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A Shaky Matter

by Leonard Maltin
April 21, 2014 3:08 PM
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On stage, hands folded, with Quincy Jones at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

People have begun to notice that my left hand is shaking. Out of pride, or stubbornness, I’ve tried to hide it, but I now realize that this was foolish. It all began about a year ago when my left thumb started twitching, and it progressed from there. It’s upsetting to lose control of your body, but the good news is that I don’t have Parkinson’s disease. My neurologist calls it a “benign tremor.” It doesn’t hurt or even affect my ability to type; it’s just frustrating, all the more so because my doctor can’t identify the cause.

There isn’t much to be done about it. I tried one medication that helped, at first, and then stopped working (except for some unfortunate side effects—like lethargy).

When I’m onstage interviewing someone or appearing on television, the best I can do is use my right hand to hold the microphone and try to rest my other hand as unobtrusively as possible. (Since my students at USC watch me lecture every week, and I tend to use my hands when I talk, I told them about the situation at the beginning of the semester. I hope they haven’t found it distracting.) But at the recent TCM Classic Film Festival I know some people were wondering what was wrong.

I want everyone to know that I truly appreciate your concern. The good news is: I’m fine and, God willing, will remain so. Now, on with the show…

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More: Journal, TCM Film Festival, Quincy Jones

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  • Earl | April 23, 2014 10:41 AMReply

    Leonard, I've been a great admirer of your dedication to film for years and have owned many of your annual movie guides. I even E-mailed you a number of times regarding the books 10 years or so ago, and was very impressed that you actually replied to me, and I think actually made some corrections in those yearly guides based on things I pointed out.
    I hope for nothing but the best for you and your family during this time, and I look forward to keep on following your passion and knowledge of cinema.

  • Craig Poorbaugh | April 22, 2014 9:13 PMReply

    Leonard- I also was born in 1950 and know the "terror" of losing body functions and muscle tone. I've had small muscle spasms since my early 20's along with the occasional charley horse upon arising some cold mornings. I think most of that is normal for being raised in the PA mountains of Somerset (Western PA) county. I don't think I can lift 1/2 the weight I used to just 10 or 15 years ago while doing things around our 5 acre one-horse property. ( really - only one horse). Just image Cary Grant looking you in the eye with a slight smile and saying, "Don't worry, Old Chap. It'll likely get worse before it gets better. But it will."

  • Claude Wolf | April 22, 2014 8:53 PMReply

    Hi Leonard, I saw a recent video you posted and was concerned for your health. It is good to read that it is not Parkinsons and I very much hope you will be able to find a cure. Wishing you a complete and speedy recovery and thank you for having the courage to discuss this with us.

  • Steve Chaput | April 22, 2014 7:27 PMReply

    I can sympathize completely, as I have a similar problem with my left hand. It doesn't always happen, but sometimes when holding a cup or glass in that hand the shaking is noticible. My doctor also told me not to be concerned, unless it grows worse.

  • Allen Blank | April 22, 2014 6:28 PMReply

    Glad to hear that it wouldn't cause you to stop doing what you like to do best, watching and talking about movies. I know how much good movies mean to you and am glad to hear that you will be watching and talking about films for many years to come

  • Jeff Heise | April 22, 2014 8:35 AMReply

    So glad it is not Parkinson's-you are too valuable to us both as a person and as a resource. Perhaps it is just a sign that-as all of us will one day realize-one's body starts doing unusual things as one gets older. Knees don't bend as easily as they used to and feet don't get us around as quickly as they did a decade earlier, but they still work, as your hand still does-it just wants to let you know that it is still there and does not want you to forget it!

  • Jaime Wynns | April 22, 2014 5:09 AMReply

    Dear Leonard,
    I enjoyed meeting you at the tech dinner following the TCMCFF. You were delightful. I noticed the tremor, both at dinner and at a couple of interviews, but it never detracted from the focus of what you were saying.
    Both my brother (34) and my Aunt (68) have that same tremor and, while it is frustrating for both of them, I like to think of it like this:
    Some people just have so much awesome, they have to shake a little out from time to time.
    Looking forward to seeing you at next year's festival!

  • Sarahfenix | April 22, 2014 1:44 AMReply

    Thank you for all of your amazing work, your sincere kindness, and the bravery to share your personal health issue with the public. My family and I are praying for your recovery.

  • Rick Allen | April 21, 2014 10:41 PMReply

    Leonard, all of your colleagues and legions of fans send best wishes for a quick and complete recovery.

  • Evan Sennett | April 21, 2014 9:51 PMReply

    Mr. Maltin,

    You treated me with such kindness at the Bogart Festival last year. Talking with you about my filmmaking and all things 16 mm, etc. Please know my family and I are with you in spirit.

    Best, Evan

  • John Nelson | April 21, 2014 8:45 PMReply

    Leonard, I hope you can get some relief from the annoyance of this particular affliction. As someone who has followed your career for over forty years (a subscriber of FFM from the early 1970s), I feel like you are part of my family, not just my I wish you comfort and the ability to live with this for many years to come...

  • Matthew | April 21, 2014 8:23 PMReply

    Stay healthy Mr Maltin. You are the only film critic left whose reviews I read religiously, and use seriously to guess whether I might enjoy a film or not.

  • Donald Yost | April 21, 2014 6:18 PMReply

    My wife has this condition. It's also called essential tremor. It's an idiopathic condition which means the doctors don't know what causes it. Her doctor prescribed Atenolol (which is a beta blocker). Apparently, Atenolol has uses other than just providing help for people with heart problems. She takes three tiny tablets before she is going to be out in public or at dinner where the tremor might be especially noticeable. Maybe this will be of help to you.

  • Jenifer Wald Morgan | April 21, 2014 5:44 PMReply

    I am sorry for your troubles. Here’s to getting a diagnosis that it is nothing major and easily resolved.

  • Walt Mitchell | April 21, 2014 3:46 PMReply

    Hello, Leonard! I am sorry about your mysterious medical problem. At the same time, I am glad that you have seen the light and gotten proper medical attention for it. You are a very special man for all that you do in your profession. Speaking unofficially for all of your fans, I say that we all care about anything that happens to you on the personal side as well as the professional one. This situation seems not to be as bad as it might have been, so we are all at least thankful for that. We all hope that the condition subsides and goes away as mysteriously as it manifested itself in the first place! Be well, my friend!

  • Casey St. Charnez | April 21, 2014 3:44 PMReply

    You're channeling Katharine Hepburn. Stay away from calla lilies, and things may turn out all right.

  • Norm | April 21, 2014 3:37 PMReply

    Not much comfort to help knowing that this is all part of the human conditon, but that being said, I hope they find the cause and overcome it. Few people go through life unscathed by some type of ailment or another.

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