It's no wonder The Princess Bride is such a beloved film: It's action-packed but still light-hearted, sweet but not saccharine, silly but still smart—and, of course, endlessly quotable. Fortunately, its lead, Cary Elwes—better known to fans of the cult classic as Westley, Farm Boy or the Dread Pirate Roberts—was inspired by the 25th anniversary celebration of the film in 2012 to write a behind-the-scenes book about the making of the movie, for which he interviewed nearly all of the key cast and crew (sadly, André the Giant, who played Fezzik, passed away in 1993).
Pulling from the impressively detailed text of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride and the various interviews Elwes and others gave on the occasion of both the anniversary and the book's publication, we rounded up a series of fun facts and anecdotes sure to delight any fan of the film.
1. It was written for the author's daughters.
William Goldman, who wrote the novel The Princess Bride in 1973 and penned the screenplay, told Entertainment Weekly in an oral history of the movie, "I had two little daughters, I think they were 7 and 4 at the time, and I said, 'I’ll write you a story. What do you want it to be about?' One of them said 'a princess' and the other one said 'a bride.' I said, 'That’ll be the title.'"
2. Both the director and the lead already knew and loved the story before filming even began.
Elwes' stepfather had given him Goldman's book in 1975, when the future actor was just 13. Rob Reiner, who directed the movie, first read the book in his 20s when Goldman gave it to his father. It quickly became Reiner's favorite book of all time, and he had long wanted to turn it into a movie—but he had no idea that many before him had tried and failed.
3. For a long time, no one was able to make the movie.
At one point or another, Robert Redford, Norman Jewison, John Boorman, and Francois Truffaut all tried to get the book made into a movie, but due to a series of unrelated incidents—"green-lighters" getting fired, production houses closing—it languished for years. (In one of these proto-Princess Brides, a then-unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to play Fezzik.) After several false starts, Goldman bought back the rights to the book. The movie only got made because Reiner had built up so much good will with movies like Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing that the studio, 20th Century Fox, offered to make any project of his choice.
4. Mandy Patinkin felt a personal connection to the character of Inigo Montoya.
"The moment I read the script, I loved the part of Inigo Montoya," Patinkin said in the EW Oral History. "That character just spoke to me profoundly. I had lost my own father—he died at 53 years old from pancreatic cancer in 1972. I didn’t think about it consciously, but I think that there was a part of me that thought, If I get that man in black, my father will come back. I talked to my dad all the time during filming, and it was very healing for me."
5. Andre the Giant could really, really drink.
Three bottles of cognac and 12 bottles of wine reportedly made him just a little tipsy. When the cast would go out for dinner, Andre—who, according to Robin Wright, ordered four appetizers and five entrees—would drink out of a 40-ounce beer pitcher filled with a mix of liquors, a concoction he called "The American."
6. And he had an unconventional method for learning his lines.
Reiner and Goldman met Andre, then a famous wrestler, at a bar in Paris. "I brought him up to the hotel room to audition him. He read this three-page scene, and I couldn’t understand one word he said," Reiner recalls. "I go, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do? He’s perfect physically for the part, but I can’t understand him!’ So I recorded his entire part on tape, exactly how I wanted him to do it, and he studied the tape. He got pretty good!"
7. Goldman was incredibly nervous on set.
Of all the projects he’d written and worked on—which included the Academy Award-winning Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—Goldman loved The Princess Bride best of all. This manifested itself as extreme nerves about the project. Reiner invited Goldman to be on set for the duration of the filming—which Goldman did not want to do, saying, “I don’t like being on set. If you’re a screenwriter, it’s boring”—but on the first day, he proved to be a slight nuisance. The first couple takes were plagued by a barely-audible chanting, which turned out to be Goldman praying things would go well. And when Wright as Buttercup’s dress caught on fire—even though Goldman himself had written that into the script—he panicked, yelling, "Oh my god! Her dress is on fire!"
8. Wallace Shawn was brilliant, but always on edge.
Shawn, who played Vizzini the Sicilian, really is, like his character, a man of "dizzying intellect." He has a degree from Harvard in history and had studied philosophy and economics at Oxford. In fact, on a day off from filming The Princess Bride, Shawn went to Oxford to give a guest lecture on British and American literature. But Shawn was inconsolably nervous for the entirety of filming. After learning from his agent that Reiner had originally wanted Danny DeVito for the part, Shawn was wracked with insecurity, perpetually convinced that he was going to be fired after every bad take. "Danny is inimitable. 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," he said.
