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All about Stockard weblog

A Silent and Forgotten Victory

Stockard Channing and James Farentino in ‘Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil story’.

In late 1978, Stockard Channing inked a few big deals for a couple of major TV appearances. One was to star in her very own sitcom entitled, ‘Stockard Channing in Just Friends’, and the other was a made for TV movie called ‘Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story’. This is based on a real life story of an extraordinary deaf woman from Texas named Kitty O’Neil who became a Hollywood stunt-woman and racer, and broke many records for women despite her “handicap”. Kitty O’Neil was deaf, but quite frankly, amazing. In 1977, Kitty made headlines by driving a Hydrogen Peroxide fueled race-car ‘the quickest quarter mile elapsed time in auto history, with a timed run of 3.22 seconds at 396 mph’ and she broke the women’s speed barrier by driving that dragster at 412 mph. Kitty O’Neil overcame her deafness to become a very remarkable person (she played piano, spoke like someone with hearing because her mother refused to teach her sign language but insisted that she be as close to normal as possible). And, Stockard Channing played her in the TV movie of her life.

kitty 001

Despite the obscurity of this film, it was quite well made, and worth a little digging to find. Now, we all know that I am in love with Ms. Channing. However, if I hadn’t been before I saw this performance, I would have fallen deeper in love with her than I am now (in fact I did fall deeper, if that’s even possible). I knew going in that this was going to be the ultimate test of her acting ability; to speak like someone who is deaf. I have a cousin who is completely deaf, and I know that she speaks is well for someone who cannot hear, so that was sort of what I based it on. I have also known the basics of ASL since I was a child so that I could communicate with Tammy, and while growing up I was astonished that other children didn’t know sign language like myself. Though Kitty never knew sign language, I could still relate her to my cousin. Stockard Channing did this very well. Knowing that Kitty herself didn’t speak that much differently than those that could hear, Stockard truly sounded as if her hearing was a bit impaired. She also played Kitty O’Neil from the time that she graduated high-school, until she broke world records in 1977.

I fell in love with Kitty O’Neil, and her stuntman husband Duffy Hambleton. But it was Stockard Channing that made me do so. She brought the passion, the bravery, the struggles, and the emotions to the story of Kitty’s life. I cannot imagine anyone else ever playing this part. It wasn’t just her ability to act like a deaf person, it was that she made me believe that she was Kitty herself. I felt for her, and I cheered for her, hoping that she would overcome her disability and take over the world. While she didn’t exactly take over the world, she certainly took it by storm. There were parts in the movie where Kitty was taken advantage of, and it broke my heart. I couldn’t feel sorry for Kitty, though, because she was strong and she was one of those people that you can’t help but love, admire, and respect.

Stockard Channing as Kitty Oneil

Since this movie is so old, I realize that alot of people haven’t seen it. To me, it is a hidden jewel. It is a movie that I could watch often because of the strong performance that Stockard gives. She is just loveable in it. And she is very attractive, in fact she is cuter in this movie than in any other one that I have seen (which would be 99.9% of them). Her eyes are bright, she has a positive attitude, and she makes you love her. When she plays a part, the effort that she puts into it is overwhelming. Now, whether or not it is difficult for her to become these characters is another thing; she certainly doesn’t make it look hard. She is good at what she does, and it seems to be completely natural for her. It was genius casting, really, because nobody could have delivered a more compelling performance than she. Stockard’s performance was better than even the outstanding performances that her co-stars had given. This is one movie that attests to the incredible talent that Ms. Channing has.

If I were to grade this movie, in conjunction with some of Stockard’s other performances, I would absolutely give this one an A+. I even asked my 18 year old cousin to watch it to get her very critical (and sometimes mean) opinion of the flick. She really liked it, and I don’t think it was just because Stockard/Kitty drives a dirtbike many times in the film. Considering this was one of her first films (well this was a TV movie, but you get the idea), it proved her talent greatly. It is a talent that has not diminished through the years but transcends the acting ability of many of her peers.

December 7, 2009 - Posted by | Channing Flicks | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Oh my goodness! Sigh! You’re making me well up here!

    I HAVE to see this film! I simply cannot imagine the Stockard brilliance that is this movie, but thanks to you, I can try.

