A Silent and Forgotten Victory
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.
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.
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.