SCREENWRITER DAVID SEIDLER: PERSONAL JOURNEYS & THE KING’S SPEECH


FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Telling the story of the stammering King George VI has been a lifetime ambition for DAVID SEIDLER, ever since he subdued his own stutter nearly 60 years ago.

Born seven months after George took the British throne in 1936, the screenwriter grew up paralyzed by the same impediment he depicts the monarch struggling to overcome in THE KING’S SPEECH, the BEST PICTURE favourite at this year’s ACADEMY AWARDS.

From just before his third birthday to age 16, he stumbled and sputtered over his syllables so badly that he lived in terror of speaking in class, talking to girls or even answering the phone.

“I had huge trouble with the H sound. So when the telephone rang, I would break into a cold sweat because I couldn’t say hello,” he said in an interview.

“I don’t know if school still works this way, but in those days you had set places and the teacher worked up and down the rows. If I could see her working towards me and she was just going to miss me that day, I would fake sick the next day so I didn’t have to go to school – because it was so terrifying to be called upon. There came a period when I was actually excused from responding in class. I didn’t have to speak in class. It was that bad.”

Born in Britain, DAVID SEIDLER developed a stammer in 1940 on a boat to the United States, where his family moved during World War II. He had an uncle with a boyhood stammer and thinks that his own began from the trauma of German bombs, the sea voyage and abrupt separation from his beloved nanny.

As George VI rallied his country, the young DAVID heard the king valiantly struggling through his radio addresses and hoped he might one day master his own speech troubles.

He eventually did – in his mid teens – not long after George VI died in 1952 and the crown passed to his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Soon after that, the desire to one day chronicle the king’s tale came to him. He had decided he wanted to be a writer while still afflicted with his stutter.

“If you’re born with two conflicting traits — in my case, I was a born ham, but I was a stutterer — and if you want to be the centre of attention but you can’t talk, you find another channel and that’s writing.”

After college, he tried playwriting, then worked in advertising, Australian television and journalism. He came to Hollywood at age 40, “which, of course, is when any writer with any common sense is leaving Los Angeles.”

His credits include FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA’S TUCKER: THE MAN & HIS DREAM, the animated feature QUEST FOR CAMELOT and ELIZABETH TAYLOR’S TV movie MALICE IN WONDERLAND.

It was not until a bout with throat cancer in 2005 that DAVID SEIDLER finally started on the story of George VI, known as Bertie to his family.

He had wanted to begin the project in the early 1980s, but Bertie’s widow, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, politely asked him in a letter, “Please, Mr. Seidler. Not during my lifetime.”

Elizabeth was in her 80s then, so he figured he would have to wait no more than a few years. But she lived to be 101, dying in 2002.

The film is built around the unlikely friendship between BERTIE (COLIN FIRTH, expected to win BEST ACTOR this year) and unconventional speech therapist LIONEL LOGUE (SUPPORTING ACTOR nominee GEOFFREY RUSH). HELENA BONHAM CARTER, a SUPPORTING ACTRESS contender, plays the Queen Mother, Bertie’s wife.

Though he had researched Bertie’s life for decades, DAVID SEIDLER also drew on his own experiences in speech therapy. He underwent many of the tricks depicted in THE KING’S SPEECH — having his mouth stuffed with marbles, reciting while listening to music on headphones.

THE KING’S SPEECH director TOM HOOPER first heard of the project from his mother, who attended a reading of a stage version that the screenwriter had created. Afterwards, she called her son and told him she had found his next project.

“It’s clearly the best script of his life,” the director stated.

“He’s really writing about his own childhood experiences through the guise of these two characters.”

DAVID SEIDLER shared another experience in his youth that Bertie undergoes in the film — when the king unleashes a torrent of cuss words in a burst of anger that momentarily frees him from his stammer.

At age 16, he experienced his very own F bomb cure.

“Adolescence had hit. Hormones were raging. I couldn’t ask girls out for a date, and even if I could and even if they said yes, what was the point? I couldn’t talk to them on a date. This was the 50s. You did talk on dates.”

Fury over his condition grew to the point that he was jumping up and down on his bed, bellowing profanity. He found it empowering.

“‘If I am stuck with this stutter,'” he recalled saying to himself, ”’you all are stuck with listening to me. I am a human being…and I’m going to talk and you’re going to have to F word listen.'”

With that psychological turn, his stutter largely faded in a few weeks, to the point that he won a small part in the school play ANDROCLES & THE LION.

(“I played a Christian being eaten by a lion in the Colosseum and I didn’t stutter as I died.”)

The front runner to win the OSCAR for BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, he now faces the prospect of addressing a global audience the way George VI did.

What does the former stutterer feel about that?

“Terror. Abject terror. Not so much of stuttering. I’m not really concerned that I will stutter on that occasion. I think it’s more that I could easily become the new Sally Field. I could easily blubber because it’s been such a long journey and it’s such a meaningful one to me. Such a personal journey. I hope I don’t disgrace my 21 year old daughter, who’s my date for the Oscars. She’ll be sitting there mortified if her dad stands up there and can’t speak…and weeps.”

“But it would be a momentous occasion.”

2 Responses to “SCREENWRITER DAVID SEIDLER: PERSONAL JOURNEYS & THE KING’S SPEECH”

  1. wow. some story.

    just wow…

  2. I know, glimby.

    Mr. Seidler has had a very interesting existence. All of his experiences have led him to this tremendous success. The screenplay for THE KING’S SPEECH is fantastic. He seems like a real gentleman.

    I couldn’t be happier for him. I think he’s very deserving.

    Maybe one day they’ll make a movie about his life. (Particularly this portion.) Lots of drama and intriguing situations.

    I’d pay to see that…

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