By Joanne Greenberg
About 40 years ago, a man called me up on the telephone. “I read your book, In This Sign, and I think you would be the one to work on a film I have in mind.”
I was annoyed. “I’ve never written a script,” I said.
He went on. “I have a grant to make a film about the effect of deafness on the families of deaf children.”
That was easy. Who was this clown? “I’m not interested in children,” I said. “My interest is in deaf adults. If I were to write the script for such a film, I’d have to know about the effect they have on families.”
“What if I got 20 or 30 sets of parents of deaf children to meet with you and talk about their experiences so that you would learn about them?”
“Sure,” I said, knowing it would never happen.
The next week he called again. “I have a a group of 30 set up in Denver, but you need to tell me when you will be free.”
I told him, scarcely believing what he said.
“I’ll be there to introduce you, ” he said, “so that we can tell them of the plan.”
I picked up McCay Vernon at his hotel and we started out, getting hugely lost in the wilds of downtown Denver, ending up at a Safeway Truck depot. He was patience personified. We got to the meeting late, but not too late.
The meeting was a revelation to me. We made the film. At first, I realized that the ordinary speech couldn’t be used, even though I had 3 hours of tapes to listen to. I made a script using bis of this and that and summarizing what I had heard. Our EXT problem was that using the parents themselves resulted in an artificial and stilted feeling and McCay finally went to a local (Westminster, Maryland) drama group. The film won a prize and I had a 40 year friendship with one of the most gifted, genuine, human people I would ever meet.
One of his gifts was, that he could sense what you were best at, and that would be the task he’d assign you. Most people – when putting together a project – will pick any warm body for a given task, but McCay had an almost 6th sense for assigning people the work at which they were best suited.
We did many projects together. I miss him deeply.
Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.
- Celebrating McCay Vernon and Visiting Felix (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Dr. McCay Vernon Passes Away (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- More on the Passing of Dr. McCay Vernon (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- A Friend Whom Felix Never Met (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Waiting to Be Heard: On Being Deaf and Gay (Column) (popmatters.com)
- Mac’s Reach Exceeded His Grasp (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Deaf News: Teenager calls on the Prime Minister to protect services for deaf children (limpingchicken.com)
- MDOP celebrates Deaf Awareness Week (mdop.org)