Christmas review: The Gathering (1977)

The holidays are usually thought to be about family. But what if some families no longer get along.

The made-for-TV special “The Gathering,” which aired on Dec. 4, 1977, on ABC, takes a look at a man who wants to spend the holiday with his family, fully knowing they may not want to see him.

Ed Asner plays Adam Thornton, a man successful at business but not successful in his personal life. He and his wife are separated, and he hasn’t seen most of his children in several years — and they don’t want to see him either.

He also just found out that he’s dying and running out of time.

Maureen Stapleton plays Kate, his estranged wife, who sets aside her hurt feelings to arrange a homecoming so Adam can have one last Christmas with his family.

Since their parents separated, many of the children don’t want anything to do with their stalwart, business-focused father. They all live across the country and haven’t seen Adam in some time:

  • Tom (Lawrence Pressman) and his wife (Veronica Hamel) live a lavish metropolitan life in New York. Tom, who is hardheaded like his father, tries to be the opposite of him. For example, he insists on a white Christmas tree, because Adam always insisted on green.
  • Peggy (Gail Strickland) is a successful reporter in Washington, DC, whose work drives her life.
  • Julie (Rebecca Balding) is married to George (Bruce Davison), who has been unemployed for several months. Julie loves her parents, but George is bitter towards Adam. He feels that Adam will mock him for his failures and chide him for not joining the family business. Julie has the only two grandchildren, Tiffany and Joey (Maureen and Ronald Readinger).
  • Bud (Gregory Harrison) and Adam had a fight years ago, because Bud disapproved of the Vietnam War. Since then, Bud lives in Canada under various assumed names while he dodges the draft.

Many of the children aren’t interested in coming home for the holidays but also hope that their parents have reconciled. They change their plans and head to the Thornton family home to support their mother.

Maureen Stapleton and Ed Asner in “The Gathering”

Before renting “The Gathering” from DVD Netflix, I heard my parents talk about the film. They recalled watching it on TV when they were first married, and it was a Christmas tradition to watch it for the first few years of their marriage. Once they had children, they drifted away from the film, so it was special to get to watch this film with them. It was the first time either of my parents had revisited the movie in nearly 40 years.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of “The Gathering.” Since I knew the premise was about a dying man wanting to spend one last Christmas with his family, I was worried it would be overly maudlin, or feature lots of shouting and fights (like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or “All in the Family.”)

However,  was pleasantly surprised. The movie is certainly sad, but also rather heartwarming.

There are a few shouting matches, but nothing is overly dramatic. The story focuses more on realizing what’s important. Ed Asner’s character realizes he was a foolish stubborn bull. All of his children, who had also been so bitter and angry about their family for so many years, remembered how much they enjoy being together.

While you know Adam’s time is brief, you also know that everyone found piece and comfort. Only one child understands that he is losing a father, and it’s never spoken to the family.

Thankfully, the end of the story isn’t this abrupt, pie-in-the-sky ending. The cracks in the relationships are still there, but the holiday brought everyone closer and helped them relive old times. It shows that the holidays can be hard, but there is a way to make peace and enjoy your time together, especially when time is running out.

While the film has a somber tone, it also feels cozy and homey. As Adam and Kate set aside their differences and prepare the home for a holiday reunion, it reminded me of Christmases gone-by —maybe had by myself as a child or what my parents experienced growing up.

Adam rewires the electricity of an old dollhouse for a grandchild and repaints an old toy train. He hammers together a Christmas tree stand and puzzles over tree lights that won’t work. Kate goes through old ornaments, and the separated couple decorates the evergreen tree together.

Their cheerful and nostalgic Christmas preparation scenes also serve as a stark contrast to how their children live now. The scenes almost serve as a “now vs. then” way of storytelling: Adam and Kate preparing to relive their homespun holidays of the past, and their four children muddling through their chaotic and complicated adult lives.

To add to the homey setting, “The Gathering” was filmed in Chagrin Falls and Hudson, Ohio in February 1977. The film opens showing the town decorated for the holidays with colored lights, bright store windows and the streets and houses coated with snow.

