Well, if you can think of a better way to celebrate the 36th anniversary of the (US) release of The Princess Bride than Cary Elwes’ story about Andre the Giant and the enormous fart, I’d love to hear it.
We got to the moment where I wake up from being “mostly dead” and say “I’ll beat you both apart! I’ll take youboth together!”, Fezzik cups my mouth with his hand, and answers his own question to Inigo as to how long it might be before Miracle Max’s pill begins to take effect by stating, “I guess not very long.”
As soon as he delivered that line, there issued forth from André one of the most monumental farts any of us had ever heard. Now, I suppose wouldn’t expect a man of André’s proportions to pass gas quietly or unobtrusively, but this particular one was truly epic, a veritable symphony of gastric distress that roared for more than several seconds and shook the very foundations of the wood and plaster set we were now grabbing on to out of sheer fear. It was long enough and loud enough that every member of the crew had time to stop what they were doing and take notice. All I can say is that it was a wind that could have held up in comparison to the one Slim Pickens emitted in the campfire scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, widely acknowledged as the champion of all cinematic farts.
Except, of course, this one wasn’t in the script.
At the moment of impact, I couldn’t help but look up at André, at first wondering, like a good many others, if we were experiencing an earthquake and then, having discovered we were not, out of sheer concern for his well-being. The sonic resonance was so intense I even observed our soundman remove his headphones to protect his ears. As the fart continued, I looked back at André. What struck me, besides, of course, the sheer immensity of the wind, was that steam appeared to be rising from his hairpiece, which, given that it was a particularly hot day, was apparently not unusual for him.
It was, however, combined with the fart itself, a highly unusual sight. I remember looking up at him as a huge grin flashed across his face and remained there — a grin of both amusement and, I suspect, of blessed relief. Finally the roar subsided and the set fell completely silent. Everyone was in a state of complete shock, not knowing what to say or do, as is usually the case whenever anyone passes gas in public, especially in polite England. The next line was mine — “Why won’t my arms move?” — but at that moment no words would move from my lips… Between the fart, André’s grin, and the steaming hairpiece, I was done for. I could not help but burst out laughing.
Then André started to laugh, too.
What’s surprising and lovely about the story, though, is that, eventually, Elwes has to beg the director for help, which takes the story somewhere you don’t expect.
And so it went. We kept cracking up, ruining one take after another, until it reached the point where I couldn’t even look at André without both of us losing it. Finally, I pleaded with Rob for assistance.
“You’ve got to help me on this. I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I can’t get through the scene.”
Rob threw an arm around my shoulder, and walked me along the parapet.
“It’s all right, Cary. Just flip it.”
At first I was confused as to what he was trying to get at.
“What do you mean?”
“Try to change the way you think of André. Think about what it’s like for him, being a giant and getting laughed at just because he’s different.”
I looked over at André. He was still smiling happily. I looked back at Rob and knew he was right. The truth is, André may have seemed like one of the happiest and most content people I had ever met. But I’m sure there were times when he wasn’t, especially when he was younger and trying to find his place in the world.
“Better?” Rob asked.
“Yeah, but now I feel awful,” I replied.
“Don’t. These things happen.” He gave me a pat on the back. “C’mon, let’s try it again.”
Even though I still felt bad, the sage advice Rob had given me worked. On the very next take, we did it perfectly, and that is the take that is in the movie. After Rob yelled, “Cut,” I immediately turned to André and apologized.
“It’s okay,” he replied, “my farts always make people laugh… That was a big one, wasn’t it?”
He still managed to make me smile, in order to make me not feel bad. That’s how special André was.
I can recommend Cary Elwes’ As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride very, very highly.
William Goldman wrote a tribute to him in 1993, which is rather wonderful, too:
…Gone at 46, he was the most popular figure on any movie set I’ve ever been on.
…If he asked you to dinner, he paid, but when you asked him, he paid. One actor, after several free meals, snuck into the kitchen to pay. He felt himself being lifted up in the air. The actor was Arnold Schwarzenegger: “He turned me so I was facing him, and said, ‘I pay’. Then he carried me back to the table like a little boy. Oh yes, André was very strong.”
…Sometimes children and grown-ups would see him and be terrified. Sometimes children would see him, shriek with glee, and begin clambering all over him.
…Andre once said to Billy Crystal, “We do not live long, the big and the small.” Alas.