8 mins read

Lessons From Marlee Matlin

My evening last night didn’t quite start out on the right note. In fact, I called my friend, a subscriber to this Blog, and told her, “I’ve just left my house with World War 2 going on.” I had to leave at 6:30pm to attend a charity event, and put my hubby in charge of finishing up dinner, homework and bath. As I was leaving, my 3 year old was running around naked, my big son was twirling the food around in his plate, and there was just enormous chaos during that bewitching hour. Oh the bewitching hour! In fact, had I not been going to a place where alcohol was to be served, I would have drank at home. No doubt. Just one of those days… And when he said to me, “How come the homework isn’t done, and you left everything for me,” I smiled at him and lovingly said, “Honey, figure it out.” And he did… cuz all men figure it out when they HAVE to. ;)

Anyhow, I made it to the hotel, which was hosting the charity event for Jewish women in my community… 800 women to be exact! And as soon as I saw my friends and had my one glass of wine, I started to relax and enjoy myself. Nothing like a room full of dynamic women, and chatting with old friends to lift your spirits. The event is called Choices, and it’s to raise money for a cause that I have supported for many many years. Why I love this event, is because there is always an incredible female keynote speaker who discusses tough choices she has had to make in her life. It is always an inspiring evening. Last night was no exception. This year… the magnificent Marlee Matlin, actress, deaf since the age of 18 months, and the youngest woman to win an academy award in a leading role (which she won at age 21).

marlee matlin


After eating dinner, it was already almost 9pm and Marlee hadn’t come out yet. I was fading… But when she walked out onto the stage, I was instantly hooked. If any of you have ever been in a room with Marlee Matlin, you can attest, she LIGHTS IT UP. There is something infectious and engaging about her smile, and her aura. Truthfully, I didn’t know if she was going to be speaking or signing. I know she speaks, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

Marlee and her translator took to the stage, she began signing, and he began speaking for her. And despite not understanding sign language, I could almost fully understand her. Don’t ask me how, but she was so animated, she made the words come to life. And she captured us with her stories and life lessons. Today, I would like to share a few, because this is a woman who truly got off the fence. But her main message was simple, and she was living proof: YOU CAN BE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO BE. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.


Now we’ve all heard these cliches, but she truly proved this as fact. She recalled growing up a deaf, Jewish girl, always dreaming of being Marsha Brady… albeit the “deaf” Marsha Brady. She recounted memories of her family telling her classmates not that she was deaf, but that she just “spoke a foreign language.” And to tell them that the things in her ears were not hearing aids, but rather bubble gum. But she never felt handicapped for one minute. She never let her deafness become a crutch. Discovered at theater school by Henry Winkler (The Fonze), it was him she credits as the reason she never let anything stand in the way of chasing her dreams.

In fact, even after she won that little gold statue named Oscar, she recalled going into her limousine after the Academy Awards, and her then boyfriend at the time, William Hurt saying to her, “Do you think you really deserved that Oscar?” That coupled with waking up the next morning to reports in The New York Post that she got the “Pity vote,” all kept her in her house. She credits two wonderful people for giving her the strength to carry on… her grandmother Rose, and her mentor, Henry Winkler, who told her again, YOU CAN BE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO BE. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE (after telling her this eight years prior in theater school). And with that, she decided that instead of waiting for things to happen, she was going to make them happen for herself. “If you will it, it is not just a dream,” she said to a quiet crowd. And despite the haters who told her that there is no room for a working deaf actress, she proved them wrong.

And when she went up a year later after winning the Oscar to present the nominees for best actor, she decided for the first time, the world would hear her voice. She wasn’t going to hide in fear anymore, or be afraid. And she said to us, “I was talking, calling out the names of the nominees. Names like Robin Williams and the hard to pronounce Marcello Mastroianni. People must have understood me because Michael Douglas came up on stage to get his Oscar, so I must have done something right.”

marlee matlin oscar

She also recalled some funny stories over the years, and one literally made me laugh out loud. She told us on a few occasions, she was on a plane, and the stewardess was handing out menus to the passengers. When they saw it was Marlee Matlin, they then returned with a menu in braille, to which she replied, “I’m deaf, not blind!” and recalled never seeing the flight attendants again. :)

She also talked about the challenges of being a multi-tasking woman, and I was excited when she quoted a saying I love, that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels….exactly what Brooke Burke said in book endorsement. Maybe it’s a Dancing With The Stars Thing… (Marlee danced as well).

So when she neared the end of her speech and quoted something she had once told Ann Landers– that life is challenging, but the true challenge lies in the mind, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed. So many of our challenges lie right there, right in our mind. How true. And that is why she reminded us, that no matter what obstacles lay in front of us, they are only obstacles if they remain in our minds. And it’s up to us to become what we dream of for ourselves.  And no handicap, whether physical like her deafness, or a handicap of the mind should stand in the way of our dreams.

chase your dreams

Marlee made her dream happen. And today, she’s happily married with 4 beautiful children. In fact, she even got married on Henry Winkler’s front lawn… the very person who lifted her when everyone kicked her down. And today, she says that despite having dreamed of becoming the deaf Marsha Brady, she feels more like Alice The Maid!

She wrapped by saying that we must never sit silently when other people are in need. That we must always give of ourselves. Marlee is a role model, living proof to all 800 of us there last night, that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. And that we can all be, ANYTHING WE WANT TO BE. And that it’s never too late.



Follow me on Twitter: @WomenOnTheFence


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