Marlee Matlin shares memories of Mark Medoff
I’ll show you an interview with Marlee Matlin about Mark Medoff, who wrote the play “Children of a Lesser God.” He passed away at 79.
Alex: Hi Marlee, thank you so much for doing this interview.
Recently, Mark Medoff passed away at age of 79. The news of his death has gone viral. I saw your tweet in which you reminisced about Mark who fought with the studio to ensure the deaf role would be assigned to a deaf actress.
Can you elaborate on what you remember from that dispute?
I remember...some high level executives at Paramount Studios including producers and others involved with the movie, "Children of a Lesser God", said that Medoff made such a noise.
Medoff was loud and clear that my character, Sarah, should be assigned to an actor who is deaf, an authentic deaf actor, instead of a hearing person playing deaf.
Because Paramount was in its beginning stages, while writing the script, was casting for actors and they were aiming for well known celebrities who could bring in money. They could bring in money and help the movie achieve success. It was purely about business instead of focusing on the craft. It wasn't authentic. When they wanted to pick a famous actress, though she was a really good actress, Mark Medoff basically screamed, "NO! NO WAY!"
"Not on my watch, not on my play, not with my words!"
"No way, I forbid it!"
Paramount was initially stunned and realized that they needed to cast a deaf actor and they ended up choosing me.
Wow, and it's made such an impact on your career and your predecessor Phyllis Frelich.
*Shows Phyllis' sign name*
He's had an impact on the both of you.
What impact do you see that he has had on deaf actors worldwide?
Really, Mark and Phyllis were friends for a long time, very good friends, and he really understood her passion for acting. She told him, cautioned him, that there are no roles for deaf actors. None at all.
When Mark realized this, that was when he decided to write "Children of a Lesser God" specifically for her. That's very special so that shows she...obviously she did such a beautiful work. She won a Tony award. He understood this concern and really paved the way for deaf actors. It was because of him and Phyllis. He understood the need for us to work in the entertainment business which is very hard even to this day, but what's changed now is that we are more vocal, more...we can make more noise. We can say, "Hey, I am an authentic actor, director, writer!"
We can be anything in the entertainment business.
So Mark really began to understand this and made things happen by opening the door for us.
Can you share any favorite memories of Medoff? Did you know him personally or...?
Mark and I didn't know each other well at all, but we had respect for each other. He and I almost worked together again on another project which didn't pan out and that's okay. He did continue his work almost up until his death. He still created works, roles and ideas for us. He absolutely loved his work, loved what he was doing whether it was writing or creating (productions). He was very genuine, very passionate, very smart and very private. He will be truly, dearly missed by a lot of us.
Wow, do you consider him a worthy part of deaf history because of how much he's impacted us all?
Oh yes, "Children of a Lesser God" was such a widely acclaimed piece of work. A lot of high schools use that play to create their own productions all over the world. It influenced people to learn ASL. There were a lot of meaningful things that happened in that play, in the script and in the movie. There were many underlying messages in both works. Simply historical.
Thank you very much for your time, Marlee. I really appreciate you sharing your wonderful insights on Medoff.
Thank you very much for having me here.
Thank you for your time and for sharing, Marlee.