One of the most recognizable voices in comedy films since the 1980s, if not necessarily one of the most recognizable faces, is that distinctive one belonging to Wallace Shawn. Even though who couldn't pick Shawn out of a lineup in which he was surrounded by the starting lineup of the Los Angeles Lakers have at one time or another expressed perhaps his most famous movie quote.
Although I do not think that word means what he thinks it means.
Few actors star their career with being directed by Woody Allen and Bob Fosse in two of their first three film appearances. Fewer still can stake the claim that they immediately followed up a role in a Mac Davis starring vehicle to a movie that is nothing more than a filmed conversation between two men in an upscale restaurant.
Since that bizarre double feature on Wallace Shawn's resume, he has gone on to show up on both the little and big screen in a remarkable number of roles that have stretch from the Ferengi Grand Nagus to a certain vampire slayer named Van Helsing.
Few would argue that Shawn's most permanent mark on the world of comedy films can be located within the character of a certain Sicilian with a remarkably developed sense of his own greatness. I read "The Princess Bride" for the first time back in the middle 1970s and I must say that I never quite pictured the character in the form of Wallace Shawn. Today, of course, I could never imagine anyone else playing Vizzini, the guy who almost, but not quite manages to outwit the Dread Pirate Roberts.
"The Princess Bride" as a movie is nowhere near as satisfying as the novel. What William Goldman does through his metafictional novel is far more philosophically complex and emotional shattering than what Rob Reiner pulled off in his film adaptation. Only in the characters of Inigo Montoya and Vizzini does the movie near the perfection of the book. Perhaps the most impressive performance is actually that of Shawn since he might well linger among the last two or three actors I would ever have considered for the part.
That Wallace Shawn is able to make Vizzini come permanently to life is reason enough to grant him legacy as a comedy legend. Fortunately, his career has provided far more reasons.
For more from Timothy Sexton, Yahoo!'s first Writer of the Year, check out: