Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The King's Speech

The summer of my sixteenth year was very bad in many ways.

My stepfather's friend offered me a job as a desk clerk in an old family hotel in Atlantic City, on Florida Avenue where now an empty lot stands. I jumped at the chance to work so close to the beach until my first day on the job, when the boss's wife explained my duties, one of which consisted of answering the switchboard and directing calls.

Sounds simple enough, no? It should be, except I had to say, "Good morning, Roma Hotel," and I stuttered too badly to get out the "R." After several "Ruh, ruh, ruhs," I usually managed to force it out, but was humiliated and angry at myself every time.

Then, I employed a trick many stammerers use. I found that, if I switched the name of the hotel around, I could push out both words without stumbling on the "R." Even though the management wasn't thrilled with my solution, no one seriously rebuked me for answering the switchboard with "Good morning, Hotel Roma."

Preparing to see the Colin Firth movie, The King's Speech, I read a lot about King George VI and his speech problems. I learned how different stammers can be, and how each afflicted individual finds ways to cope, but never really "kicks" the stammer. Now, as a adult, I find myself struggling occasionally when I'm trying to speak too fast, so I simply force myself to slow down and do just fine.

Sitting in the theater on Saturday night, I felt such sadness for the king. Not just because he stuttered so badly but because, in him I recognized myself... the frightened child who bore insults and ridicule from relatives who knew very well what they were doing but chose to follow their penchants for being mean-spirited.

In many interviews, Firth points out the heroism displayed by this king, who doggedly pushed on, taking on the unwanted burden of monarchy, fearing every word he had to utter. George VI was saved by a speech coach who was far less a clinician than he was a friend. In the end, it was simply friendship that gave George VI the extra courage he needed to face his demons and give his empire the wartime leadership for which it turned to him.

I will see this film again and again. To look at Colin Firth for two hours, certainly. But more importantly, with this Firth film at least, to relish the victory George VI achieves. I felt such pride for the way Firth portrayed this lovely man, since he brought to life the tender, kind and caring person "Bertie" really was. Friendship, dogged persistence and the love of a friend are the three main themes of this movie. Sure hope you get to see it!

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