Actors Aid TRIPOD, Tracy Clinic

It's a little-known fact--the largest private deaf education organizations in Los Angeles are really twins, oddly separated at birth.

Although the John Tracy Clinic, founded in 1942, is certainly older than TRIPOD, both organizations were founded to educate the deaf, but they part ways on how best to do that.

Both have courted and won the hearts of Hollywood in terms of monetary support.

John Tracy, born deaf to actor Spencer Tracy and his wife, Louise, provided the impetus to create the Los Angeles-based John Tracy Clinic. Jacob Shamberg, born deaf to Megan Williams and Michael Shamberg, producer of such films as "The Big Chill" and "A Fish Called Wanda," spurred the couple to create TRIPOD.

While the Tracy clinic was initially fueled by old Hollywood money to build its reported $22-million endowment, TRIPOD, partly through the help of Shamberg's Rolodex, has attracted the industry's new money.

The Tracy Clinic relies on such Hollywood mainstays as Charlton Heston, Carol Burnett, John Forsythe and a mention in Cary Grant's will. TRIPOD has gotten donations from Jack Nicholson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Marlee Matlin, Glenn Close and Chevy Chase, to list a few. Actress Louise Fletcher, born to deaf parents, helped round up most of the Hollywood crowd and is head of a TRIPOD celebrity support group.

And according to a recent US magazine article, Kevin and Cindy Costner's favorite charity is TRIPOD.

Walt Disney, a member of John Tracy Clinic's founding board of directors, pumped considerable cash into the Tracy Clinic--even years after his death, through his company's earnings.

Today, Disney Senior Vice President Joe Shapiro, friend of Williams and Shamberg, is one of the founding directors and still sits on the TRIPOD board. Others on the board include photographer Mary Lloyd Estrin; Mary Ellen Zemeckis, wife of director Bob Zemeckis; clothing moguls Barry Sacks, Robert Salka and Neil Breton, and deaf actress Linda Bove, who often appears on "Sesame Street."

While the Tracy Clinic relied on benefits connected with a slew of Spencer Tracy films from the '50s and '60s, TRIPOD has benefited from world and Los Angeles premieres of such films as "Dances With Wolves," "Back to the Future II," "A Fish Called Wanda," "Baby Boom," "The River" and "The Big Chill."

Williams said the entertainment industry has been "very good to us," adding that TRIPOD's annual budget has accelerated from nothing to $700,000 in eight years.

TRIPOD has captioned 10 feature films for distribution to deaf agencies nationwide, one with the help of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. A TRIPOD-produced "Language Says It All" documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1988. The organization also produces other instructional videotapes for parents.

The two organizations even have executive directors with remarkably similar backgrounds.

Tracy Clinic's James Garrity and TRIPOD's Carl Kirchner were both born in Johnstown, Pa., went to opposing Johnstown high schools and are the same age. They were strangers until entering the deaf education field and taking up their respective posts in Los Angeles.

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