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The Bookish Life of Mandy Patinkin

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Annika Barranti Klein

Staff Writer

Annika Barranti Klein likes books, obviously.   Twitter: @noirbettie

Mandel Bruce Patinkin was born on November 30, 1952, in Chicago. He was raised Jewish (Conservative) and grew up singing in the synagogue choir. His father died when he was 19 years old of pancreatic cancer, which would go on to influence his most famous performance as Inigo Montoya, the Spaniard out to avenge his father’s murder in The Princess Bride.

After studying drama at Juilliard, Patinkin began his career in television and radio, mostly doing commercials, and from there moved on to the theater. He played opposite Meryl Streep and John Lithgow in Trelawny of the “Wells,” then as Fortinbras in Hamlet, with Sam Waterstone as the Danish prince. In 1979, he had his breakout musical theater role as Che in Evita, opposite Patty LuPone.

His first film role was in 1978’s adaptation of The Big Fix. Among his other early movie roles were Last Embrace, based on The 13th Man; Ragtime, based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow; Yentl, based on “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” by Isaac Bashevis Singer; Daniel, based on The Book of Daniel; and Maxie, based on Marion’s Wall.

After another stint on Broadway playing the lead in Sunday in the Park with George, he returned to film in the 1987 adaptation of S. Morgenstern William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, a role for which he is still known and beloved — as seen in this sign he held (but did not write himself) on a WGA-East picket line earlier this year.

Up next, Patinkin got to act and sing in Dick Tracy, based on the comics, and on Broadway in the musical adaptation of The Secret Garden. He appeared in The Doctor, based on A Taste of My Own Medicine; the television movie The Hunchback, based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame; and Men With Guns, based on The The Long Night of White Chickens. His one-man concert show, Mamaloshen, performed entirely in Yiddish, premiered on Broadway in 1998. Rounding out that decade, Patinkin’s mother published Grandma Doralee Patinkin’s Jewish Family Cookbook in 1997, sharing family recipes; Patinkin wrote the introduction. He also wrote an introduction to Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler’s 1995 The Jewish American Family Album, a history of Jewish people in America.

In 2001, he was in Piñero, a biopic of Nuyorican poet and playwright Miguel Piñero, which starred Benjamin Bratt. He played Joseph Papp, the Broadway legend who founded the Public Theatre in New York City, where many Broadway plays make their debut, as well as the New York Shakespeare Festival, now known as Shakespeare in the Park. To learn more about Papp, read Free for All: Joe Papp, the Public, and the Greatest Theater Story Ever Told.

Later, into the aughts and teens, he played roles in the English language dubs of two Studio Ghibli movies: The Wind Rises and Castle in the Sky. While both are from original screenplays by Hayao Miyazaki, you may agree with us that Ghibli movies are really very bookish indeed. Check out these Books Like Studio Ghibli, and of course, consider reading Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Nausicaa manga. Patinkin’s other bookish film roles include adaptations of Ali and Nino, Wonder, and The Magician’s Elephant. His recent theater has included An Enemy of the People, The Tempest, and Paradise Found, based on The Tale of the 1002nd Night.

Lest you think that’s all of the bookish tidbits in Patinkin’s wonderful life, he also has quite a career in audiobooks! Among others, he narrates This is the House That Jack Built by Simms Taback, The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, and Genesis by Bill Moyers. He also reads the foreword to Lord Knows, At Least I Was There: Working with Stephen Sondheim.

Patinkin and his wife Kathryn Grody (who wrote and starred in the autobiographical play Mom’s Life in 1990) have two sons. One of them, Gideon, has been recording his parents for TikTok during the COVID-19 pandemic, to the delight of everyone on the internet. Patinkin and Grody campaigned for Joe Biden, with Patinkin channeling Inigo Montoya once again.