A very distinct memory of my mother, burned into my mind: I was 15 or 16, and the TV was on in the loft-slash-family room-slash-home office at my parents’ house. It doesn’t matter what we were watching, only that Sir Paul McCartney was performing in it. And Mom, hard at work running payroll for the family business, came out from behind her desk and sat on the floor in front of the television and watched, riveted, an almost beatific expression on her face. After Sir Paul played his few songs, Mom returned to her desk and her adult life.
I had always marveled at my mother’s ability to preserve this part of her adolescence, to remember her early celebrity crush so clearly that, even as she and her favorite Beatle both aged, the girl she was during the British Invasion shone through into the new millennium.
Marveled at it, but never understood it.
Until I was in the same room as Cary Elwes.
Since before memory
I don’t know if I saw The Princess Bride when it first came out in September of 1987. I was two weeks away from turning four, and although I do have some memories of that time, they’re not so specific that I remember exactly what media I was consuming (beyond the PBS daytime lineup). But I know that, in the VHS era, it was rented often, and eventually (somehow, not until I was in seventh grade) purchased. I watched it religiously, memorized every line, even tried to condense the Man In Black’s three battles (against the Spaniard, the Giant, and the Sicilian) into a script I could use for speech tournaments. Later, after I met my husband, we would go see a “talk-a-long” screening for Movie Monday at the Trocadero in Chinatown. When we merged households, we ended up with two copies of The Princess Bride and parted with neither. When we wed, he presented me with a thin wedding band, the words “As you wish” inscribed inside and pressed every day against my finger. (My inscription on his is not nearly as romantic.)
The movie is important to me for all those memories and more. But also, it’s important to me because it introduced me to my first celebrity crush.
An inconceivable evening
Last week, after about a month’s delay due to scheduling conflicts, Cary Elwes appeared at Glenside’s Keswick Theatre for “The Princess Bride: An Inconceivable Evening with Cary Elwes.” On tour to promote his late-2014 memoir, As You Wish, the actor appeared onstage for a talk-back and Q&A following a screening of the beloved film, which he’s the first to admit made him a success. Even in a leather jacket and red Converse sneakers, with an accent that reads neither English nor American (he’s been living primarily in the United States for over three decades), the 52-year-old actor still managed to channel Westley, the farmboy-turned-pirate who has had women and girls swooning for years. In my view, eight rows from the back of the theater, he looked unaged.
During the talkback, Elwes told stories of his time spent making the film, impersonating everyone from his costars to director Rob Reiner to anonymous, but no less important, members of the crew. I’m sure each anecdote appears in the book (shamefully, I have not yet read it, although a friend went out of her way to get my husband and me a personalized, autographed copy at a signing in San Francisco), but it didn’t matter. The audience hung on the actor’s every word, and when it was time for the Q&A, the two lines of questioners (unsurprisingly, almost exclusively female) each extended halfway up the Keswick’s aisles.
Much too much
I had planned to ask a question, but the moment the house lights went up and I readied myself to get in line, my brain emptied out. I still, several days later, have no recollection of the question I wanted to ask. I’ve interviewed CEOs, politicians, some of the most successful chefs in the country, Grammy and Oscar winners, but the idea of Cary Elwes turning his attention to me for the 20 or so seconds it would take me to stammer out a question proved too much. And so I passed up the opportunity to engage with the man whom part of me has been in love with since I was a child, and let the other fans ask the questions for me.
A few years ago, when Paul McCartney was making a summer tour stop in Philadelphia, I asked my mom if she’d like to fly in for the show — my treat.
“No,” she told me. “I don’t think so.”
I thought she didn’t want me to spend the money on the flight or the concert tickets (which would ultimately cost as much as the flight). But now I understand.
Being in the same room as an artist you’ve loved so much, for so long, can be overwhelming. The fear that the illusion might crack can be too great. My mother’s first love, and mine, are at once everything we’ve always wanted them to be and nothing at all like they were when that fire was first kindled.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit on the floor in front of the TV and put on The Princess Bride.
Above right: Cary Elwes in the 2013 Comic Con in San Diego. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons/Wikimedia)