Yet Another Journal

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» Sunday, December 27, 2015
Of Addie and Additudes
I periodically do searches on subjects and people that I like, and as always after my annual watch of The House Without a Christmas Tree I did a search on that topic and found a link in Google Books to a memoir by Alan Shayne, the producer of the special, who was in a relationship with Norman Sunshine (who did the evocative collages between the commercial breaks) for many years. In the following portion of the book, Shayne talks about how the story was conceived and filmed, and just a little bit about the sequels.

Read here, starting at the final paragraph on the first page through the end of the chapter, then come back, but prepare for spoilers or wander on.

I found the entire process fascinating, especially how Gail Rock's history was mined from her memories, but that the pivotal event of the story, the absence of the Christmas tree, happened [spoilers follow!] 
simply because Rock's dad was stingy, and that they took this banal fact and turned it into an emotionally-charged examination of grief and how it can overwhelm someone. The script is so wonderfully sensitive about this: how James Mills draws away from his daughter as she grows older because she looks and sounds so much like the woman he loved so deeply, that he realizes every time he looks at her that after her mother died he wished his baby daughter had died instead and then feels guilty because this is the baby they wanted so much and so loved and who is her mother's child. And Jason Robards takes this beautiful role and runs with it so perfectly that at the same time you are angry at him for rejecting this smart, spunky little girl who still sticks up for him you cannot really hate him because you know that behind the anger something is wrong, something is tearing him up inside, and it's not parsimony or disinterest, it's something deeper. There are tiny hints all through the story that inside he really does love her (like leaving a cupcake for her out of his lunch every day), but it's all subtly and masterfully done.

And Addie is a brilliant character. I can't even express how much I love this kid. Oh, she's bossy and opinionated, but that's part of her charm. She's a real kid, not the stereotyped television cutesy little girl character who lisps and/or says cute stuff and/or gets off on party dresses and adorable animals. She's definitive about what she wants to do in the future, she loves school, and she's strong enough that she hasn't let her father's muffled grief cow her. Under all that bossy and bravado is someone who wants to be loved, someone who has a sense of fair play and generosity. The moment she realizes the Christmas tree has hurt her father, she gets it out of the house and transfers it to the one family who really does need it, the Cotts, and presents it in a way that does not look like "charity" since she has no wish to hurt someone else.

So it was a bit of a shock reading the excerpt and hearing Shayne state that he was setting up the final special Addie and the King of Hearts as a pilot for possible series, commenting "In our drama, Addie grows up enough to shed her glasses and put on a pretty dress. She even gets the boy friend she always wanted." Ironically, Hearts was the worst of the four specials, and it seems even the cast knows it judging by Jason Robards' lackluster performance. It's cliche-ridden from the start: Addie develops a crush on a teacher. The rest of it is by the numbers; I mean, who didn't figure out she was headed for a fall? Certainly the teacher wasn't going to swoon over her in return! The Addie of House and of Thanksgiving Treasure and, in a small way, Easter Promise, is a precious creature for television drama, a gem of the first water in a sea of rhinestone. In Hearts she simply turns into another lovesick teenager. Plus—she never did "want" a boy friend; she dreamed of going off to Paris to be an artist—part of the reason she falls for the teacher is that he loves art and speaks French. I simply don't get how Shayne could be a part of the creation of this rara avis and still not understand her enough to think that giving Addie "a pretty dress" and "a boy friend" was somehow a positive thing. I now understand why I never really liked Addie and the King of Hearts, because I prefer to think that Addie remained Thoreau's "different drummer" throughout her life and didn't succumb to traditional fancies and gender stereotypes. If it was the starting base for a series, I'm glad it never got made.

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