AG Bell Infamous Telegram to NBC

Hello Readers,

I watched a video clip done by Tayler Mayer about his interview with Bernard Bragg on his y3 blog.

Mayer’s post is called, “Bernard Bragg’s Take on Pepsi / AGBell”

On this video, Bragg recollected about Alexander Graham Bell Association wrote a telegram objecting the first televised appearance by the group of Deaf performers in a NBC show, called “Experiment in Television”.

This is an excerpt from the transcript that was posted online:

The year was 1967. Three months before National Theatre of the Deaf was founded, a group of performers (Myself, Gil Eastman, Audree Norton, Howard Palmer, Ralph White, Phyllis Frelich and Lou Fant) appeared in a NBC show, called “Experiment in TV”. It was exciting because it was the first time deaf performers would sign…. it would be nationally broadcast, as opposed to just on local channels. We had never done anything like this before. Soon, NBC began to publicize the show with an announcement of a date…

AGBell wrote a letter to the NBC president, objecting and opposing to the show.

I was very curious about this story and then, of course, I googled. This story was documented in two different books.

Lessons in Laughter: The Autobiography of a Deaf Actor

By Bernard Bragg as signed to Eugene Bergman – page 119

Pictures in the Air: The Story of the National Theatre of the Deaf
By Stephen C. Baldwin – page 21 – (to see the page image – click here)

On Mayer’s blog entry, there were 47 comments and there was ONE that really captivated my attention. That comment was written by Merv Garretson.

    Merv Garretson, on February 25th, 2008 at 11:25 am said:

    Great going, BB! History re-visited! i still have a copy of the telegram George Fellendorf of the AGB sent to NBC! As then secretary-treasurer of the NAD, we joined the protest! As usual, BB waxed eloquent. Yes, victory was ours!

Then I immediately contacted Tayler about Garretson’s comment, and asking how we can obtain the copy of the telegram. I also contacted National Association of the Deaf asking about the copy too.

9 days later…

National Association of the Deaf emailed me with attachments notifying that Mr. Merv Garretson graciously gave the copies of the correspondence between George W. Fellendorf, Julian Goodman, President of National Broadcasting Company, Inc., and David Hays, Project Director of Eugene O’ Neill Memorial Theater Foundation.

I have copies of the telegram and correspondence for you to view.

Fellendorf’s telegram to NBC dated November 23, 1966

Hays’ letter to Fellendorf dated December 5, 1966

Fellendorf’s official letter to Directors of the AG Bell Assn.’s committee members and all Oral Deaf Adults Section members dated January 17, 1967

But, NBC ignored these letters and went ahead to air this show on Sunday, April 2, 1967

TIME’s archived webpage – Friday, March 31, 1967

Scroll down to the bottom of the page – you will see this:

NBC EXPERIMENT IN TELEVISION (NBC, 4-5 p.m.). Nanette Fabray narrates “Theater of the Deaf,” which takes a look at three leading directors (Arthur Penn, Joe Layton and Gene Lasko) working with deaf actors at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theater Foundation in Waterford, Conn. Scenes from Kismet, Guys and Dolls, Hamlet, All the Way Home and South Pacific.

Commentary by Amy Cohen Efron:

As Bobbie Beth Scoggins, President of National Association of the Deaf wrote to Karen Youdelman of AG Bell dated February 7, 2008, writes:

“We know that this is not the first time that AGBell has reacted in this manner to high-profile use of ASL, which AGBell may perceive as detracting from its exclusive focus on speaking and listening. As such, we are not surprised that AGBell continues to close its eyes to successful deaf ASL users as positive role models… We expect the same respect from AGBell on behalf of the community we represent.”

Yes, indeed… it is not the first time.

36 Responses to “AG Bell Infamous Telegram to NBC”

  1. Judge Says:

    Boy, they still deny the rights of deaf to learn the beauty of ASL! They are pathetic!

  2. Banjo Says:

    The telegram itself should be enough to show the true colours of the organization.

    (sigh)

  3. Deafchipmunk Says:

    Thanks for sharing letters with us. The letters, AGBell the Cockroach wrote, denied and suppressed facts of successful and creative Deaf actors. I printed them off and file them for future references.

    Deafchip

  4. Barb DiGi Says:

    Amy, Amy, oh Amy! I have got to hand it to you how you have been playing sleuth on digging the artifacts showing evidence of AGBAD’s hostility toward sign language! This is an invaluable blog for us to bookmark it indeed! Talk about misconceptions formed by AGBAD, ha! Thank you!!

