Writer creates 'companion piece' to Sarah's story

February 05, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

When actress/co-producer Glenn Close and others involved in making "Sarah, Plain and Tall" asked author Patricia MacLachlan to think about a sequel to the 1991 television blockbuster, she was far from enthusiastic.

"I thought that was just the worst idea. I said I'd never write a sequel," says the writer, whose best-selling novella from which "Sarah" was adapted won a Newbery Medal.

"I'm such a liar, it seems," she laughed during a recent telephone interview about "Skylark," the sequel to "Sarah" airing on CBS Sunday night (at 9, WBAL-Channel 11).

Ms. MacLachlan still doesn't like the term, however, and suggested, "Don't call it a sequel, call it a companion piece." Further, she acknowledged another story about the Maine mail-order bride portrayed by Ms. Close probably will follow, for she has been persuaded "how neat it would be to do a trilogy."

Viewers will have no trouble seeing in "Skylark" (titled after Sarah's childhood nickname, we learn in the new film) an obvious plot line into another story. And it was the warm response by viewers to the original "Sarah" that helped soften Ms. MacLachlan's dislike of sequels.

"Glenn was a big part of it. She kept saying, 'You've got to tell people what happens to these characters," the writer recalled.

The size of the TV audience still stuns the writer. Her book did very well, with more than 1 million in sales. Yet an estimated 50 million viewers saw the movie.

As in the first film, she wrote the screenplay for "Skylark." A book version of "Skylark" will follow the Hallmark Hall of Fame telecast later this year, although Ms. MacLachlan said, "It's backward to do it this way."

She talked of the film production as if it somehow remains separate from her own contributions, praising the movie's crew and cast "for doing a wonderful job showing the grace and growth of these people in this relationship [Ms. Close and co-star Christopher Walken]."

Why did viewers respond so warmly to a simple tale of a New England spinster who seeks a new life with a lonely widower way out in Kansas?

Ms. MacLachlan noted that the film aired in February 1991, during the Persian Gulf war and suggested viewers found respite from the incessant news in a pure romantic story.

The writer also likes to quote her mother, citing "the heroics of the ordinary life" as what particularly interests her as story material.

She said the character of Sarah Wheaton/Witting, in fact, was based on someone in her own family, whose roots are planted deep into the Kansas plains she writes about so persuasively.

"My mother, as a girl, had remembered this woman from Maine, someone who was part of the extended family somehow, and I recall her talking about this great, risk-taking woman."

And Ms. MacLachlan advised young writers to look similarly inward and to recognize "there are the most amazing, heroic stories in everybody's lives."

The writer used a searing drought as the central plot element for "Skylark," which poses both a real and a metaphorical challenge to the developing relationship of the film's characters.

Ironically, she revealed, the movie was actually shot on location in Kansas last summer, as the area enjoyed one of the wettest, greenest summers in recent years. The filmmakers had to carefully choose locations that nonetheless gave the appearance of an extended dry spell.

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