Composer John Barry, known for his James Bond themes, scored “The Gathering” with both a lilting but somber sound. The score is filled with harpsicords, flutes, strings and piano.

Randal Kleiser, who also directed the made-for-TV film “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” (1976) and “Grease” (1978), directed the film. “The Gathering” was also one of the few live-action films produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, known for their cartoons like “Yogi Bear.”

Where some made-for-TV shows and films of this era sometimes try to sucker punch you with hard emotion, “The Gathering” is subtle. This is probably largely due to Asner and Stapleton in the lead roles, who are fantastic actors and make the setting and relationships feel believable.

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“Holiday Affair” (1949) and interview with Gordon Gebert

After Robert Mitchum was released from jail for marijuana possession, his studio was looking to clean up his image. The answer was a romantic holiday comedy, “Holiday Affair” (1949).

“At this time Robert Mitchum was operating under the cloud. The head of the studio was eager to clean up his image with this film,” said former child actor Gordon Gebert at a recent screening of the film in Yadkinville, NC.

The film “Holiday Affair” (1949) revolves around war widow Connie, played by Janet Leigh, who lives with her son Timmy, played by Gebert. Connie has dated her boyfriend Carl, played by Wendell Corey, for two years. Carl is secure, reliable and has a steady job, but while Connie likes him, she ducks the discussion of marriage.

Then Connie meets a stranger, Steve, played by Robert Mitchum, who is a store clerk she gets fired. While they never plan on it, the two continuously run into each other, making it hard to forget the other.

Outside of the romantic triangle, the film also focuses on what post-war widows most likely faced: How do you move on from your husband who was killed in war?

Connie hasn’t and tries to honor her husband’s memory every day. She lives a quiet life with her son who she calls the man of the house. Connie tells him frequently that he looks like his father and tries to part his hair in the same way that her husband wore his. She hasn’t allowed herself to fall in love again, because she doesn’t want to be unfaithful to the memory of her first marriage.

Robert Mitchum’s character forces Janet Leigh to face a truth she has been hiding from. Leigh’s character is flustered both by her feelings and by the harsh reality quoted to her by Mitchum.

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Christmas on Film: The Cheaters (1945)

Last Christmas, I was wrapping presents and watching made-for-TV Christmas movies on YouTube when — after finishing Susan Lucci’s Christmas Carol — a film began autoplaying.

I was excited to find a new-to-me classic Christmas film (which I have previously palmentioned can be hard to find).

“The Cheaters” (1945) most likely won’t be added to my mandatory list of Christmas season viewing, but it’s a fairly enjoyable film.

Wealthy James C. Pidgeon (Eugene Pallette) is about to go bankrupt while his wife Clara (Billie Burke), children (Ann Gillis, Ruth Terry, David Holt), and brother-in-law (Raymond Walburn) are all still happily living off what little money he has left.

To top off the financial issues, Pidgeon’s daughter Theresa (Terry) demands that the family invites a charity case to their home for Christmas. She wants to impress her soldier boyfriend, Stephen (Robert Livingston) because his mother always invites a charity case for Christmas.

For their charity case, the family selects Anthony Marchaund (Joseph Schildkraut), a has-been actor who was injured in a car wreck at the height of his career. He now drinks too much and walks with a limp.

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Musical Monday: Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Lemon Drop Kid” –Musical #515

Poster - Lemon Drop Kid, The (1951)_02

Paramount Pictures

Sidney Lanfield, Frank Tashlin (uncredited)

Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, Jane Darwell, Andrea King, Fred Clark, William Frawley

Swindler Sidney Milburn (Hope), known as the Lemon Drop Kid, gives a notorious gangster a bad tip on a horse in Florida, ending in a $10,000 debt. The Kid has to come up with the money by Christmas Eve, or else. So he sets back to New York City to ask his friends and girlfriend Brainy (Maxwell) for money. The Kid’s elderly friend Nellie (Jane Darwell) can’t get into an elderly woman’s home. The Kid and his mob set up an old lady’s home in an old gambling parlor and starts a street corner donation Santa Claus racket with his mobster friends to with a guise that they are funding an elderly woman’s home–he really plans to use the money for his debts.

