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December 1, 2022

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jon ralston:

When Harry met Shelley

He played hard to get at first, but Harry finally gave his heart to Shelley, pledging his everlasting (or at least until November 2012) love and promising to destroy the man who threatened them both.

It is a beautiful, touching story — I am choking up as I type this — with elements of tragedy and comedy. “When Harry Met Shelley” is the stuff of which movies are made, but even Rob Reiner could not do this story justice, even with a designated (by Harry) villain named Byron.

The screenplay writes itself — and it is quite the roman à clef/fractured fairy tale:

Harry and Shelley never really hit it off. She was not his type, and he was not hers, either. Harry was older and stodgier, more reserved, rarely prone to emotional outbursts. Shelley was younger and effervescent, more outgoing, often prone to exuberant displays.

They were both political animals and liked to go the same parties, but Harry and Shelley never really clicked. Indeed, they found each other irritating.

Then something happened that changed their lives.

Harry’s adopted brother, John, got into some trouble and inevitably, he would have to give up living with Harry. Suddenly, her friends told Shelley she should take a renewed look at where Harry resided and think of moving in with him.

Harry, though, was cool to the idea at first. He wasn’t sure John was moving out, and he wanted to play the field before settling for Shelley as his new mate.

Harry was cautious, too. He had been burned in the past by ambitious women. He remembered how he had given his heart and soul to Frankie Sue in ’98 and she had shattered his dreams by not doing what he had asked. He had cut her loose, believing it better to be cruel to be kind — or at least better for him.

When John finally told Harry he was moving out, Harry planned a spring wedding. But who would it be? With Harry, there was never a question of it being anything other than a marriage of convenience. But he wanted a happy ending, lest his party lose the seat and he, perhaps, his coveted title.

So he hired some wedding planners — an experienced outfit called the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — and he had the director feel out prospective housemates. Catherine and Kate looked appealing, but Shelley was left to twist in the wind, feeling Harry was going to jilt her at the altar, that he would always be a cad, a rake who would never be true.

Shelley is a patient woman, though, and she allowed the man she wanted to be with to sow his constitutional officer oats. They would never satisfy him, they would never commit, she believed.

And she was right. When it became clear that Catherine and Kate wouldn’t take the plunge — Ross thought about moving in for a time but the stars were not aligned — Harry decided to declare his love for Shelley. He didn’t really feel it, but he could fake it as well as Meg Ryan in the deli, if need be.

But the plot had twisted. One of Harry’s protégés — a little lord named Byron — was talking about killing Harry’s betrothed. And no one — no one — defies Prince Harry in this state and lives to tell about it.

So Harry encouraged his minions to act. And act they have, just this week.

Spontaneously, stories and columns began to appear in the local media placing Byron in an unflattering light. Harry, who had promoted Byron after Byron showered him with money and attention, developed amnesia. (I told you he was better than Meg Ryan.)

Harry had never known certain things about Byron, even though he had appointed him to a prestigious commission. He channeled Claude Rains from “Casablanca” and feigned shock that a prominent business guy had been sued, had liens. It was mean, cutthroat, vicious.

The other side of Harry.

All for the love of Shelley.

(Again, I am overcome by emotion as I write this.)

But Byron loves himself well enough and loves the idea of being with Harry, even if the fickle king does not want him around anymore. And he has a bit of the thespian in him, too, declaring he will “not capitulate” and that he will not be “intimidated,” that Harry has only “served to fortify my resolve.”

The drama! The agony! The pain!

This isn’t funny anymore for Harry and his friends. And as this screenplay works its way toward what could be a bloody ending, I’m not sure Reiner is the man to direct — unless, of course, he rewrites the script to “Misery,” with the Kathy Bates character now a man known for hobbling others and played by Harry.

Hey, Byron, really, he’s still your No. 1 fan.

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