My Encounter with Wally

09 Jul 2011
July 9, 2011

Wally Shawn photographed for Time magazine.

This has got to be the worst photograph of Wallace Shawn I have ever seen. What were the editors of Time magazine thinking when they decided to use Peter Hapak’s image for their summer reading feature in last week’s edition? What? You don’t know who Wally Shawn is? I know Wally and this is NOT him. Well, I actually don’t know Wally personally, but I once saw him at a phone booth on the street next to the Whitney Museum, which is the same thing.

You do remember The Princess Bride, don’t you (he played criminal boss Vizzini who kidnaps the soon-to-be princess)? Or, more cerebrally, My Dinner with Andre. THAT was a movie’s worth of the real Wally Shawn.

He is also a playwright, comedian, and, my favorite, an intellectual with an appreciation for popular culture. Look, he played Grand Nagus Zek on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. How much more popular can you get? (Yes, I know Deep Space Nine wasn’t the best in the franchise.)

What will you be reading this summer?

Well, that’s really not anybody’s business, is it? It’s very personal. It’s too personal.

Look at those bags under his eyes and that scowl. Pair that body language with his answer to Time’s first question and his portrait seems quite accurate. But, I can’t believe that’s true. Not my Wally.

When asked to recommend a book for the summer he replies “It’s hard to recommend a book if you don’t know who you’re recommending it to. I could recommend a book to someone who’s quite a bit like me…” Of course! How can you suggest a book or advice if you don’t know who you’re talking with? Popular culture has eliminated that barrier. We’re all close friends, aren’t we? Well, except for Mr. Shawn. He knows the truth and his portrait conveys just that: he’s not my friend and he has no idea why he was asked to be a part of this Time article. He is the token literary curmudgeon of this group.

But just in case I’m right, I think I’ll buy his recommendation, The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant. I may not be his friend now but perhaps there’s hope. Then the next time I see him on a street corner I’ll be able to intelligently engage him rather than gush and stammer like that time at the Whitney. “You’re my favorite pop culture intellectual!” will hopefully be replaced with something, um, more substantial. As long as I can recognize him from his photo.

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