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Christmas Musical Monday: “Holiday Inn” (1942)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

holiday inn posterThis week’s musical:
Holiday Inn” (1942) –Musical #22

Paramount Pictures

Mark Sandrich

Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers

Singer Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and dancer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) are both in love with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale). When Lila jilts Jim for Ted, Jim decides to quit show business and live on a farm.Jim ends up converting his farm into a nightclub and hotel called the Holiday Inn which is only opened during the 15 holidays of the year.
When Jim meets Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), she agrees to appear in his shows at the inn, and the two fall in love. However, Jim works to keep Linda from meeting Ted -who was also jilted by Lila-so he doesn’t steal her for an act and her heart.
Holidays and their songs include:
Christmas (twice)-  “White Christmas”
New Years (twice) -“Happy Holidays” and “Let’s Start the New Year Right”
Valentines Day- “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”
Abraham’s Birthday: “Abraham”
Washington’s Birthday: “I Can’t Tell a Lie”
Easter: “Easter Parade”
Fourth of July: “Song of Freedom” and “Let’s Say it with Fireworks”
-Thanksgiving- “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For”

-The hotel chain Holiday Inn was inspired by the title of this film, according to the hotel founder Kemmons Wilson’s New York times obituary.
-This film introduced the song “White Christmas.” Irving Berlin thought of the song “White Christmas” in 1935 on the set of “Top Hat” and wanted to use it for a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film. Astaire liked the tune but it was never used until their film. Irving Berlin and Moss Hart worked and copyrighted the idea for a musical revue revolving around tunes for each holiday, according to “The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin” by Robert Kimball and Linda Emmett.

– Irving Berlin had a hard time writing the Christmas song “White Christmas” since he was Jewish. He ran the song by Bing Crosby, who thought it would be great, according to “Christmas’s Most Wanted” by Kevin Cuddihy.

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds (dubbed by Martha Mears) sing "White Christmas" at the end of the film.

Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds (dubbed by Martha Mears) sing “White Christmas” which became a hit due to this film.

-The film originally was supposed include a dance number for Labor Day.

-The original version of the song “White Christmas” talked about basking in Los Angeles and longing for an old fashioned Christmas in New England. But the version we know now is more nostalgic, discussing a Christmas that a person won’t experience first hand-much like the soldiers fighting over seas during World War II, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America.”

-Mary Martin turned down the role of Linda played by Marjorie Reynolds because she was pregnant, according to her autobiography.

-Fred Astaire’s shoes he danced in during the Firecracker routine were auctioned off for $116,000 that went towards the war effort.

-The popularity of the song “White Christmas” created the spin off film “White Christmas” (1954) also starring Bing Crosby and co-starring Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, according to the book “Christmas’s Most Wanted.”

-Fred Astaire was the first choice for the Danny Kaye Role in “White Christmas” (1954) to be a reunion after “Holiday Inn,” but Astaire turned down the role, according to the “Christmas Encyclopedia” by William D. Crump

-Paramount Pictures did not market this film as a Christmas movie since it covers many other holidays, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America” by William and Nancy Young.

Fred Astaire in firecracker number for the Fourth of July.

Fred Astaire in firecracker number for the Fourth of July.

-The Fourth of July number was expanded and made more patriotic after the bombing of Pearl Harbor; including the song “Song of Freedom,” “Let’s Say it with Firecrackers” and a movie reel of war workers and soldiers marching.

-Paramount thought “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” would be the hit from the film. Though it made the Hit Parade first with Tommy Dorsey’s Band, “White Christmas” was the true hit, according to “World War II and the Postwar Years in America.”

-Won an Academy Award for Best Original Song- “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score by Robert Emmett Dolan and Best Original Story by Irving Berlin.