  5. daveynin Says:

    Excellent research dig archives, Amy.

  6. Toby Welch Says:

    Wow! Amy, you did do homework and appreicate that you are willing to share with us. That opened my eyes how AGBell treated us. I agree with Scoggins’ comment “We expect the same respect from AGBell on behalf of the community we represent.” They are trying to destory Deaf community but they forgot that God created us all same as for all hearing, hard of hearing and anyone on this present world. They will have to explain to God why they are treating us badly. Excellent research!

  7. brenster- Says:

    Good job, Amy!

    It’s interesting that most of us didn’t know about those letters in 1967. Well, I speak for myself (I haven’t read/viewed “Lessons in Laughter” yet). Then AGBell’s recent letter to Pepsi. It proved that when we do not know our history, it is bound to repeat!

    I’m glad that you dug for those and pulled them out of deep mud and put the letters out in open on the internet! Now, the whole world can see those documentations of AGBell’s negative tactics against the signing Deaf community in 1967 and 2008. Now we are on watchful eye on AGBell and this history should NOT repeat!

    Lastly, to the WHOLE WORLD, BELIEVE US NOW! WE ARE NOT PARANOID!

    Way to go, Amy!

  8. Jean Boutcher Says:

    Fellendorf’s use of a word “derstroys” is such un bon mot that historians in the 21st century find very amusing!

  9. Jean Boutcher Says:

    Amy,

    I second, third, fourth, fifth Barb DiGi!

  10. pdurr Says:

    i believe Deaf Heritage also covers this letter from AG Bell association or perhaps it discusses AG Bell Association objecting to the showing of My Third Eye excerpts on TV

    I believe they also objected to other commercials that featured Deaf folks and ASL prior to the Pepsi Co objection

    thank u very very much for securing copies of these documents and sharing them with us via the internet

    i love seeing primary documents because they show us so much of history – i am sad though to see how much the AG Bell Association repeats its anti-ASL campaign

    If u havent read Baynton’s Forbidden Signs – i think u will enjoy it

    amy – thank u for all u do. it really is priceless

    peace

    patti

  11. Brance Long Says:

    Awesome!
    Great work!
    We as the Deaf Community owed you a great debt!

    Thanks!
    Brance

    PS I can picture of you as the Deaf researcher at Ancient Discoveries in History Channel!

  12. LaRonda Says:

    It’s still sad to see how history repeats itself with this organization.

    Your vlog was full of rich information, Amy. Great, always.

    ~ LaRonda

  13. Brian Riley Says:

    The AG Bell stance represented the quintessence of bigotry. Accordingly, the AG Bell representative represented the apotheosis of evil.

    There can be no other reasonable interpretation of those events.

  14. Interpretopia Says:

    Once again Amy, you ROCK! Thanks for bringing this info to our attention.

  15. LS Says:

    As always your blog/vlog rocks!

    *hand-waving*

  16. Lisa C. Says:

    Great job! Thank you!

  17. Jared Evans Says:

    I love how vlogs/blogs bring history to life! Definitely not brought up in a boring context! 🙂

    Good job finding the original documents- your efforts are greatly appreciated.

  18. bridget Says:

    great job !!!! thank you for aharing ABG history us

  19. abcohende Says:

    Everyone,

    Most of the credit from the blog entry goes to Mr. Merv Garretson who kept these documents with great care and graciously gave them to National Association of the Deaf a few days ago.

    Thank you, Mr. Garretson for perserving the historical artifacts and bring them into the light for all of us to read and reflect. Thank you NAD for sharing these documents with me.

    If anyone of you ever come across with some kind of correspondence from Alexander Graham Bell Association of the Deaf with the language as indicated above, it would be beneficial to post information online for all of us to observe, disseminate and interpret the AG Bell Association’s attitude toward to the Deaf community.

    These attitudes and misconceptions need to be stopped.

    We as the Deaf community deserves respect and apology from Alexander Graham Bell Association for their on-going ‘interference’ to any kind of high-profile exposure of American Sign Language.

    I assure you that these examples shown in 1966/1967 and the most recent 2008’s Pepsi letter are NOT the only concrete examples from AG Bell Association.

    There are much more out there undiscovered.

    Alexander Graham Bell Association of the Deaf, it is time for you to stop consciously denying that there are many Deaf adults and children do use sign language and some can listen and talk too.

    No more misconceptions. No more disrespect.

