David Seidler to Receive “Annie” at 2011 Convention Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” Screenwriter Overcame His Own Stutter ASHA Convention Coverage
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ASHA Convention Coverage  |   August 01, 2011
David Seidler to Receive “Annie” at 2011 Convention
Author Notes
  • Matthew Cutter, writer/editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at mcutter@asha.org.
    Matthew Cutter, writer/editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at mcutter@asha.org.×
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Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Fluency Disorders / ASHA Convention Coverage
ASHA Convention Coverage   |   August 01, 2011
David Seidler to Receive “Annie” at 2011 Convention
The ASHA Leader, August 2011, Vol. 16, 21. doi:10.1044/leader.ACC.16082011.21
The ASHA Leader, August 2011, Vol. 16, 21. doi:10.1044/leader.ACC.16082011.21
David Seidler, who won a best screenwriter Oscar in February for the film “The King’s Speech,” will receive ASHA’s Annie Glenn Award at the 2011 ASHA Convention in San Diego.
The prestigious award, named for the wife of Sen. John Glenn, is given annually to an individual who has achieved distinction despite a communication disorder. Seidler is being recognized for his determination in overcoming his own stutter, an experience that motivated him to bring the powerful story of King George VI’s efforts to overcome stuttering to the screen.
“The ‘Annie’ is ASHA’s Oscar,” said Paul A. Rao, ASHA president, “and each year our membership recognizes a famous figure who exemplifies the distinction, courage, and quiet charisma of Mrs. Glenn. This year’s awardee is particularly appropriate and ever so popular. David Seidler grew up with the same communication disorder as Mrs. Glenn, and both conquered stuttering to move on to using their new proficiency in fluency to advocate for others with disabilities.”
Seidler’s family immigrated to Long Island, N.Y., during the bombing of London in World War II, before he was 3 years old. During the Atlantic crossing he developed a stutter, which dogged him through his young life and left him largely silent for fear of ridicule. It was Seidler’s own fierce determination to be heard at age 16 that led him to speak despite his disability—and even perform in school plays. But it would be more than 50 years before that determination led to the accolades for “The King’s Speech,” which include four Academy Awards (following 12 nominations), seven British Film Academy Awards, and a Golden Globe.
Seidler spoke to CNN.com about his long struggle to write the story of George VI and the difficulties of growing up with a communication impairment (Feb. 25, 2011). In that interview, Seidler reflected, “Not much is written about it, because the royal stutterer is a source of embarrassment. Stuttering was considered a speech defect and if you had a speech defect, you were, by definition, a defective person.”
Seidler sought to find the words to tell George VI’s story by reflecting on his own painful experiences. “This required going back into the pain and the loneliness and the isolation and frustration of being a stutterer. And being a stutterer is rather like having a very bad toothache. When you’ve got the toothache, all you’re thinking about is ‘Wow, my tooth really hurts.’ All I can think about is that pain. As soon as you get to the dentist and the dentist fixes it, the last thing you want to remember is how that tooth ached. You just blank it out, the mind forgets it.
“But as a more mature writer...it is easier to go back into the past and therefore, I was able to really put my head back into being a stutterer,” Seidler said, “which I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”
In 1981, Seidler decided to tell the story of George VI. His instincts told him that Lionel Logue—mentioned rarely, if at all, in histories and biographies of the king—would be central to the story. He tracked down Logue’s son, a retired brain surgeon still living in London, who offered the use of Lionel Logue’s notebooks written during the treatment of George VI. There was, however, a condition—Seidler would need to secure the permission of the Queen Mother. Her reply was succinct: “Please, Mr. Seidler, not during my lifetime, the memory of those events is still too painful.”
Seidler wrote in the Daily Mail (Dec. 20, 2010), “During the 20 intervening years I put the idea aside. Even with the Queen Mother’s death in 2002 I didn’t leap into action; other projects and obligations took priority.
“But in late 2005 I was diagnosed with what appeared at the time to be a particularly ominous form of cancer (throat)...In an attempt to stop thinking about my woes, I plunged myself into creative work. Which was when I thought: ‘Well, David, if you’re not going to tell Bertie’s story now, when exactly do you intend to tell it?’”
Seidler made a surprising discovery that gave unprecedented depth to his work: his own uncle, also named David and still living in London, had been treated by Lionel Logue as a boy. Though the uncle didn’t provide extensive details, he related enough to let Seidler know he was on the right track. “So there I was, correct after all,” Seidler wrote. “Logue used mechanical exercises combined with therapy and friendship. Since I knew the techniques, and a great deal about the king, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility to imagine what they talked about. I entered into that task with a great sense of responsibility, hoping to get it right, using informed imagination.”
In a recent interview (The ASHA Leader, March 15), Seidler said of stuttering, “It changes you. You know you have withstood this affliction, and you are made of strong mettle. And it is absolute proof that you have the stamina to overcome any obstacle you come across in life.”
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August 2011
Volume 16, Issue 8