The House Without a Christmas Tree

The House Without a Christmas Tree is a 1972 television movie, novelized into a children's book by Gail Rock in 1974,[1] that centers on the relationship between Adelaide "Addie" Mills (Lisa Lucas), a bright and energetic only child, and her melancholy father, James Addison Mills III (Jason Robards). James had never recovered from the death of his wife Helen (Addie's mother), and is bitterly against ever having a Christmas tree in the house. The videotaped production was seen regularly on CBS during the holiday season between 1972 and 1977.[2]

Plot synopsis

In fictional Clear River, Nebraska in 1946, 10-year-old Addie Mills is a lonely child behind her large horn-rimmed glasses, living in a plain, ordinary house with her widowed father James and her loving grandmother.

Her mother had died shortly after she was born, and her embittered father wonders why his beloved wife had to die rather than their tiny and sickly baby. Nonetheless, her first name is taken from her father's middle name, but his only interaction with Addie seems to be in frequent corrections of her. There has never been a Christmas tree in the Mills "home" since his wife's death, although Addie constantly challenges this omission.

Finally, Addie wins her class Christmas tree in a school contest - won using a guessing technique learned from her father — and brings it home for her first Christmas with a tree. James promptly orders the tree to be removed. His mother speaks up, reminding him that the house belongs to her; he responds by threatening to take Addie and clear out, leaving her alone in the house. In the middle of the night Addie sneaks out, removes the tree and delivers it to the only one of her classmates who also goes treeless at Christmas: because their family is too large and poor to afford one, they would be thrilled to finally have a tree.

At last James realizes just how selfish and emotionally distant he has been towards his daughter, rethinks his position and comes home with a tree and several boxes of ornaments — except a star. James goes up to the attic and brings down just such a star as he had not brought home, much more magnificently-made than the one Addie had made for her prize tree, out of tinfoil that "everybody" saved and collected back in his day, such as from chewing-gum wrappers. When Addie admires the star her father reveals that her mother crafted it especially for her much-longed-for first baby's first Christmas. Then he lifts Addie up and they place her star on the tree.

Finally, it seems that the father-daughter relationship is blossoming. An adult Addie narrates that her dear grandmother has died and she has moved to the big city, but returns every year for Christmas with her father, who always has a Christmas tree ready for her to hang her star on.[3]

Characters

Production

Originally shown on CBS on December 3, 1972, this movie was actually a very low-budget film produced on videotape. John J. O'Connor, the television critic for The New York Times, highly praised the program. In his review, O'Connor observed that "what could have been cloyingly sticky was kept, in an unusually sensitive script by Eleanor Perry, gently perceptive. For one thing, the characterization of Addie did not fall into the Sunnybrook Farm mold typical of most little girls on TV. This one, wearing glasses, made no apologies for being a precocious Miss Know‐It‐All. For another, Paul Bogart's direction was intelligent, helped considerably by fine performances from Jason Roberts as the father, Lisa Lucas as Addie and, especially, Mildred Natwick as the grandmother." He summed up his critique by saying "C.B.S. would seem to have another Christmas perennial on its hands." (The New York Times article "TV: 'Tis The Season for Family Entertainment" by John J. O'Connor - December 6, 1972, p. 95). As a result of its critical acclaim and high ratings, the program was repeated several times in the 1970s, on CBS, during the holiday season. The following year, a sequel was presented over the CBS Television Network on November 18, 1973. The special, entitled "The Thanksgiving Treasure" featured essentially the same cast with the exception of guest star character actor Barnard Hughes as James Mills's nemesis Walter Renquist and Frannie Michel (who replaced Alexa Kenin as Addie's best friend).

Once again, John J. O'Connor of The New York Times was quite impressed with the program. In his review, he wrote "this time around, Addie took her classroom Thanksgiving lesson seriously enough to attempt friendship with one of her father's old enemies, an elderly misanthrope living as a recluse on a nearby farm. After a slow beginning, dawdling too long around school scenes, the hour settled effectively and touchingly on the central relationship of the story. Again, the acting — particularly by the remarkable Miss Lucas — was fine, the photography excellent and the graphics, used as 'bridges' between scenes, were superb." (The New York Times article - "TV: The Holiday Menu" by John J. O'Connor - November 23, 1973, p. 72). It, too, was rebroadcast a few times during the 1970s. After that, two more sequels were produced - The Easter Promise, presented on March 29, 1975 over the CBS Television Network featured guest star actress Jean Simmons and Addie and The King of Hearts broadcast on CBS on February 25, 1976, in which the guest stars were Diane Ladd and Richard Hatch. By this time, however, the annual series had run its course and no further installments were produced. In 1991, The House Without A Christmas Tree was released on VHS, and then on DVD in 2007.[4]

Each act of the story featured collages that opened and closed it between commercial breaks. The collage artist who assembled these for the story, Norman Sunshine, won an Emmy Award for them. He later assembled other collages for The Thanksgiving Treasure.[5]

It was filmed in Uxbridge, Ontario, mainly at the corner of Peel Street and Victoria Drive, where the house and school still exist. They also shot near the downtown core at Church and Brock Street West.

Awards

Eleanor Perry won a prime time Emmy for "Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama - Adaptation," and Paul Bogart was nominated for a Director's Guild Award.

Legacy

The Christmas show was so successful,[2] it resulted in three other specials with the same cast, all likewise based on books that Gail Rock had written. In all of them, Lisa Lucas appeared as Addie Mills.

  • The Thanksgiving Treasure, a Thanksgiving Day special transmitted on November 18, 1973. (On its VHS release, it was retitled The Holiday Treasure.) Patricia Hamilton, providing the voice of the older Addie Mills, narrated this special; where she had not been credited in The House Without a Christmas Tree, she was credited here.
  • The Easter Promise, an Easter special transmitted on March 26, 1975.
  • Addie and the King of Hearts, a Valentine's Day special transmitted on February 25, 1976.

All but the last of these were highly rated and were later released on VHS. However, only The House Without a Christmas Tree was known to have been made available on DVD as of late October 2012. The original Christmas special is often recommended on a variety of lists, for both holiday viewing and such other themes as about single parents.[6]

On November 4, 2014, the DVD "Holiday Family Classics: The Thanksgiving Treasure / The House Without A Christmas Tree" was released by Paramount. The release was credited as a "Two Film Collection" but featured both programs on one DVD (Region 1 only). Soon after, there was another "Holiday Family Classics" DVD released by Paramount which included both The Easter Promise and Addie and the King of Hearts.

Adaptation

Houston Grand Opera commissioned an adaptation from composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek. The opera is scheduled to premiere on November 30, 2017.[7]

References

  1. http://isbn.nu/0394928334
  2. Shull, Richard K. (December 11, 1994). "Answerman". Tulsa World.
  3. Franco, Ose (November 23, 2000). "Nothing on TV when you have the time to watch? Rent one of these holiday videos". Herald-Journal.,
  4. Bobbin, Jay (March 6, 2009). "Pipeline". Allegheny Times.
  5. The IMDb trivia page for The Thanksgiving Treasure provides this information.
  6. Roberts, Jerry (January 16, 1987). "'Kramer' just 1 of many cassettes on single parents". Daily Breeze.
  7. http://www.houstongrandopera.org/scheduletickets/2017-18-season/performances/house-without-a-christmas-tree/
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