    Mrs. Karen Youdelman and Mr. Alexander T. Graham, you need to apologize to the Deaf community about the Pepsi letter and acknowledge our existence with much respect.

    Thank you for all of your comments and support.

    Amy Cohen Efron

  20. Dianrez Says:

    That was important work, Amy, to bring into view these letters. It has an impact on the uninvolved public that narratives and stories will never match. There is nothing like actual letters signed by the very people involved to bring home the realization that this is a movement born in bigotry.

  21. IamMine Says:

    Great job, Amy, and thanks to Mr. Merv Garretson for saving the important documents!

    And well said, Amy, in your #19 comment!

    We deserve the apology and acknowledgment from AG Bell, namely Mrs. Karen Youdelman and Mr. Alexander T. Graham.

    For years of shame and grief with their ignorance of our existence and language.

    To add to the injury, no respect from them.

    The difficulty of coming forward to apologize and acknowledge us, Karen and Alexander, is nothing compared to the damages you’ve done by sweeping us under the rug.

    Time to own up, AG Bell.

  22. julie rems-smario Says:

    exposed!!! the power of vlogs and blogs are helping us to bridge the generations of audism and expose agb’s bigotry and cruelty. this intergenrational advocacy coming into a full circle gives me goosebumps thanks to our archive keepers like merv and great sleths like you amy! this is only the beginning you all inspire me

  23. Li-Li's mom Says:

    Wow, I have to admit, I’m really shocked. That’s pretty damning evidence of a no-holds-barred bias. I agree with IamMine that an acknowledgement and apology — sort of a ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ approach — needs to be offered for me to feel that AGBell is doing anything but continuing in that same vein, just less overtly — especially given their eerily similar response to the Pepsi ad.

    Cold, hard (and boy, this is both) facts documenting such a thing is the first step in making changes. Really excellent work.

  24. Li-Li's mom Says:

    Wow, I have to admit, I’m really shocked. That’s pretty damning evidence of a no-holds-barred bias. I agree with IamMine that an acknowledgement and apology — sort of a ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ approach — needs to be offered for me to feel that AGBell is doing anything but continuing in that same vein, just less overtly — especially given their eerily similar response to the Pepsi ad.

    Cold, hard (and boy, this is both) facts documenting such a thing is the first step in making changes. Really excellent work.

  25. David Ennis Says:

    I won’t be surprised whenever AGB association will always be fighting to keep the existence of Deaf Culture and ASL away from the knowledge of hearing people.

    I remember vaguely about during the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, Jack Gannon and others were involved in working with the Smithsonian Museum in DC for the exhibition of the Deaf History ( I can’t remember what the title is called ). Unfortunately, when the AGB association found out about the Smithsonian Exhibition plan, they protested against it. Jack Gannon and Smithsonian planners tried to find a compromise with AGB association but it failed.

    I was so sick of the AGBad effectively dashed the great opportunity for the Smithsonian Exhibition that could lead to create the famous Deaf history by opening the eyes of the hearing people on Earth,

    I believe that the Smithsonian Exhibition of the Deaf History is very imporant because the millions of American and International tourists will visit many famous Smithsonian muesums where the one-year exhibitions will be shown every year.

    I don’t understand why the AGBad wants keeping the hearing world in ignorance of the Deaf World and our gracious language which is called AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE.

  26. Jean Boutcher Says:

    David Ennis writes:

    “I remember vaguely about during the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, Jack Gannon and others were involved in working with the Smithsonian Museum in DC for the exhibition of the Deaf History ( I can’t remember what the title is called ). Unfortunately, when the AGB association found out about the Smithsonian Exhibition plan, they protested against it. Jack Gannon and Smithsonian planners tried to find a compromise with AGB association but it failed.”

    Did President I. King Jordan try to reason with
    AGBell? I am sure that were Dr. Davila president
    of Gallaudet in 1980s-1990s, he would twist AGBbell’s
    wrist. In a diplomatic way, he has a way with words.

  27. Paul Says:

    Amy –

    thanks for proving those documents. I knew something was out there. I did see Gallaudet’s archives in basement of library many years ago.

    I was shocked at the wealth of information through the last several hundred years.

    I know now it is time for me to smell flowers. I knew something was wrong when I was a small child. My family were communicating to me in gestures.

    Then the doctor told them to take me to oral school.

    This long journey has ended tonight when you produced those documents proving how biased AG Bell was.

    I found some information that AG Bell stole the telephone invention from an Italian man (Meucci).

