The Oscars have honored several actors for portraying characters with disabilities. However, the two performers I’ll profile actually lived with the disabilities they portrayed on-screen.
This is Harold Russell. He enlisted in the Army the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On June 6, 1944, he was shooting a training video, when a defective fuse detonated in his hands. He lost both hands and given hooks to serve as hands.
During his recovery, he was featured in Army film about rehabilitating war veterans called, Diary of a Sergeant.
The film caught the attention of Oscar-winning director William Wyler, who was casting his latest film The Best Years of Our Lives.
The film, released in 1946 tells the story of three men adjusting to life after the war. Russell was cast as sailor Homer Parrish opposite stars Frederic March and Dana Andrews.
The film was a huge success and was nominated for eight Oscars, including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Russell.
Since he was a non-professional actor, the Academy didn’t think he stood a chance of winning in a competitive category, so they decided to award him an Honorary Oscar, for bringing hope and courage to other veterans.
Later in the ceremony, he shocked everyone by winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He remains the only performer to receive two Oscars for the same performance.
The film tells the story of James Leeds, a teacher at a school for the deaf who falls in love with Sarah Norman, a former student at the school now working as the school’s janitor. It is based off the Tony-winning play of the same name.
William Hurt starred as James and newcomer Marlee Matlin was cast as Sarah. She had previously played the role of Lydia in local production of the play, which caught the attention of the film’s producers.
While still an infant, Matlin lost her hearing due to a genetically malformed cochlea.
The film received five Oscar nominations, and won the Best Actress award for Matlin. She remains the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award. She is also the youngest actress to win in the category.