Helen Keller in Her Story


55m 1954

Brief Synopsis

Documentary about the life of Helen Keller utilizing newsreel footage, interviews, still photographs, and original sequences.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Unconquered
Release Date
Jun 1954
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 15 Jun 1954
Production Company
Nancy Hamilton
Distribution Company
Albert Margolies
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
55m

Synopsis

This film documents the life and achievements of the remarkable Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, yet learned to speak. The film begins with footage of Helen and her companion, Polly Thompson, as they demonstrate how they communicate via a manual alphabet, finger-touching system. Helen also feels Polly's face with her hand, sensing her words and can speak to her in her unnatural voice. Because Helen is unable to hear human speech, her voice can be difficult to understand so Polly repeats her words. Helen is born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, as a normal baby, but at nineteen months suffers an illness, which leaves her blind and deaf. When she is seven years old, she is taken to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, where she meets the partially sighted Annie Sullivan. With Annie's help, Helen learns to read and write. By age ten, Helen is a published writer and, later, can read five languages, learns to speak and, in 1904, graduates cum laude from Radcliffe College. She begins to campaign for the needs of the deaf and the blind. During this period, she lives in a farmhouse near Boston with Annie and her husband, John Macy. Famous people, including Alexander Graham Bell and Mark Twain, visit and champion her. Helen works on improving her voice in order to lecture as well as write and in 1913, in Montclair, New Jersey, gives her first public lecture as Annie provides simultaneous clarification. Helen and Annie then begin a five-year lecture tour, and as Helen has become one of the world's most famous women, they hire a young Scotswoman, Polly, to help them with all the correspondence Helen receives. In 1919, they all go to Hollywood where Helen appears in the film Deliverance , which despite a fictional plot, is virtually her biography. The film shows her typing, writing in Braille, dancing and taking her first airplane ride. Although some people are shocked by Helen appearing in a film, she and Annie then venture into vaudeville and appear in theaters all over the country for the next two years. Fox Movietone News films part of their act and an extract is included in this documentary: Annie demonstrates how Helen learned to speak by sensing the vibrations of spoken words by placing the first finger of her hand on Annie's lips, the second finger on her nose and her thumb on Annie's larynx. In 1936, Annie, Helen's teacher and beloved friend, dies, but Polly is able to take her place and together they travel the world to promote the cause of the handicapped. Among the countries they visit are Australia, Israel and South Africa. In Japan, where Helen is regarded as a saint, they are welcomed by enormous crowds and visit Hiroshima, Nagasaki and a shrine created in memory of Annie. When they are not traveling, Helen and Polly live in a Westport, Connecticut house that was built for them by friends and the documentary shows some of their daily activities. After breakfast, Helen goes out alone for a walk around the grounds, guided by a handrail. Later, she prepares speeches on a Braille typewriter, but types letters on a regular typewriter. In the late afternoon, friends visit and there are discussions about politics and world affairs. On one of their frequent trips away from home, Helen and Polly attend a meeting at the American Council for the Blind where they examine new ways and technologies to help the blind and visit children and adults who are deaf and blind. Helen also visits disabled veterans of the Korean War, giving them courage to reshape their own lives. Among the many celebrities Helen meets are President Eisenhower, Jascha Heifitz and Gladys Swarthout, who sings for her as Helen "listens" with her fingers on Swarthout's face. Robert Helpman and Guthrie McClintic invite Helen to a rehearsal of Martha Graham's dance company where she experiences the rhythm and movement of the dancers through vibrations in the floor and discovers, with her hands, the line and pattern of movement of a dancer's body. Although Helen experiences much of the world through touching, her knowledge also comes from reading books in Braille. In 1952, Helen and Polly go to France to honor Louis Braille on the hundredth anniversary of his death. In Paris, Helen delivers an address in French, attends the reburial of Braille in the Pantheon and is made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Helen Keller in Her Story closes with scenes in the Westport house, where, after drying the dishes, Helen retires to bed and before going to sleep, reads from her Braille edition of the Bible.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Unconquered
Release Date
Jun 1954
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 15 Jun 1954
Production Company
Nancy Hamilton
Distribution Company
Albert Margolies
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
55m

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

This film opened in New York in June 1954, under the title The Unconquered-Helen Keller in Her Story. As Helen Keller in Her Story, the title of the print viewed, it won the Academy Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary in March 1956 and was acquired for distribution by Louis de Rochemont Associates. Although the print viewed carried a "Copyright MCMLIII Nancy Hamilton" notice, the film was not registered under either title. According to a New York Times report of March 7, 1954, Hamilton was an actress and co-author, with Morgan Lewis, of three Broadway revues. A modern source credits Hamilton with both production and direction of the film. Following the death of Polly Thompson in 1960, Helen Keller lived on alone until her death on June 1, 1968. Keller's burial urn is next to Thompson's and Annie Sullivan's in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
       There have been many film and television plays about Keller. In addition to the 1919 film Deliverance (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20), her early years were dramatized by writer William Gibson in February 1957 in a Playhouse 90 CBS television program titled The Miracle Worker, starring Patty McCormack as Keller and Teresa Wright as Sullivan. The program was directed by Arthur Penn, who also directed Gibson's theatrical adaptation, which opened on Broadway under the same title on October 19, 1959, starring Patty Duke as Keller and Anne Bancroft as Sullivan. Producer Fred Coe reunited Duke, Bancroft, Gibson and Penn for the film adaptation, which premiered in May 1962 and earned many critical accolades and awards, including Oscars for Bancroft and Duke as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, and Oscar nominations for Penn for best direction and Gibson for best screenplay.
       In a 1979 television film, directed by Paul Aaron, Duke assumed the role of Sullivan while Melissa Gilbert portrayed Keller. Additional television adaptations of The Miracle Worker were broadcast in 1984, directed by Alan Gibson and starring Blythe Danner as Sullivan and Mare Winningham as Keller and in 2000, directed by Nadia Tass and starring Alison Elliott as Sullivan and Hallie Kate Eisenberg as Keller. A sequel to the story, entitled Monday After the Miracle, was broadcast in 1998, directed by Daniel Petrie and starring Roma Downey as Sullivan and Moira Kelly as Keller. Another teleplay, Helen Keller and Her Teacher, was broadcast in 1970, directed by Noah Keen, featuring Barboura Morris and Peri Weinstein.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1954 National Board of Review.

Released in United States Summer June 15, 1954

Released in United States Summer June 15, 1954