    This proved how much lies that AG Bell had been perpetuating for 129 years.

    I can close my final chapter of ” To Be Deaf or Not To Be Deaf” with your discovery of documents shedding light on audism and the cronies.

    One day when we cross our paths, I will certainly give you a BIG hug! You are a hero including others in the advocacy. I cannot believe from the time I suspected something wrong with the picture more than 40 years ago.

    I have many times gotten into trouble, get hated, get backstabbed, lost friends, and more stuff that can break hearts. I always believed in ASL and wanted more out of it.
    I spoke the truth all the way. Oralism is a false facade for audism!

    I can breath easier now that I can use those documents to prove to the local community about the lies that the oral schools are perpetuating.

    After more than 40 years of advocacy and many nights of churning out newsletters, information and many stories to keep educating the public about audism, I am ready to hang my hat real soon.

    I am letting the younger generation be the foot soldiers to fight audism. I can sit back and reminsce (sp?) the old days when older generation tells us about audism ( a word not even coined in those days ).

    I do have question for the great man, Merv Garretson. I remember as young man visiting his office at Gallaudet.

    Why did it take so long to produce proof of audism? I am wondering why the leaders of the past have not somewhat fought harder. I do not know how to say this, but this victory tonight is sweet for the deaf communities around the world.

    I am thanking the man upstairs for this final chapter of audism.

    Amen!

    Paul

  28. ridor9th Says:

    Wowowowow! Thanks for digging this up, Amy! This is such a historic milestone. God bless Merv Garreston!

    R-

  29. Deaf World as Eye See It » Blog Archive » Switched At Birth : Uprising – Deaf Adult’s Commentary Says:

    […] It is not exactly an historical first, since American Sign Language was first portrayed on the mainstream television show in 1967 by NBC’s Experiment on Television featuring National Theater for the Deaf. For more information, you can check this link here. […]

  30. Susan Watts Says:

    Amy, Bless you for doing your comments ever since! Kiss Fist!! .. I really enjoy reading… Now, when I first saw NAD show while I was in senior year of LEXINGTON SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF – oralism! Yikes! I was so amazing by watching the play which was located in Hunter College in the city of New York. Glad it came out strong and show the world ASL is the champ!

  31. Deaf World as Eye See It » Blog Archive » AG Bell Belittles Nyle DiMarco Says:

    […] visit the link I wrote on March 3, […]

  32. Steve C. Baldwin Says:

    Howdy! This is my first time reading “Deaf World as Eye See It ” by Amy Cohen Efron, especially about this hoopla surrounding AGBell’s historically familiar rhetoric against Nyle DiMarco’s expressed mission and goals. I find Efron’s piece more intelligent, clearly expressed and historically interesting with stated facts and documents. If I may, don’t forget Jack Gannon’s pioneering book “Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America” (1981-lst edition): Page 346 talks about the same situation related to the “infamous” telegram. Not the least, thank you for mentioning two authoritative theater history books by Bernard Bragg (“Lessons in Laughter”) and my book (“Pictures in the Air: The Story of the National Theater of the Deaf”). Indeed, we can always learn from the past to understand the present and prepare for the future. Frankly, there are not that many bloggers, hearing or deaf, who justify and substantiate their topics with adequate research, premise and clarification without resorting to annoying emotionality, profound profanity or empty tirades we encounter on a daily basis, courtesy of the inevitable social media.

  33. Amy Says:

    It is indeed a huge honor of you to visit my blog and leaving a comment here! Thank you so much, Mr. Baldwin. You certainly made my day!

  34. Linda Levitan Says:

    What about the letter quoted in “Deaf Heritage” that includes the infamous quotation, “We are opposed to any programming which indicates that the use of the language of signs is inevitable for deaf children or it is anything more than an artificial language, and a foreign one at that, for the deaf of this country,” . . .?

  35. Amy Says:

    These letters that are posted on this page, are copies which was the property of Mervin Garretson who gave to National Association of the Deaf. I received the scanned images from NAD. I am sure that there were several letters been sent and that quotation may be from a different letter.

  36. Linda Levitan Says:

    I have been unable to track down the Fellendorf letter quoted in “Deaf Heritage”,” through the NBC Archives. But thank you for posting Fellendorf’s attacks. As best I can tell,he never issued an apology. Or changed his mind, for that matter. He continued his AGBell advocacy until he plotzed. One of his more recent blog entries was about the miracle of cochlear implants that enabled deaf people to hear, blah blah blah.

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