapy.) New York magazine rated him tops in the city and he also met this lovely lady Wall Streeter, Peggy Henderson, and they got happily married.

  And and and had a son.

  I went to the hospital as soon as he was born. "We're calling him Arnold," Peggy told me, holding him in her arms.

  "Perfect," I said. The truth is, obviously, I was hoping they might remember me too, somehow. But down was down.

  "That's right," Jason said. "William Arnold." And he took Willy and put him in my arms.

  High point of my life.

  FOR THOSE OF you who have not yet thrown the book across the room in frustration, let me explain that this all really does have to do with why only the first chapter of Buttercup's Baby. And I promise to get there so fast you won't believe it.

  OK. Willy the kid. Jason and Peggy live only two blocks away and I am careful not to drive them nuts, but I never had a grandson before. Not a toy at Zitomer's escaped me. Not a cough from him didn't keep me up all night going through my health encyclopedias.

  I could refuse him, obviously, nothing.

  Which is why my behavior in the park was so odd. Gorgeous spring day, Peggy and Jason holding hands up ahead, me and seven-year-old Willy tossing a Wiffle ball back and forth a step behind. We already go to some weekend Knick games together. (I've had season tickets since Hubie Brown was sent down to earth to destroy me.)

  "We have a request," Jason began things.

  "Guess what we finished last night?" Peggy went on. "The Princess Bride. We took turns reading it out loud."

  Trying for casual, I asked the youngster what he thought of the entire enterprise.

  "It was good," Willy replied, "'cept for the end."

  "I don't like the end all that much, either," I said. "Blame Mr. Morgenstern."

  "No, no," Peggy explained. "He didn't dislike the ending. He didn't like that it ended."

  Pause. We walked in silence.

  "I told him about the sequel, Poppa," Jason said then.

  Peggy nodded. "He got really excited."

  And then my Willy said the words: "Read it to me?"

  I knew at that moment I was losing it. I remember exactly my fear--what if I couldn't bring it to life this time? What if I failed? Failed us both?

  "That's the request, Dad. Willy wants you to read him Buttercup's Baby. We all want you to do it."

  "Well it's too bad about what 'we' all want, isn't it," I started, my voice too loud. "It's sure too bad 'we' can't have everything, isn't it? You all better get used to disappointment," and before I did anything even worse, I looked at my watch, gestured that I had to go, took off, went home, stayed there, didn't answer the phone, had early Chinese sent in from Pig Heaven, started drinking, was gone by midnight.

  And woke before dawn with a dream, so vivid; I went out to my terrace, paced, started trying to figure out the dream, and more than that, I guess, my life and how had I screwed it up.

  It was a memory of that second pneumonia, and Helen was reading the screenplay of the movie to me--only this time she was young and wonderful, and she was also crying.

  On the terrace I knew why--we are all the writers of our own dreams--she was me, she was me crying for me, for what I had become. And then I remembered she wasn't reading The Princess Bride, she was reading about Fezzik and the madman on the mountain, the start of Buttercup's Baby, and I realized that twice I had almost died and Morgenstern had come to save me and now here he was again, saving me again, because I knew this, standing there looking out at the city as the sun rose: I would be a real writer once more, not just some schmuck with an Underwood, as screenwriters are still thought of Out There.

  I didn't think I was ready to go from zero to sixty, to start a novel from scratch. I didn't feel confident that I could make everything up, as I had done for my thirty novel-writing years.

  Let me explain what I was not ready to do.

  Take Szell, the Nazi dentist in Marathon Man (Olivier in the movie, and wasn't he great? Remember the "is it safe" scene with the dental tools?). There is this street in Manhattan, 47th between Fifth and Sixth, and I was walking along it one day, decades back, on my way somewhere, can't remember, doesn't matter, but that block is called the "diamond district." It is filled with an amazing number of diamond shops, most of them run by Jews, and on a lot of them, you could see they still had their concentration camp numbers. I thought that day what a great scene it might be i
f I could have a Nazi walking on that street.

  Which Nazi I didn't know, but probably I started doing some mild research, reading and asking people, and I finally came across the most brilliant of them all, Mengele--the double doctor, Ph.D. and M.D.--then thought to be living in Argentina, the guy who did the heartless experiments on twins.

  OK, great, I've got my guy--but why does he risk everything to come to 47th Street? I knew this much: it couldn't be to go to the prom. The most wanted man on earth had to have an unshakable reason.

  Years go by, with Mengele stuck in the corner of my head and gradually Babe started to appear, the marathon man of the title. Then I caught a break: I read about a surgeon who had invented a heart sleeve operation, somewhere, maybe Cleveland, but I could put him in New York.

  Yesss. Mengele came to America, to New York, because he had to, to save his life.

  Brilliant.

  I am flying for the next little while because I have solved my most difficult problem and then it hits me--fool!--what kind of a villain is it who's so frail he needs heart surgery? My God, if someone chased him he might keel over from the effort.

  Obviously, a couple of years later I figured out some things and wrote the book and wrote the movie and the scene that still works best, along with the dental scene, is Szell wandering among the Jews.

  On the terrace that morning I knew I wasn't ready to take on that kind of trip. But this shaping of Buttercup's Baby was a perfect middle step for me. Bringing it to life as I had The Princess Bride would give me the confidence to at last go back to being what I once was.

  So I would do the abridgement of the sequel and then do my own novel and ride off into the frigging sunset, thank you very much. Once offices opened for the day I called Charley (still my lawyer) and told him that I wanted more than anything on earth to abridge the sequel and was there any way he thought the Morgenstern estate would put an end to hostilities?

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll