arlee Matlin was born on August 24, 1965 to Libby and Donald Matlin in Morton Grove, Illinois. Her father was a car dealer. At 18 months old, Marlee was stricken with Roseola, a disease similar to Scarlett Fever, and became deaf. Marlee attended a regular hearing school and was assimilated into a regular classroom. Although her parents and brothers learned to sign in order to communicate with her, Libby worried that Marlee would feel isolated or alienated being among so many hearing people and encouraged her to spend a lot of time at the deaf center down town. This is where Marlee started acting, portraying the role of Dorothy in a children’s version of The Wizard Of Oz when she was 7.
Marlee always assumed that because she was deaf, she could never make a living as an actress. Instead, she decided to get her degree in Criminal Justice from Harper Junior College. Just as she finished school, a frend suggested that she try out for the stage version of Children Of A Lesser God. She decided to do it, and was given a minor role in the chorus. Later, when the play moved to Broadway, Marlee was offered the main role of “Sarah”. Henry Winkler, famous for the role of “Fonzie” on Happy Days, came to see the show one day and was impressed by Marlee’s performance. When it was time to cast the movie version of the play, Henry Winkler suggested Marlee to the movie’s producers and she was eventually offered the main role. That year, at the age of 21, Marlee became the youngest person to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actress.
The Oscar win jumpstarted Marlee’s career. She has worked in mainstream television, and has numerous feature film credits, even having several roles created specifically for her. Many people who have worked with her cite her deafness as being an asset to her acting ability. Because she is such a visual person, she is better able to convey meaning using body language instead of tone of voice. Marlee even took on the role of a hearing woman in the TV movie Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story. She won several awards for this role and says it was a very rewarding experience to be able to bring more attention to the important cause of forced sterilization.
Marlee Matlin is somewhat of a controversial figure in Deaf Culture today. While she is a beautiful and well-spoken woman, some feel that her use of voice to communicate and her bawdy, uncouth sense of humor convey the wrong message to the hearing community about what deaf people are really like. Some even feel that by using her voice so frequently, she is implying that she isn’t proud to be deaf. Marlee has made it clear that she certainly doesn’t feel that way. She has said on many occasions how proud she is to be deaf, and how lucky she has been to have such a rewarding career. In business situations, she does have a personal interpreter to help her communicate.
Marlee was married to Kevin Grandalski, a hearing Law Enforcement Officer, in 1993. They were married in Henry Winkler’s backyard. They currently have 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys, who they are raising to be fluent in both English and American Sign Language. Marlee does a lot of charity work in the community, especially for the Red Cross, the Children Affected By AIDS Foundation, and the Elizabeth Glasser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. She has been given an honorary degree from Gallaudet University and currently serves on their board. She is also a spokesperson for the National Captioning Institute, and has written several children’s books loosely based on her experiences growing up as the only deaf person in a hearing neighborhood.
Marlee Matlin is probably the most visible deaf person in America today. In 1998, when asked about her “Disability” she responded: “The real handicap of deafness is not in the ear,but in the mind. We all have challenges in life of one kind or another. We can achieve much more if we focus on our abilities rather than our percieved disabilities.”
To learn more about what Marlee is doing today, visit her official website at http://www.marleematlinsite.com .