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'The King's Speech' -- a once-in-a-lifetime moment for the Stuttering Foundation

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February 11, 2011|By Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times
  • Actor Colin Firth talks with Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation.
Actor Colin Firth talks with Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation. (The Stuttering Foundation )

“The King’s Speech” is a great film. But to Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation, it's something more -- a long-yearned-for opportunity to get the word out to schools, therapists, the general public, anyone and everyone, about what it’s like for people to live with a stutter and how they can get help.  

The movie’s kind of like a “Rain Man” for the stuttering world, Fraser said in a phone chat earlier this week. “We have a world-class, superb actor showing us how devastating it is to stutter,” she says. It doesn’t hurt that he’s playing a king who’s leading a country against Hitler.

Fraser says she and her staff have seized the moment--they've sent out a blizzard of public service announcements to 12,000 radio stations and 1,000 magazines and a few newspapers. They’re distributing awareness posters to schools. They’re sending out e-blasts to the 25,000 speech pathologists on their database.  “It was like a train going through the station — we wanted to jump on the train,” she says.

Stuttering, she adds, “is the only disability that people laugh at.”

She knows what that’s like: Her father, Malcolm Fraser, had a severe stutter. (He started the Stuttering Foundation back in 1947.) He was one of the founders of NAPA Auto Parts, and every Christmas there would be a big workplace banquet. “During that party, he would hand out pins to employees who’d been there the longest — he never relegated that to someone else,” Fraser recalls. “He would be up there saying. ‘T-t-t-thomas Smith, f-f-f-f-ive years with the c-c-c-company, we appreciate your s-s-s-s-service’ — only after it was done could I begin to eat my Christmas dinner.”

"I think everyone in that room knew he was mortified but everyone in that room was with him –he just did it, he just stuttered his way through it,” she says.

Check out the L.A. Times Op-Ed by British actor-writer-comedian Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, on what it was like during his childhood to watch his own father deal with a stutter.  

Palin played stuttering Ken in “A Fish Called Wanda,” you might recall. But at least, acknowledges Fraser, he was the most sympathetic crook in the movie -- and as Palin has reminded her, he did the world a service by flattening horrible Otto with a steamroller.

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