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March 28, 2003

Deaf actress says everyone can overcome obstacles

From: Dayton Daily News, OH - Mar 28, 2003

By Swathi Sridharan
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Dayton Daily News

DAYTON | Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin spoke to a full house at the Schuster Performing Arts Center on Thursday. Her message was simple and uplifting: You can overcome any obstacle if you set your mind to it.

"The real handicap of deafness doesn’t lie in the ear, but in the mind," she said at the Junior League of Dayton’s Town Hall lecture.

Matlin used examples from her life to illustrate her message and spoke of her deafness with candor and humor. Doctors recommended that Matlin be placed in a school for the deaf, but her parents placed her in a public school with a deaf education program.

"The only concession my parents made was to put up a big yellow sign that said Deaf Child Crossing," she said. "For me, it meant that this was my neighborhood."

Matlin was introduced to acting at camp and landed her first lead role in the Wizard of Oz when she was 8. By the time she was 13, Matlin was touring with the Center for Deafness.

One of Matlin’s "defining moments" was when she met Henry Winkler, "The Fonz." She introduced herself and told Winkler that she wanted to be an actress. Someone took Winkler aside at that point and told him not to encourage the little deaf girl.

"But Henry came from the same kind of family as mine," Matlin said. He knelt down and told her to follow her heart and her dreams.

In 1987, Matlin won the Best Actress Oscar for her motion picture debut in Children of a Lesser God. But despite such honor, some of the reviews were scathing. They claimed that Matlin’s award was given out of pity and it wasn’t acting for a deaf person to play a deaf person.

And so Matlin found herself at Winkler’s door, Oscar in hand. When she told Winkler and his wife about the reviews, they invited her to stay over for the weekend to help decide her career moves. She stayed with them for two years and established a solid acting career.

"Silence is the last thing that the world will ever hear from me," Matlin joked. "Remember, listen to your hearts and to the hearts of your children. I will always be listening to mine."

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