Marlee Matlin received worldwide critical acclaim for her motion picture debut in Paramount Pictures’ CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (1986), a performance the film community chose to recognize with its highest honor—the Academy Award for Best Actress. At age 21, she became the youngest recipient of the Best Actress Oscar and one of only four actresses to receive that honor for a film debut. In addition to the Oscar, Marlee was honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Drama. That same year, she was honored by Harper’s Bazaar magazine as one of the “The Ten Most Beautiful Women” and Esquire magazine’s “Women We Love.”
Born and raised in Morton Grove, Illinois, Marlee started acting at the age of seven in the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at a children’s theatre company in Chicago. After several years of performing on stage throughout Chicago and the midwest, Marlee was discovered in a Chicago stage production of Mark Medoff’s Tony Award-winning play, Children of a Lesser God. Following an extensive international search for the lead role, the producers of the film version selected her to star opposite William Hurt.
Marlee followed her film debut with a second feature, Walker (1987), starring Ed Harris. While filming in Nicaragua, Marlee took time to visit hearing and hearing impaired children, as she has done extensively throughout her travels to Australia, England, Italy, Germany, Russia, Croatia, Mexico and Canada.
Marlee went on to star in the French feature The Man in the Golden Mask (1991), co-starring Jean Reno. She appeared in two feature films in 1992: The Linguini Incident with David Bowie and Rosanna Arquette, and Robert Altman’s The Player.
Marlee also starred in 20th Century Fox’s Hear No Evil (1993), a suspense thriller co-starring Martin Sheen, and in MGM/United Artists’ AIDS drama It’s My Party (1996), written and directed by Randal Kleiser. In 2005, Marlee made an auspicious return to features with the critcally acclaimed documentary/feature, What the Bleep Do We Know!?.
Marlee made her television debut starring with Lee Remick in CBS’ Bridge to Silence. Marlee went on to star for two seasons in the NBC Televison series Reasonable Doubts opposite Mark Harmon. She was twice nominated for both a Golden Globe Award as Best Actress in a Dramatic Television Series as well as the People’s Choice Awards. Marlee was nominated for two Emmy awards for her guest turns on NBC’s Seinfeld and CBS’s Picket Fences.
Marlee also starred in Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story (1994), a movie for Lifetime Television in which she was nominated for a CableACE Award for Best Actress in a Movie or Miniseries. Marlee broke down yet another barrier with the role, playing a character who was not deaf. “I have always resisted putting limitations on myself, both professionally and personally, ” said Matlin. “This role gave me the chance to do something I’d never done before. It was a new challenge for me and was a very rewarding experience. ”
Marlee returned to CBS’ Picket Fences for two seasons to reprise her Emmy-nominated role. Coincidentally, Marlee’s character on Picket Fences gave birth on the same day she gave birth in real life, a feat repeated exactly 43 years to the day by Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy on the same network.
For seven seasons, Marlee starred opposite Martin Sheen, Jimmy Smits and Bradley Whitford as pollster, Joey Lucas, on NBC’s Emmy Award winning series, The West Wing. She has also guest-starred on numerous shows including NBC’s Sweet Justice with Cicely Tyson, as well as Showtime’s anthology series The Outer Limits. Marlee also starred in HBO’s original feature, Dead Silence (2007), opposite James Garner and starred in the Showtime feature, Freak City (1999), opposite Natalie Cole. Marlee also guest starred on HBO’s Emmy Award-winning series The Larry Sanders Show, ABC’s comedy Spin City, on NBC’s award winning drama ER, and CBS’s Judging Amy. Marlee received her third Emmy Award nomination for her work on ABC’s The Practice, and guest starred on NBC’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, receiving her fourth Emmy nomination for her work. Marlee also guest starred on ABC’s award winning Desperate Housewives, My Name is Earl, CSI: New York, and Nip/Tuck. In 2006, Marlee hosted a special 2-hour edition of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. In 2007, Marlee joined the cast of Showtime’s cutting edge drama The L Word for three seasons, starring opposite Jennifer Beals. In 2008, Marlee broke new ground once again when she joined the sixth season cast of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, challenging America to “Read my hips!” Later that same year, she appeared in the CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Sweet Nothing In My Ear (2008) starring opposite Jeff Daniels. In 2011, Marlee broke ground once again as a finalist on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, raising a record $1 million dollars for charity in one day. Currently, she guest stars on the Peabody Award winning ABC Family drama, Switched at Birth, which has broken ground by featuring a number of deaf actors in leading roles.
