The Tears of my Great-Grandfather

March 28, 2022

Though dead now about 60 years, my great-grandfather, Howard L. Terry, a deaf-blind poet, novelist, and screenwriter, was crying tears of joy last night.

As many of you know, the Apple TV+ movie, CODA, won best picture, and the deaf actor, Troy Kotsur, won best actor (if you have not seen the movie about a deaf family with a hearing daughter, then watch it asap — it’s *very* good).

CODA made history in two ways last night: it was the first time a streaming service won the big award, and, more importantly, it was the first time the best picture Oscar went to  a movie with a largely deaf cast.

Things were different for the deaf in Hollywood 100 years ago.

When Howard moved to Los Angeles from St. Louis in the early 20th century, he went with hopes that he could become a successful screenwriter.

Hollywood, though, treated him with contempt and ridicule. His screenplays went unread.

Jack London, at the height of his fame, met him once and either could not or did not want to help.

Howard was more successful with his poetry. The Los Angeles Times printed at least one of his poems — a patriotic piece during WWI — on its first page in 1917.

But, as he understood too well and once wrote, “A poet is a thing that starves.” 

His son, my grandfather, Howard Jr., was a CODA (child of deaf adults) who left school early to start making money for his family by selling popcorn on the Santa Monica pier (watch another Oscar-winning film The Sting to see great shots of the pier).

The talented Howard Sr. continued to strive in obscurity, except for the acclaim he received in the deaf community — acclaim, by the way, I learned he *still* has when Gallaudet recently asked my permission to publish his novel, Mickey’s Harvest, which he wrote 100 years ago (photo of cover below).

Born two years after his death, I never met Howard Sr.

Yet, Isaac Beshevis Singer, the 20th century Jewish writer, says our ancestors are with us all the time – we are “living cemeteries” (watch the terrific series Shtisel on Netflix for a very moving portrayal of this).

So, hat tip to Singer, Howard was with me last night. 

I could feel his tears and I could also feel his relief that his seemingly failed efforts in Hollywood 100 years ago were not for naught.


P.S. Council meetings are in two weeks in Chicago. First time we will be in person since fall of 2019! To celebrate, I plan to paint my fingernails Collaborative Gain logo colors. If you are up for joining me with some fun nail coloring of your own, let me know 🙂

P.P.S. Slow Art Day, the global art celebration I founded a decade ago, is this Saturday, April 2. I will be at The Met Cloisters on Saturday at noon. If you are in NY and want to join me, then let me know! 

Mickey's Harvest

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

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