9. The duel between Westley and Inigo was excruciatingly researched and rehearsed.
Goldman spent months researching 17th-century swordfighting manuals to craft Westley and Inigo's duel; all the references the characters make to specific moves and styles are completely accurate. Then Elwes and Patinkin, neither of whom had much if any fencing experience, spent more months training to perfect it—right- and left-handed.
"I knew that my job was to become the world’s greatest swordfighter," Patinkin recalls in the book. "I trained for about two months in New York and then we went to London and Cary and I trained every day that we weren’t shooting for four months. There were no stunt men involved in any of the sword fights, except for one flip in the air.” Even after months of pre-shooting training, the fencing instructors came to set and, when there were a few free minutes, would pull Elwes and Patinkin aside to work on the choreography for the scene, which was intentionally one of the last to be shot.
10. It was Elwes' idea to dive head-first into the "quicksand."
That particular Fire Swamp stunt was accomplished by having a trap door underneath a layer of sand, below which was a foam padding for the actors to fall onto. Originally, the direction called for Westley to jump in feet-first after Buttercup, but Elwes argued this wasn't particularly heroic. Switching up the direction was a risky move—if the trap door wasn't opened at exactly the right instant, Elwes risked banging his head, or worse, breaking his neck. After the stunt double successfully executed the dive, Elwes himself tried it, and nailed it perfectly on the first take.
11. Miracle Max really was that funny—and you're not even seeing his best stuff.
Billy Crystal brought two photos for his makeup artist, Peter Montagna, to draw inspiration from when creating Miracle Max: Crystal’s grandmother and Casey Stengel. As for the acting, Elwes writes in his book, "For three days straight and 10 hours a day, Billy improvised 13th-century period jokes, never saying the same thing or the same line twice." Unfortunately for viewers, many of the improvised jokes were not fit for a family-friendly film. Only the cast and crew knows how funny his more crude Miracle Max takes were, but judging from the fact that Patinkin bruised a rib trying to stifle his laughter, as he recounts in the book, they were probably pretty good.
12. Crystal and Carol Kane, who played Miracle Max's wife Valerie, invented an entire backstory.
"Billy came over to my apartment in Los Angeles and we took the book and underlined things and made up a little more backstory for ourselves," Kane said. "We added our own twists and turns and stuff that would amuse us, because there’s supposed to be a long history—who knows how many hundreds of years Max and Valerie have been together?" How has that pair not gotten a spin-off film yet?
13. Elwes filmed many of his scenes with a broken toe.
Six weeks into production, Andre convinced Elwes to go for a spin on the All Terrain Vehicle that was used to transport the larger man to and from filming locations because he didn’t fit in the van. Almost immediately, the vehicle hit a rocky patch and Elwes got his foot stuck between two mechanisms in the ATV, breaking his big toe. The young actor tried to hide the injury from his director, but, of course, Reiner quickly found out. He didn't find a new Westley, as Elwes feared he might, but they did have to work some movie magic to allow Elwes to limp around in many of the scenes undetected.
14. One particular on-screen injury isn't faked.
As soon as Westley recognizes Count Rugen as the six-fingered man, the script calls for the Count to knock our hero unconscious with the butt of his sword. In filming, Christopher Guest, who played Rugen, was naturally reluctant to really hit Elwes for fear of hurting him. Unfortunately, this reticence was reading on screen and take after take failed to look convincing. Finally, Elwes suggested Guest just go for, at least tap him on the head to get the reaction timing right. The tap came a little too hard, however, and Elwes was knocked legitimately unconscious; he later awoke in the hospital emergency room. It's that take, with Elwes actually passing out, that appears in the film.
15. One of the final scenes never made it to the film.
In an alternate ending that was eventually cut, Fred Savage—who plays the initially reluctant audience to Peter Falk's reading of The Princess Bride—goes to his window after his grandfather has left and sees Fezzik, Inigo, Westley and Buttercup all on their white horses.