In September 1999, under her Solo One Productions banner, Marlee embarked on her first effort as Executive Producer and starred in the courtroom thriller Where the Truth Lies for Lifetime Television; and in 2003, she produced Eddie’s Million Dollar Bake-off for The Disney Channel, receiving an honor from the National Council on Family Relations for excellence in programming. In 2009, she self-produced My Deaf Family a pilot which she put up on YouTube; it garnered over 500,000 hits in just a few months. In 2012, Marlee created her the first celebrity driven App for teaching Sign Language entitled “Marlee Signs” for Apple-based handheld devices.
Marlee’s New York Times Best Selling autobiography, entitled I’ll Scream Later, was published by Simon Spotlight, a division of Simon and Schuster in April 2009. In addition, Marlee published a novel for children entitled Deaf Child Crossing for Simon and Schuster in 2002. Simon and Shuster published the sequel, Nobody’s Perfect in Summer 2006 and the second sequel, Leading Ladies in 2007. In 2010 under the auspices of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a musical adaptation of Nobody’s Perfect embarked on a national tour.
Marlee has also appeared in a number of musical performances. She appeared on Sesame Street with Grammy Award winning singer Billy Joel, performing “Just the Way You Are,” and appeared in the music video for Joel’s Grammy-nominated “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” In January 1993, she performed the national anthem in American Sign Language with Garth Brooks at Super Bowl XXVII, and appeared in Brooks’ music video “We Shall Be Free” and the follow up in 2008. Marlee returned to the Super Bowl in 2007 to perform the national anthem with Billy Joel. Most recently, she teamed up with her Dancing with the Stars dance partner, Fabian Sanchez for the video “Let’s Mambo,” with Detroit deaf rap star, Sean Forbes
Marlee has also appeared in a number of educational and children’s programs. Marlee served as host of PBS’ Emmy Award winning series People in Motion, and in 2007, she was featured in the PBS documentary, Through Deaf Eyes. Other television appearances include MTV’s Rock the Vote, Disney’s award winning series Adventures in Wonderland, and Nickelodeon’s Emmy Award winning Blues Clues where she appears as Marlee the Librarian. Marlee also appeared in Baby Wordsworth, part of the highly acclaimed Baby Einstein series, teaching sign language to infants and toddlers.
In 1994, Marlee was appointed by President Clinton and confirmed by the Senate to the Board of Directors for the Corporation for National Service. In 1995, Marlee served as Chairperson for National Volunteer Week and honored in a White House Rose Garden ceremony by the President. In 2010 she joined President Barack Obama on the South Lawn of the White House, performing and participating in a signing ceremony celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Marlee currently serves as a national celebrity spokesperson for the American Red Cross, encouraging Americans to donate blood. She has also worked on behalf of closed captioning and in 1992 was instrumental in getting Congress to pass federal legislation requiring all televisions manufactured in the United States be equipped with closed captioning technology, and in 2012 she was able to do the same for captioning over broadband and the internet.
Marlee also serves on the boards of a number of charitable organizations including Easter Seals, as well as those charities which primarily benefit children. Marlee has also combined her charity work with commercial ventures and has appeared in numerous commercials and Public Service Announcements on behalf of corporate sponsors such as Target, Sprint, Toys”R”Us and 7UP, each designed to raise awareness about the importance of donating to charitable organizations. In 2006 Marlee was honored by America Online as “Chief Everything Officer,” highlighting the important contributions of mothers, in both home and work environments. In 2011 Marlee raised awareness for the need for hearing aids and better hearing health for millions of deaf and hard of hearing children and adults in developing countries when she traveled to Africa, supporting the Starkey Hearing Foundation; her visit was highlighted on the finale of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice.
Marlee makes her home in the greater Los Angeles area. She and her husband, law enforcement officer Kevin Grandalski welcomed their first child, Sarah, in 1996, their second child, Brandon, in 2000 and their third child, Tyler, in July, 2002. Marlee and her husband welcomed their fourth child, Isabelle in December, 2003.