'Virginia' reply still meaningful, Asner says

December 06, 1991|By Los Angeles Daily News

Los Angeles -- Watching upbeat movies is as much a part of Christmas as wrapping presents and baking cookies. Such films often are predictable, but that's OK with Ed Asner, who stars in the newest television holiday fable.

"I suppose this will have a generous amount of schmaltz, but I thought it was a good story," said Mr. Asner about "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus," which will air at 9 p.m. Sunday on ABC (Channel 13).

"I think Christmas is a very beautiful time of the year. Every day should be Christmas, and we should find some way to make it that way in terms of giving and talking about peace on earth. Of course that's not [realistic]. It's a battle we're fighting for."

The new, original film was inspired by the age-old question asked by many during childhood: Is there a Santa Claus? Nearly a century ago 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlan requested an answer to the question in a letter she wrote to the New York Sun. The reply became one of the most famous newspaper editorials ever published.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," wrote Frank P. Church in 1897. "He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy."

Like the editorial, which is read in its entirety during the final minutes of the movie, the story is full of hope and faith in the face of adversity and cynicism.

"I think the message [of the movie] lies within the letter that Frank writes: It's necessary to believe, even when there's nothing to believe in, for the strength that belief gives us," said Mr. Asner, who plays the newspaper publisher, Ed Mitchell, who assigned Church the task of replying to Virginia's letter.

"I'm very cynical about the course of mankind and very pessimistic. But I feel you still have to keep fighting the fight. You suffer loss of character if you don't fight. . . .

"You have to tell yourself that for all things in life," Mr. Asner continued. "One has to be educated, and one has to care. And in caring one has to know why one cares. You fight for what you care about."

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