Stars: They’re Not So Much Like Us

I’ll Scream Later
Marlee Matlin and Betsy Sharkey
Simon & Schuster, 323 pages


I love biographies—but apparently not enough to appreciate the genre of celebrity autobiographies.  My decision to read Marlee   Matlin’s I’ll Scream Later was based on absurdities, I now realize. Allow me to enumerate them.

First, I fell for that ridiculous notion that if you really like an actor, you will probably really like the person.  Matlin brings to the screen a kind of intensity that reminds me of Liz Taylor.  Fierce, passionate, independent—she even managed to breathe some life into the atrocious writing of the L-Word. She is best known for her debut performance as the Deaf young woman Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God.  Just nineteen when she was recruited for the role, she became the youngest person to win an Oscar. She’s gone on to a successful life-long acting career in film and television.  In the process, she’s helped elevate society’s understanding that Deaf people are as capable as anyone else to work, live, love.  She must be great, right?  She certainly is, as she tells us over and over again in her autobiography. Everyone thinks she is so beautiful, funny, down to earth, and a wonderful actress with a marvelous body.  She’s happy to quote the nobodies she grew up with, but prefers to tell us what people like Rob Lowe, Billy Joel, and Lauren Bacall think.  They all love—just love!—Marlee. Of course, we do have to feel sorry for her because in spite of all this, she isn’t rich.  One moment she explains how hard it is to make ends meet, the next minute she’s describing how she flew in a designer to make a special gown for her. Her parents, too, struggled to buy her car after flashy car.  Poor impoverished Marlee.

The second absurdity was to figure that her co-writer would know how to put words together in such a way that at least the reader could voyeuristically enjoy hearing all the trashy details of a celebrity’s life.  Unfortunately, the book uses the words “terrific” “amazing” and “sad” so often, that I’ve come to hate them.

The third and probably biggest absurdity was that I thought I could gain some insight into Deaf culture by reading the book.  That’s about like thinking you could learn about African-American culture by reading the celebrity bio of Bryant Gumbel.  You could pick up a few insights, but it wouldn’t give you much depth. I did learn that Deaf is capitalized when referring to the culture or community, and picked up a few other tidbits.  But Matlin—who has often been forced into the unrealistic role of being a spokesperson for the Deaf—understandably chose to focus on her life as an actress, not as a Deaf person.

In spite of the poor writing and the egotistical point of view, I did warm to Matlin a bit when she fell in love with a cop who was providing security on the set.  Here is a woman who has lived with William Hurt, dated Rob Lowe, Richard Dean Anderson, and other Hollywood stars.  At the time she met her future husband, she was living with the creator of shows such as Doogie Howser, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal. But when she met Kevin, the cop, she found her true love.  They are now married with four children.  He still works his beat, just a regular guy not that interested in Hollywood.  Sort of like the husband of one of my other favorite stars, Dolly Parton.  But please, don’t let me convince myself I should Dolly’s autobiography too.


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