Jan./Feb. '99
Bad advice
"In Robert Rossen's classic film The Hustler, a physical defect symbolizes an aspect of character. The girl played by Piper Laurie is a cripple; she walks with a limp. She is also an emotional cripple; she drinks too much, has no sense of aim or purpose in life. The physical limp underscores her emotional qualities--visually."

"Form your characters by creating a character biography, then reveal them by their actions, and possibly physical traits." Advice from Syd Field in his book Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting. (MFJ Books/ Fine Communications, Two Lincoln Square, 60 West 66th St., New York, NY 10023).

The dust jacket calls Field's book "the definitive approach to screenwriting of this generation, the outstanding guidebook in the field, and a classic of professional instruction."

More of Field's advice: "Creating a character is a process, and until you've done it, and experienced it, you're more likely to stumble around awkwardly like a blind man in a fog."

It's about money, of course
"It's not about me. It's not about that I'm now wheelchair-bound. It's about Molly's childhood." Forty-four-year-old Patricia Burns, described as having a "life dominated by crippling multiple sclerosis" speaking in court in her lawsuit seeking $1.6 million in damages from doctors for failing to detect her pregnancy in time for an abortion.

"She sobbed when asked to detail her own day and its physical challenges, and declined. 'It's too hard. It's a struggle,'" wrote Hartford Courant reporter Lynn Tuohy in her Nov. 4 story, "Court Hears 'Wrongful Birth' Case."

Tuohy reports that "The handful of states that permit recovery of damages for 'wrongful conception' have done so in cases involving children born with mental or physical disabilities, and usually in cases involving medical negligence linked to a procedure--such as a botched abortion or sterilization."

Burns loves her now five-year-old daughter, said her attorney, but "filed a claim against the defendant because the negligent care and advice which she received has placed her in the untenable position of trying to raise a child without the physical or emotional strength needed to properly do so." Right. And because she saw a way to get some money. "I can't get her to Girl Scouts, to ballet, to soccer. Just because I'm disabled, she shouldn't be disallowed that," Burns reportedly told the court.

"If Patricia Burns prevails in her appeal before the Connecticut Supreme Court," wrote Tuohy, "the decision would be the first victory in her legal odyssey to recover damages for the birth of a healthy child, and could be precedent-setting."

Blaming the victim
Kelly Dillery, 30, who has muscular dystrophy, could be fined $1,000 and given six months in jail if convicted on the charge of "child endangering." Dillery was charged in November by Sandusky, Ohio police for driving her motorized wheelchair in the street with her 4-year-old daughter strapped onto her lap. Dillery was forced onto the street, said news reports, because of a lack of curb ramps on sidewalks. Police said she was too low for motorists to see.


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