'The King's Speech' Likely to Break Stuttering Stereotypes

PHOTO The Kings Speech

At 32, Steven Kaufman finally has come to terms with the stuttering that was so often in the way when he was growing up, although he sometimes still feels that he's spinning his wheels in a snow bank when he gets stuck in a word and can't get it out.

But he's thrilled and proud to have attended the recent premiere of a movie telling the world that people who stumble on their own words "can accomplish anything you want: You can be king of England."

"The King's Speech," which opened Friday in New York and Los Angeles, depicts how Lionel Logue, an amateur Australian actor and self-styled speech therapist, helped Prince Albert acquire the confidence and skills to overcome a crippling stammer and overwhelming anxiety to take his place 74 years ago as Great Britain's King George VI.

While generating Oscar buzz for Geoffrey Rush, who plays Logue, and Colin Firth, who plays "Bertie," the film also seems likely to do for stuttering what "Rain Man" did for autism and "As Good As It Gets" did for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

As in the true story that it depicts with some artistic license, the film shows Logue employing unconventional means to help the future British monarch face a crowd and eventually deliver a confident coronation speech in 1937.

When Lady Elizabeth, portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, describes her husband's affliction as "mechanical difficulties with his speech," Logue responds by telling him: "We need to relax your jaw muscles. Strengthen your tongue. You do have a flabby tummy. We need to spend some time strengthening your diaphragm. Simple mechanics."

Soon, he has the future king reciting the nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill" while moving his arms in huge, sweeping circles; and has him repeating tongue twisters to improve his enunciation. At the same time, he develops an empathetic bond with his royal patient, becoming a trusted adviser and friend.

"This is a movie that really shows stuttering in a realistic light," Kaufman, of Plainview, N.Y., head of the Long Island chapter of the National Stuttering Association, an advocacy organization for youngsters and adults who stutter, said in an interview Monday.

"For the longest time, there's been many Hollywood movies that have used stuttering as a joke; as a punch line for comedic effect."

He pointed to the Loony Tunes cartoon character Porky Pig and Michael Palin's severely stuttering character in "A Fish Called Wanda."

"In 'The King's Speech,' the portrayal of somebody who stutters is so open, so raw, so honest, it doesn't pull any punches," he said.

Kaufman Remembers Only Knowing How to Be Alone

Kaufman, who started a blog in 2008 about stuttering, knows how isolated stutterers can become. "There were times in my life that being alone was the only thing I knew how to do. In junior high school, I remember there was one teacher; every time I would try to raise my hand, her response would always be, 'put your hand down, Steven, I have to get the lesson plan out.'

"I never dared say anything. In retrospect, I probably should have."

He thanks the National Stuttering Association for giving him courage, confidence and, "most importantly, they've given me the greatest voice of all, that I can help empower and educate others who are struggling with their lives."

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