Every Christmas season, I make time for an annual viewing of movie holiday classics among the multitude of new offerings presented by Lifetime, ABC Family and Hallmark Channel. Many would recognize the classics in my DVD collection – It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, The Apartment. However, I have one favorite standard in my collection that may not be as well-known, The Gathering. For years, I had to be content with watching it on the VHS recording I had made when it aired on PBS over twenty years ago. Last year, it was finally released on DVD and I was able to retire the VHS tape to the recycle bin.
The Gathering was a 1977 TV holiday movie that won the Emmy for Outstanding Special. Edward Asner stars as Adam Thornton, a gruff, stubborn business owner who is separated from his wife and estranged from his four grown-up children. As the movie opens, he has just been informed that he has only weeks to live. He realizes that he needs to rebuild the relationships with his children, so he goes to see his wife, Kate, portrayed by Maureen Stapleton, to get their addresses or some means of communicating with them. Despite his attempt to display normalcy, she instantly realizes that something is wrong and confronts him, forcing him to confess his medical condition. She declares that they together will invite the children back home for a Thornton family Christmas. Will they come and give their father a chance at redemption and reconciliation? Since this is a warm holiday movie, we already know the answer to this, but it goes to the power of the story that we become so emotionally invested in the process.
During my years with Disney ABC, I was fortunate to meet and interact with many well-known actors and television personalities while producing satellite interview tours and interview junkets. It was during one of these satellite tours that I had a chance to meet Ed Asner. I told him that The Gathering was one of my favorite Christmas movies and his first response was “Great script by James Poe.” His comment went to the essence of what makes this movie so great. This was a writer’s vehicle, a well-structured story with wonderful dialogue. It weaves the individual tales of each relationship into a redemptive drama about the rebuilding of a family.