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CBS movie based on Christmas story by stake president

Photo courtesy CBS

Debbie Reynolds, second from left, talks with others, including producer

Beth Polson, back, and Richard M. Siddoway, second from right, on set of

"The Christmas Wish." Brother Siddoway wrote the book on which the movie is based.

Ms. Reynolds and Neil Patrick Harris co-star in the yule-time tale.

"The Christmas Wish" — the yule-tale-turned-CBS movie — was originally written on 50 sticky-notes.

Or at least the story began that way.

Airing Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. (MST and CST) and 9 p.m. (EST and PST), "The Christmas Wish," based on the book by the same name by Richard M. Siddoway, had its beginnings on a plane bound for Salt Lake City in November 1995.

During the flight, Brother Siddoway, who is president of the Bountiful Utah Val Verda Stake and a Utah state legislator, recalled a conversation he had had with a colleague that day. They had been discussing an acquaintance who had recently died and the colleague remarked, "He was the most Christlike man I've ever met."

Describing the plane trip, Brother Siddoway said during a telephone interview, "I asked myself, 'What would a Christlike person be like in this world?' "

Suddenly, he recalled, characters and a plot began forming in his mind, and he began jotting notes on the only paper he had access to — sticky-notes. Soon, he had the beginnings of a touching book about a 32-year-old man who returns to his childhood home after his grandfather dies and leaves him the family real estate business. His grandmother gives him his grandfather's journals, which mention repeated visits over the years with a woman named Lillian. His grandmother asks him to grant her wish to know Lillian's identity, and he sets out to find out who this mysterious woman is.

The young man's efforts to find Lillian cause him to discover his grandfather's true Christian nature, and, in the process, he discovers himself —an unexpected finish to an unusual story. The book was originally published by Bookcraft Inc. in Salt Lake City. A second version — which more closely follows the movie version — was recently published by Crown Publishers in New York City.

Starring renowned actress Debbie Reynolds and former "Doogie Howser" star Neil Patrick Harris, the 90-minute movie was produced by Beth Polson of The Polson Company, which also produced "The Christmas Box" in 1995 and "Cab to Canada," which airs Nov. 29, also on CBS. (Please see Nov. 14, 1998, Church News.)

With his story now on the small screen, Brother Siddoway is just trying to soak it all in. "I wrote the book because I thought it had an interesting story to tell. It just has a life of its own. I just sit back and blink and wonder what's happening."

For Ms. Polson, a producer of family-oriented television movies who has earned three Emmys and four Emmy nominations, "The Christmas Wish" certainly fits her genre of work.

" 'Christmas Wish' is a great story of human nature, with a struggle between light and dark that eventually becomes an inspiration," she explained. "The story fits into my philosophy of producing only those things I would want to watch."

In a separate telephone interview, Ms. Reynolds, known for her roles in such films as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and "Singing in the Rain," spoke of her reasons for accepting a role in this television production.

"I don't normally do television, but I thought this was a sweet family story, something I think we really need," she said. "I was attracted to the story-line, which emphasizes the family unit. I took three weeks to work on the character of the grandmother, finding her as a person, getting to know her heart. It reminded me of how important my own family is to me, and how we have all looked after each other over the years."

Ms. Reynolds said she was surprised to find the movie will air to potentially millions of people in one night. As she considered the impact the film might make, she said it pleased her to be part of a movie that could make a positive statement.

"I have done over 40 films and work 42 weeks out of the year with my stage show, but I have never done anything with as much potential to impact an audience as 'Christmas Wish,' " she said. "I think we need more quality seasonal films like this one."

So agree officials of Bonneville Worldwide Entertainment, a division of Church-owned Bonneville International Corp., which will distribute "The Christmas Wish" after network airing and release it at a later date on home video.

Al Henderson, president of Bonneville Media Group, which oversees Bonneville Worldwide Entertainment, said the company was very pleased with the end results of "The Christmas Wish" production.

"We are in this business to create quality family programming," he said. "The more movies like 'Christmas Wish' we can get produced or caused to be produced and distributed worldwide, the better off we are in offering an alternative to the decline of network television."

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