-Marjorie Reynolds is dubbed by Martha Mears.


Fred Astaire dances with Marjorie Reynolds during the New Years scene where he took drinks of bourbon before each take.

Fred Astaire dances with Marjorie Reynolds during the New Years scene where he took drinks of bourbon before each take.

-Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby imitate each other in the number “I’ll Capture Your Heart Singing.” 
-Fred Astaire’s drunken New Years Eve dance. Supposedly Astaire had a drink of bourbon before each take-it took seven-to appear drunk in the scene.
-Fred Astaire’s “Say it With Fireworks” dance for the Fourth of July number where he throws down fireworks while he taps.
-The cartoon turkey on the calendar that runs between the dates for Thanksgiving Day. This is referring to “Franksgiving,” a controversy that occurred during the Roosevelt administration. President Roosevelt wanted to make Thanksgiving a week earlier.


Notable Songs: 
Since the music is by Irving Berlin, all of the songs are fantastic. The top songs include:
-“White Christmas” sung by Bing Crosby. This is the most famous song in the movie. The version sung by Cosby in the movie is the one you hear most on the radio.
-“You’re Easy to Dance With” sung and danced by Fred Astaire and Virginia Dale
-“I Can’t Tell a Life” sung by Fred Astaire for Washington’s Birthday dressed in period clothing.
-“Easter Parade” sung by Bing Crosby to Marjorie Reynolds for the Easter portion.

My Review:
When I first saw this movie several years ago, I didn’t like it.
I thought Fred Astaire was a bit of a heel and had no redeeming features. However, as I rewatch it, I see both men are heels at different points in the movie.
Characters aside- the thing that stands out the most is the music-all revolving around holidays. Irving Berlin’s songs written for each holiday are catchy and clever.
Fred Astaire also is able to show off his dancing abilities both with partners and in solo numbers. Bing Crosby has an excellent score and sings the song he is most remembered for.
“Holiday Inn” is an interesting topic for a film and is musically beautiful.
If you are looking for a Christmas movie, it doesn’t completely revolve around the holiday (but Christmas is in the film three times) and introduced one of the most loved holiday songs.

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale

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Christmas wishes from Comet, Judge Hardy and a dachshund

Merry Christmas from Comet Over Hollywood!!

Here is a Christmas greeting from my dachshund, Molly, and me.

Here is another heartwarming family Christmas wish from the Hardy family. This video was made in 1938 holiday season and I think it went along with “Love Finds Andy Hardy” (1938)-my favorite Andy Hardy movie.

I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday weekend with family and friends. Thank you all so much for reading Comet Over Hollywood. Stop by and relax after the holidays and we will continue to have more classic film fun!

Merry Christmas and best wishes,

Jessica Noelle Pickens

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Island of misfit Christmas movies


Stanyck, Bondi, MacMurray, Patterson and Holloway in “Remember the Night”: My favorite Christmas movie

Tis the season for Christmas posts. For these last five days before Christmas, I’m going to try to post several posts. Probably not every day, but at least throughout the week.

This post deals with two things my family and I love combined together: Christmas and movies.

For at least the past 22 years, it’s a Christmas family tradition for us to watch “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964), “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) and “A Garfield Christmas” (1987) on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Of course we also watch classic holiday films such as “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), “White Christmas” (1954), “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946); just to name a few.

But instead of doing a worn out review of all of these wonderful classic films, I want to highlight some holiday films that are sometimes forgotten by the general public:


Rogers and Niven celebrating the New Year in “Bachelor Mother”

Bachelor Mother (1939):

I always forget this is a Christmas movie and I bet you do too. Polly Parish (Ginger Rogers) is working as a sales girl in a department store during the Christmas holidays. One day she finds a baby on the steps outside an orphange and picks it up before it rolls down the stairs. No one believes that it isn’t her’s and she is forced to take it home.  The store owner, J.B. Merlin (Charles Cobern) and his son David (David Niven) make sure that Polly doesn’t get rid of her baby, all during the Christmas season. To review: I love movies with babies and this is a very funny movie. My favorite part is when Rogers and Niven go out to celebrate the New Year.

