Thursday, August 5, 2010
It's not actually set in Northeast Ohio, but the 1977 TV-movie was shot here. And, during its long absence from DVD, I would hear every year from people wanting to find it. Thankfully, it and the sequel are now available. (The picture here shows the DVD box.) But its acclaim is not based solely on the local flavor. The movie won the Emmy for outstanding special, and received several other nominations.
After the jump, I have included a story Betty Lin-Fisher wrote at the movie's 20th anniversary. I hope to add some more about the making of the movie later.
From the Akron Beacon Journal, Dec. 19, 1997:
Twenty years ago, the then-village of Hudson made its debut in a made-for-TV movie starring Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton.
Parts of the town and specifically Pierce House, the home of Western Reserve Academy's headmaster, were used in ABC's The Gathering, a heartwarming Christmas movie. Nearby Chagrin Falls was also used for some of the outdoor scenes.
The movie ran on the network stations for many years and has also been featured on cable stations. Several Hudson residents were also included in the film.
The Gathering is the story of a 58-year-old New England industrial engineer, Adam Thornton (played by Asner), who learns that he has a terminal illness. Thornton asks his estranged wife (Stapleton) to unite his scattered family for a final Christmas together at the family's house (Pierce House). Asner was starring at the time in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Other actors who starred in the film included Bruce Davison, Gregory Harrison, Stephanie Zimbalist, John Randolph and Veronica Hamel. The movie's director, Randal Kleiser, went on to direct the hit movie Grease the next year.
"It was a very pleasant experience for all of Hudson," said resident Priscilla Graham, who had a speaking part as the wife of Thornton's doctor. "I think people in Hudson were really pleased to have Hudson represented."
Other residents cast in speaking parts included the late John Hubbard as a minister, the late Cynthia Longstreth as the wife of a lawyer and Joe McCarthy as one of the Thornton son's bosses.
Many Western Reserve Academy students and Hudson residents also served as extras and carolers in the movie.
The town was abuzz when the Hollywood actors and crew were filming for nearly a month in February 1977, residents recall. Then-Western Reserve Academy Headmaster Hunter Temple and his family moved out of their house during filming, said Tom Vince, the academy's archivist/historian. Movie crews were looking for a New England-style house large enough to fit a film crew, actors and equipment, Vince said. Pierce House, built as a retirement home for the second president of Western Reserve College, was perfect.
The storefront that is now occupied by Zona Spray Cooking School on North Main Street was converted into a butcher shop where Stapleton's character goes to buy the Christmas goose. In the reflection of the window, the Hudson clock tower can be seen. Private homes in town were also used in the movie.
"It was a big time. Those were the days when Hudson was much more of a 'community' community than it is now. Most of us knew each other and their families and that kind of thing," said Melicent Hubbard, wife of John Hubbard, who died in 1993.
John Hubbard had been active in community theater, but his role as the minister in The Gathering started a new career, his wife said. He went back to school for more training, was in two movies after The Gathering, did a lot of advertising work and was the director of two area playhouses, she said.
Graham said she happened to land a part in the movie because she was in the right place at the right time. She also helped out the movie crews, finding furniture and props from residents needed for the set.
As for her one line in the movie where she offers Stapleton some help in the kitchen, Graham laughs: "Big deal. I had one line. My kids have never let me forget it."
Graham, who preferred not to give her age, said she spent a lot of time on the set of the movie and is in many scenes where she may not be noticeable.
The actors were very pleasant and friendly, Graham said. "They weren't a bit standoffish."
McCarthy played the New York City boss of a Thornton son. The son threatens to ruin the family gathering because he is expected at the boss's party instead.
McCarthy's scene, which was filmed in a downtown Cleveland building, wasn't in the movie originally, he said. It was filmed after most of the actors had left Ohio and the director decided he wanted it added.
"It's a very simple scene," said McCarthy, 78. "It's one of those things where I say, 'Don't go to the refrigerator for a beer or you'll miss me.' "
McCarthy said he thinks the movie, which is full of charm, will "be showing for years to come."