Monday, December 11, 2006

The Year The Gathering was Filmed at WRA

About this time of year, people in Hudson start asking about The Gathering, the Emmy-award winning Christmas classic that was filmed mostly on our campus early in 1977 and then released as a television film in December of that year. It was shown during the Christmas season for many years, but now is hard to find as it was only issued in VHS and has yet to come out in DVD format. The production brought acclaimed film stars Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton to Hudson along with Stephanie Zimbalist and several other young actors. The film was written by Academy-award winner James Poe (They Shoot Horses, Lilies of the Field, other credits) and directed by Randal Kleiser. It originally aired on ABC television.

The story of The Gathering takes place during the Christmas season in a small New England town w
here the Thornton family are attempting a reunion with Adam Thornton, who had left his wife and family to pursue a successful career in business. Now terminally ill, he is invited back to his home to be with his estranged wife and four children, some of whom now have children of their own. Asner was cast as the crusty Adam Thornton while Maureen Stapleton portrayed his forgiving wife, Kate.

WRA's Pierce House had a leading role of its own as the family home, and for the month of February, 1977, Headmaster Hunter M. Temple an
d his family needed to move out while the film crew moved in and did some redecorating to meet the the requirements of the story. Several scenes in the film take place in or just outside Pierce House including the climactic moment when the family is reunited for a Christmas dinner served in the dining room with all participants gathered around the table. It's a heart-wrenching scene in this beloved film.

Another scene shows a
group of carolers gathered outside the door singing in the snow. These carolers included WRA's own Frank Longstreth, Rollin Waite, Robert Pryce, Sue Donnelly, Lee Turner, Janet Stone, Jean Conly and others. Even Hal and Sue Donnelly's dog made an unexpected appearance during the caroling scene, and Ed Asner called him "Spot." Hudson resident John Hubbard, father of Mary Hubbard Black '76, had a speaking role as the family minister. Priscilla Graham, mother of James A. Graham '70, and the late Cynthia Longstreth also had bit parts in the film. While the cast was on campus, they took lunch in Ellsworth Hall, and when the film was completed, Asner and Stapleton gave a memorable school assembly in the Chapel. Only a few photos remain from that event, although we suspect that several alumni have personal photos in their collection of the film stars or of that assembly.

In 1997, I taped a segment about The Gathering for Hudson CableTV and tried to get permission to use a moment or two of clips from the film for our public access station, but Warner Brothers denied the use. Earlier this year, Rob Loos '77 of TLC Entertainment presented the John D. Ong Library with a fresh VHS of The Gathering and its sequel. There is no word about whether the movie will ever appear in DVD.

It would be interesting to hear from WRA alumni who were students on campus the year The Gathering was made.