About two weeks ago, I wrote a non-sensical post about Ding Dongs. In that post, I included a clip from the 1986 film, Children of a Lesser God. I was about 13 or 14 when that movie, starring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin, was released. I don’t remember actually watching it until it started showing non-stop on HBO. I’d catch clips of it as I was flipping channels. I think I finally sat down and watched the whole thing at some point. The most memorable part of that movie, besides the deaf song and dance number to the song “Ba Boomerang”, was Marlee Matlin’s acting.
Then 21 years old, Chicago bred Marlee Matlin was brand new on the scene. And although she is deaf, she is and was a remarkable actress. I still remember how, in Children of a Lesser God, Marlee Matlin as her character Sarah explained how she was introduced to sex without saying a single word. It was a very powerful scene. No words are needed. Marlee Matlin rightfully won an Oscar and a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Sarah Norman, the angry deaf janitor who won’t speak.
I have seen Matlin in a few other things, too. I remember seeing her on Desperate Housewives and ER, and I learned in her book, I’ll Scream Later, that she’s had the privilege of working with many, many great actors and directors. If I didn’t know from seeing her work, I’d know because she constantly tells her readers. Yes, folks, although Matlin is herself a star, she has no shame about namedropping. Matlin’s penchant for namedropping is one of many things I learned as I read her life story, published in 2009.
I think I decided to read I’ll Scream Later after writing about Ding Dongs, because the truth is, until I wrote that post, I hadn’t thought about Matlin or her famous debut film in ages. But when I catch her in a show, I’m always glad to see her. I truly think she’s a gifted actress. Her writing isn’t bad, either, although I see on Amazon.com that a lot of people seem to disagree with me.
What got me to read I’ll Scream Later was reading an article about Matlin’s relationship with William Hurt. I wanted to include the song and dance scene in my Ding Dongs post, and the process of looking for a clip of it caused me to find articles about Marlee Matlin and William Hurt, as well as mentions of her life story. I love a good tell all.
I’ve always liked William Hurt as an actor and I remember him being particularly empathetic in Children of a Lesser God. Matlin had a relationship with Hurt during and after that film. Apparently, their relationship was very stormy, marred by physical, mental, and emotional abuse, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Matlin had a problem with illegal drugs, while Hurt abused alcohol. They both hit each other, although I think Matlin got the brunt of the physical abuse. I was surprised to read about Hurt (evidently aptly named), and if I’m honest, Matlin’s stories about him kind of colored my perception of him as a person. But, to Matlin’s credit, she is honest about her part, too.
Of course, Hurt and Matlin eventually broke up, and Matlin went on to have relationships with all sorts of Hollywood men. She dated David Kelley before he married Michelle Pfeiffer, and Richard Dean Anderson of MacGyver fame, a show I never watched. She also has lots of celebrity friends, like Jennifer Beals. Henry Winkler and his wife put her up in their home, and Winkler served as a mentor. For all of her star studded exploits, though, Matlin married a regular guy back in 1993. Kevin Grandalski is Marlee Matlin’s husband and father of all four of their children. While I can see that Matlin made the rounds before her marriage, it’s kind of awesome that she’s been with her husband for 25 years. That’s a rare thing anywhere, particularly in Hollywood.
One thing I didn’t like so much about this book is that it seemed to go on forever and, in many ways, was a bit redundant. I really think I’ll Scream Later could have used a good editor, mainly because Matlin leaves out a lot of her story that I think readers would have enjoyed. I read plenty about her turns on television shows and movies, but not much about her relationship with the deaf community. Yes, she wrote that she caught shit from them a lot– apparently, she can’t win with the deaf community, because they were allegedly upset with her for speaking in her acting roles. She wrote in one part of the book that she was once in a rush to buy shoes and didn’t dare stop to speak to anyone, because there were deaf people in the store who would hold her up. If she didn’t give them enough time, there would be an uproar. I think it would have been interesting if she had written more about that, but instead, there’s more bragging and namedropping. A little namedropping is understandable, but she really seems to take it to an extreme in this book, as if she’s trying to show her readers that she is as starstruck as they are. It comes off as disingenuous.
One thing I liked about I’ll Scream Later is that contrary to her character in Children of a Lesser God, Matlin seems to be a very friendly, communicative, thoughtful person who is also extremely lucky and talented. Her book is chatty and conversational. It’s just that her focus needs narrowing somewhat. I would have been happy with a little less star chatter and a little more “meat” as to what it’s like to be a deaf actress. Also, I think I would have enjoyed reading more about her family, both of origin and the one she has created with her husband. Matlin explains that she was born able to hear, but lost her hearing when she was very young. She originally thought she became deaf after an illness, but it turns out she has a genetic cochlear deformity. She doesn’t write much about that, and I wish she would have.
Overall, I think I’ll Scream Later is a somewhat fast paced read, although there were a few times toward the end of the book that I expected– and didn’t get– an ending. It felt a little like I was being teased! Seriously… a round with an editor to trim the length of this book and add some substance would have made it a better read. But, for the most part, I enjoyed reading about Marlee Matlin’s life. I’m glad she went to the Betty Ford Center to ditch drugs and got out of her abusive relationship with Hurt. This book makes it sound like Marlee Matlin is enjoying her life very much. That’s always nice to read.
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