Beyond Christmas (original title: Beyond Tomorrow) (1940): Last year, I had my mother tape this movie and we randomly watched it in the middle of the summer. This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. The movie stars Harry Carry, C. Aubrey Smith and Charles Winninger as three old bachelors who live together. Every Christmas they drink their Tom and Jerry’s and do nothing more.  But this year, the men decided to invite strangers off the street for Christmas dinner. The strangers (Jean Parker and Richard Carlson) eventually fall in love. The three old men die shortly after Christmas in a plane accident, but their ghosts help bring the couple together and work through rough times.  To review: It’s a really heartwarming, cute film. The whole thing might not take place during Christmas, but it reflects the spirit of Christmas.

 It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947): I only just saw this movie last Christmas and think it is really charming. McKeever the hobo (Victor Moore) lives in wealthy folks mansions when he knows they are away in another home. He invites recently evicted Jim Bullock (Don DeFore) and Bullock’s homeless army buddies to stay in millionaire Jim O’Connors (Charles Ruggles) mansion for the Christmas season. O’Connor and his daughter and ex-wife (Gail Storm and Ann Harding) come back to their mansion after family problems and live amongst the homeless folks, never telling them their real identity. To review: Its a really cute movie and also rather funny. Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding are perfect in it, and Victor Moore always plays the best absent-minded characters.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938): Mickey Rooney usually drives me bananas, but I really enjoy the Andy Hardy movies and this is my favorite.  Christmas doesn’t come without crisis for the Hardy family.  Mom Hardy has to go take care of sick grandma and Andy is swamped with girls:
– Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford) is going away for the holidays leaving Andy without a date for the Christmas dance
– Andy Hardy agrees to take Beezy’s girl, Cynthia Potter, (Lana Turner) to a dance to discourage other dates
-Betsy Jenkins (Judy Garland) comes back to Carvel a grown up woman.
All the women causes a lot of confusion and crazy Mickey Rooney moments.  The Hardy’s are worried mom won’t be able to come home for Christmas, but in the end it all works out. Andy gets his date to the dance, Betsy sings and mom makes it home on Christmas Eve. To Review: It’s a really cute movie, and a chance to see Judy Garland treated like a young woman rather than a child. It’s also fun to see three of Andy’s love interests all in one movie.

Remember the Night (1940): A couple of years ago, Turner Classic Movies premiered this Preston Sturges film. With the release of the DVD last year, it’s gaining popularity, but still isn’t up to par with other Christmas classics. Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) steals an expensive diamond bracelet and is on trial only a few days before Christmas. Prosecuting lawyer John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) postpones the trial until after Christmas, since it is hard to get a jury to convict someone as guilty before Christmas. John hates to see Lee spend Christmas in jail so offers to for her to stay with his mother (Beulah Bondi), aunt (Elizabeth Patterson) and farm hand (Sterling Holloway) in Indiana.  To review: This is my favorite Christmas movie. The two old women together bickering is adorable, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck have fantastic chemistry and Sterling Holloway offers a lot of comic relief.

Hattie McDaniel putting the presents under the tree that General Hilton sent to her in “Since You Went Away”

Since You Went Away(1944): 

This is a World War II movie that takes place on the American home front. The film follows a year with the Hilton family: Ann (Claudette Colbert), Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Brig (Shirley Temple) as they struggle with their father away at war, rationing and taking in boarders. The whole movie isn’t a Christmas movie, only at the very end. The family has a Christmas party with friends and a few soldiers. They play games and try to forget that their father isn’t there to join in the fun and some loved ones were killed in the war. But in the end, they get the best Christmas present they could ever ask for. To review: This is sort of like “Meet Me in St. Louis”: The whole thing isn’t a Christmas movie, but can be considered a Christmas movie. It’s one of my all time favorite films. I think that it really shows the true Christmas spirit and what is imporant at Christmas: family.

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