Friedlander Lives On Through Her Books

by Kevin Burton

    A familiar and beloved voice has been silenced, yet her voice lives on.

   Public law 89-522 is the law under which copyrighted books can be read on tape and distributed for the benefit of blind readers. I am one of those blind readers.

   The earliest voice I can remember bringing me stories that placed me in a larger world and opened my imagination was that of Mitzi Friedlander. She died Aug. 11 at the age of 91.

   She read a lot of children’s books, among the more than 1,100 she put on tape, that I found in a talking books database recently.

   As I grew up and started reading other things I heard her voice less, but when I hear her to this day, that voice is unmistakable. 

   Think of your favorite radio baseball broadcaster and imagine that voice was with you all year round. 

   “Mitzi was a performer (actress and singer), narrator of Talking Books, social activist, teacher, mentor and friend to many across Louisville,” reads her obituary in the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Her light brightened many rooms and lives. She loved big parties with friends, especially the legendary Friedlander Christmas parties.”

   The Talking Books program is one of the few perks of being blind.  The convenience of having books sent right to you is exceeded now by being able to get them from a website. No waiting at all.

   Hearing the work of the best writers helped me become a better writer. The books and magazines have also been a huge source of information and entertainment.

   Talking books are the reason my television is almost never turned on.  The content is so much more elevated.  It’s like getting your meals from a skilled chef, as opposed to absorbing fast food.

   Of course a lot of drivel has been recorded on talking book too, but there aren’t international corporations attempting to force feed you that.

   The Talking Books program is administered by the Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The service provides recorded literature to half a million Americans. The books are prepared by the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville.

   Friedlander had the voice of a mother or a favorite librarian. When she spoke, she took you away from your world and transported you to the lands the author had created.

   In a television interview she called the challenge of capturing the author’s intent, “not easy, but a joy.”  She said she heard from a lot of listeners. She said one blind person even made her a quilt to thank her.

   Friedlander never heard from me, but she did reach me.

   “Mitzi Friedlander has recorded more titles for the National Library Service than any other Talking Book narrator in history,” reads a passage from the American Printing House for the Blind website.

   “She is a former singer whose first performance was at the age of twenty-two, when she played Madam Flora in The Medium for the Kentucky Opera Association. Born in Louisville, Mitzi sang in countless operas and musicals, and acted in numerous plays. She says she is “almost conversant” in French and has sung a lot in Italian and German.

   “Mitzi began reading for APH about 1960. She received the Alexander Scourby Award for nonfiction in 1993.”

   “A well-known figure in Louisville’s theatrical world, Mitzi earned the first Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts given by the University of Louisville,” wrote Talking Books Library News on the occasion of her 2015 retirement ceremony. “She has performed with the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, the Louisville Ballet, the Kentucky Opera Association and the Louisville Children’s Theatre.”

   Friedlander also taught theater arts at the University of Louisville and at Indiana University Southeast.

   I plan to listen to a few of her books soon. I will likely mix in some fiction and titles I wouldn’t go for ordinarily, just to hear that voice again.

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