Blind And In Show Business?
The Actor Says Yes!

by Dana Elcar

Copyright © 1995
National Federation of the Blind

          From the Associate Editor: On Friday, July 5, 1991, the television actor Dana Elcar spoke to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. His remarks were one more reminder of how much the philosophy and encouragement of the Federation can do to assist blind people everywhere and in every walk of life. This is the way President Maurer introduced Dana Elcar:

          We met Dana Elcar because of our involvement with the Sally Jesse RaphaČl Show. He came to the National Center for the Blind. We spent close to a day together--talking, working, wondering, planning, dreaming. He is an actor. I am not an actor. I do not know what he does or how he does it. But he is becoming blind, and we in this organization have information that he needs. We can also use the excitement and the talent that he brings. We need each other. To talk about the show business profession and blind people working in it, I introduce to you the actor, director, writer, and producer from Santa Paula, California, Dana Elcar:

          Thank you, President Maurer and everybody on the Board or whoever else made the decision to invite me here to participate in this convention and to be a part of the program. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am finding it one of the most rewarding experiences that I have had in my life, and I thank you.

          Mr. Maurer said that I am losing my sight or going blind. I think that I have to admit that I am blind. I also want to thank you for the sense of support and encouragement and the warm feeling of being with you all and being able to make that statement and also just learning and growing into that blindness. I do not like it, but it is a fact. I appreciate your help and your energy, which have come to me.

          I bring you greetings and warm regards from Henry Winkler and John Rich and from an extremely wonderful, handsome, and powerful young actor named Richard Dean Anderson, who plays McGyver. And from two men named Steve Downing and Michael Greenberg.

          I will very briefly tell you my experience. When I began to lose my eyesight, I was on the show McGyver. We were on our fourth year. The cause was glaucoma. Progressively it was getting worse and worse. I finally had to go to Steve Downing, who was the executive producer and the creative writer at that time, and say, "Steve, I think we're going to have to do something. We have to make Pete Thornton have the same qualities, the same visual abilities that I have, or we're going to run into trouble. I can no longer jump out of helicopters. I can't run down hill at night at a fast pace over logs. It simply will not work."

          So we discussed this, and he thought about it and called me back the next day, and he said, "You know what? This is perfectly natural. Let's do it."

          So they began to write into the character of Pete Thornton a man who had glaucoma and was losing his vision. I want to tell you how proud I am of them for doing that.

          It came as somewhat of a surprise--not truly a surprise, but I was a little tentative about bringing up the subject. I was talking to my daughter, who lives in New York. She is becoming an actress. She also works in a restaurant. She does lots of things. She's now a script supervisor for a television show. She's making her way, and she said, "Dad, there's only one thing you can do. Talk to them and say that you have to be together, that Pete Thornton and Dana Elcar have to have the same visual abilities." And I'm grateful to her for giving me the strength to do that. On the other hand, you hear a lot of things about Hollywood, about how hard it is, how cold it is, how mean it is. And yet there were people there who immediately responded and said, "Of course. That's the obvious thing we have to do. We want you on the program--you are good for the program. The fact that you are losing your eyesight does not mean that you have forgotten how to act."

          So we did that and I am eternally grateful to them. We are at the end of our sixth year. We are on hiatus, and we are starting our seventh year of the show McGyver. We have just concluded a contract agreement with me to proceed into the seventh year. Believe it or not. I don't know how many people have gone before, but I think I am one of the few people who have ever played a blind person on television and have been blind. I may even attempt to play some people who are not blind. And the people whom I am currently working with are willing to make that experiment with me. They want to encourage me. I want to tell you that there are good people out there. There in support of us.

          I want to tell you quickly a little bit about the other things that I do. I am also the artistic director of a small theater in Santa Paula, California. It is small, but it has very high standards. It's a professional-standard theater. My wife is the general manager and publicist. She does a lot of work. We all work together. It's a semi-amateur theater, but it has professional standards. When I began to lose my vision, I thought, "This is going to be another problem. How am I going to do this? I can't even see the stage. How can I possibly choose plays and choose directors and choose designers and then go and judge whether the work is good enough and proceed as the artistic director of this theater?"

          Well, you know, I chose to see if I could do it. And you want to know something? I'm still doing it. From time to time I say to my sighted friends, "Listen. Does that look like I think it looks?" And they either say "Yes" and I say "Great" or they say "No, that's not right." And then I will get up and yell and say, "Hey, wait a minute! This is not working here." And I am the final buck. You understand?

          That has been a great thing for me. One of the things that happened for me in this experience which I think was pivotally important was that I didn't stop doing what I was doing. The people who run Paramount Pictures, the people who are ABC, the people who run the Show McGyver, my own instincts, my daughter's encouragement, my family's encouragement, and I want to tell you, also the crew's encouragement--that is to say, the people who are working on the crew in Vancouver, Canada--were unbelievably staunch. They would not let me fail, and you know how they did it? They simply expected the best of me. I, therefore, expected the best of myself. I could give no less. I am grateful to all of those people and to that experience of not stopping. It is very important to keep going. One of the things I've learned in life is that everybody falls down; falls down! It is important to get back up.

          Yesterday I had lunch with some wonderful people from this organization. Among them, the writer of the book, Walking Alone and Marching Together, Floyd Matson, which is, incidentally, a meaningful and wonderful book; the history of this organization is just overwhelming me. I admitted to them that I was learning how to walk with a cane, be mobile with a cane. But I hadn't successfully done it in places that I wasn't familiar with. This was something that President Maurer had encouraged me to do when I met with him that day that we talked. And I have been taking some lessons. But I hadn't really tried it where I was unfamiliar. So after lunch Floyd said, "Well, I'll walk you to the elevator. You can get it from there--Right?" [Laughter]

          So I said, "You betcha. I'm gonna do that." Now I don't know all are probably aware--but I was not so conclusively aware--that there are two buildings here. So I went up the elevator in the wrong building. I got off at the right floor. I white-caned my way along, and I went for a long way. I did not find the familiar sound of the ice machine or the corner that preceded it, and then I didn't find the little doorways along the way, one of which was going to be mine. I said, "Something is wrong here." Then I got back to the elevator and went down. At one point in the conversation at lunch as I was telling them that I did not know how to do this, one of the people said, "If you were sighted and you didn't know where the other elevators were, what would you do?"

          And I said, "Well, I'd ask."

          So Sharon said to me, "Well, you dummy, ask." And so I did. Then I got to the right elevator, and believe it or not, I made my first trip here at this convention with a white cane. [Applause]

          Thank you very much.

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