By Joanne Greenberg
The book had been out for some years and had won an award for its portrayal of Deaf people and their hearing children. Because my husband and I had become part of the Denver Deaf community – he had been a rehab counselor with a deaf clientele – I had come to know some professional Deaf people and actors in the Theater of the Deaf. This wonderful group had brought classical and original drama on tour to Denver every year or so. That year it was Parade, an original drama about the deaf experience and culture. It was funny, moving, and profound. I went backstage after the show to congratulate the actors. I learned that they had one day to tour before they continued on to their next city. I joined the tour the next day. In a mountain town where we went, a grandmother, whose deaf daughter had been part of the theater’s summer program, was delighted to see the troupe and opened the town to the cast, calling ahead to make the off-season closed places open and welcoming.
Coming back on the bus, someone mentioned that I had written In This Sign and I asked my seatmate if she had read it and if she liked it. She had read it. “Did you like it?”
“It had Deaf people who were poor and ignorant, and I don’t like that presentation.”
I disagreed. “My characters are heroic. I define a hero as someone who takes the yard of cloth he or she is given and makes a suit and two pairs of pants out of it.” We talked about other things and I left the bus. The woman I had spoken with was an actress in the theater and her name is Julianna Fjeld-Corrado.
She called me a week later by relay, and said that she had read the book again and had seen what I meant about heroes. She asked if I would option the book to her for the making of a film.
“Have you ever made a film?”
“No, but I want to make this one.”
I liked the idea and spoke to my agent, who laughed at the whole thing. Julianna asked me if she might meet with my agent, bringing an interpreter. I said yes. Later, my agent called and said she had been strongly impressed. We optioned the book for one dollar, for the first year, to increase by fifty cents each year there after. [This is not a typo. In order to facilitate this important project, Ms. Greenberg took no payment for her book rights. — Ed.] We signed a contract.
For ten years, Julianna went from production-company to script-writer to film-maker to advertising-department of various corporations. She was rebuffed at all of them until Warner Brothers said thy would make the film, and then changed its mind. Hallmark got interested and said they would make the film, but the TV channel nixed the idea because – among other things – Julianna and I had specified that the film have Deaf actors to play the roles of the Deaf characters – a first. The interpretation of the Sign wouldn’t be captioned, but would be made integral within the script, unobtrusively echoed by hearing characters.
Year after year it went. I was so unhappy at all her thwarted work that I listened to her stories of refusal with growing sorrow and irritation. All that for no reward: “Are you so deaf that you don’t know what no means?” She only grinned and said, “I guess not.”
A second try at Hallmark and this time, they said yes. Two top actors from Theater of the Deaf – Ed Waterstreet and Phyllis Frelich – were signed on as leads and other bit parts were also played by Deaf actors. The hearing bunch included Sid Caesar, Cloris Leachman and Mare Winningham. Julianna played a bit part, as well as being co-producer. All of that was a first on theater or TV.
The film covered the second part of the book. I had been challenged by the problem of how to render translation to give a flavor of Sign without making a literal translation, which comes off sounding unlettered. The decisions made in the film honored that. It was a good film. Darlene Craviotto Directed. We got an Emmy.
[Editor’s note: I would love to screen this film, on DeafInPrison.com. We couldn’t post it permanently, but we may be able to get Hallmark to allow us to show it – in its entirety – for a brief interval. In order to make that happen, I would need to show them an interest. Please comment here with the hashtag, #LoveisNeverSilentScreenCampaign. Share on FaceBook and Twitter. If we can generate enough interest in this beautiful and historic film – the first film to have Deaf actors in Deaf roles, one year before Children of a Lesser God – we can convince Hallmark to allow us to screen it. — BitcoDavid]
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.