    I was wondering how she would sound as a deaf person, as, like you said, it must be hard for someone who isn’t hearing-impaired themselves to play this role. I read (proudly, as I love hearing the Stockard love)on imdb or somewhere that some guy had watched this not knowing Stockard and actually thought she was deaf. It was only years later when he saw her in a comedy that he realised. Could you get any better than that?

    Thank you so much for the picture too. The only one I could find online was the vhs cover, hehe. Would love to see any more, and of her cute outfits. My favourite Stockard era is this…she always looks amazing but I thought she looked stunning in her 30s. A complete natural beauty, without any need for make-up, and not typically good-looking but she just has…something. Ah.

    Well, maybe one day. Until now, I love hearing about it. Oh, and what were the 3 films she was a teenager in in her 30s? This one, ‘Grease’, and…? She was 29 in ‘The Girl Most Likely To…’ playing an over 21 year old, and she was playing a 20/21 year old in ‘The Fortune’, so what was it? Stockard has such a cute baby face, she will never look her age.

    Comment by Gilly | December 9, 2009 | Reply

  2. Lol, You are so cute Gilly. I will take stills from the video when I transfer it from VHS (sometimes that can be very tricky, so I might not be completely succussful with it, but I promise I will try). I guess that I was exaggerating a bit with the three teen-ager stuff, because she was in college in ‘The Girl Most likely to…’ (I guess I should change that line, huh? lol). I have just been really aggrevated because there was this blog about worst movie teenagers and Stockard was number ten, and then these idiots were making comments on twitter about it so I felt the need to defend her, lol. You are right she will never look her age. Here’s my thing though; if people don’t find Stockard believable as a teenager, then why now, thirty two years later, do they think that she is in her mid fifties? Guess that she was pretty believable after all.

    Comment by stockardfan | December 9, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’ve never done this before, but here goes . . .
    I saw the movie, and Channing was wonderful as Kitty O’Neil as we all know. But my comment is about Kitty and I hope that somehow she becomes aware of this. I fell in love with Kitty O’Neil when I saw her picture in a San Diego newspaper sometime in the late 70s. I am almost certain that she was seated in a Indy car. I thought her one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen, and if she’d gotten herself into a ride in an Indy car . . . well, she had to be something special. Certainly she was quick. We’re about the same age, Kitty (I’m going to be 58 in September, 2010) and I am still in love with you even though we are both older than dirt! All my love, Joe Aug 7, 2010

    Comment by Joe Stratz | August 7, 2010 | Reply

  4. I knew Kitty O’neil. She was the stepmom of Daryl Hambelton, my best friend. Many good times were spent at her house. I watched the movie…way back when…and would love to get a copy of it, for myself, my wife, my kids, and other friends that have also been looking for it. Can you please help me in this search? Thank you, Richard Madden

    Comment by Richard Madden | December 19, 2010 | Reply

    • I have a copy of it on VHS, and made a copy on DVD. I don’t know that it would work in a DVD player but I know it works on a computer. I can send you a copy if you like. It’s an excellent movie.
      Wow! You knew the real Kitty O’Neal? Was she totally awesome? How come they didn’t put her stepson in the movie? Seems rather important to have the whole family in it. Now I’m kinda sad that he wasn’t included.

      Comment by stockardfan | December 20, 2010 | Reply

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    Pingback by Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story (1979) | Old Old Films | July 3, 2011 | Reply

  6. Kitty used to come up to my home in Solodad cn. . Now, this is way back when she was just beginning to ride dirt bikes. I remember she had a Rickman Matise 125 . She was hanging around with a real dirt bag of a guy that took advantage of her all of the time . He was a real wantabe looking for a way into the movies . I remember she took a pretty bad fall and tore her hand up . I myself had given the guy a hand up , that helped to keep him in the dirt business .
    The last time I saw she and “Duffy” was at the Four Aces Grand Prix at Muntz motor cycle Park . Kitty was always such a totally focused and cool girl. I only wish I could have seen more of her but the fall that I suffered a severely broken in and lost my home sort of put an end to that relationship.
    Kitty if you ever have a chance to read this I would welcome a note with some way to contact you . Bill

    Comment by Bboards1$ | October 20, 2013 | Reply

    • My word, what an incredible story. I only hope that Kitty does get to read this, not only because of your kind words but because we all adore this film. I hope your fortunes turned out better later, Bill, and thanks for sharing.

      Comment by Gilly | October 20, 2013 | Reply

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