LOS ANGELES — Holiday TV specials often mean the appearance of Hollywood veterans, as the industry instinctively taps the deep well of affection that lingers around these pros.
One of the first is Eva Marie Saint, who stars in "Papa's Angels" (CBS, Sunday, 9-11 p.m.). A classically trained actress and graduate of the Actor's Studio, Saint went from the New York stage to stardom when she received an Oscar for her first film role in 1954 for Best Supporting Actress in Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront."
Ever since, she has brought what director Hitchcock called her calm leading-lady beauty to decades of film and television roles, including her current turn as an Appalachian grandmother in "Angels."
The TV film is based on a slim book by a fellow actress, Collin Wilcox Patton, and follows an Appalachian family of four children and their father, dealing with the death of the mother just before Christmas.
The actress says she often looked to her own mother for inspiration. Saint's father was a Quaker who traveled often for business, leaving the family alone. "My mother was a little lady, very strong, self-sufficient," says Saint. "She made everything we ever wore.... Today she could have been a designer."
Saint says she was attracted to the TV role for the qualities it embodied. "The characters are richly honed, and they are all very honest characters," she says. "The film doesn't have a happy ending because the mother is dead, but it shows how the family goes on in a very real and moving way."
She particularly appreciated the attention that was paid to the reality of the characters' lives. Attention to fully rounded characters is something that she doesn't see very often in the film industry. This film couldn't be a big feature film, it's too quiet and maybe too honest, she says, adding: "How could it compete with all the special effects that movies have these days?"
Beyond the high-tech transformation of the movie industry, Saint says she wonders when the worm will turn on the trend toward more and more violence and explicit sexuality. "The bubble has to burst," she says. "I don't want to sound like a stodgy old person, but when I see these little children subjected to all of this on the screen, I just think it's hard enough to raise children today. Why do they have to have this to cope with as well?"
Married to director Jeffrey Hayden for nearly 50 years, Saint says that it's harder for young performers starting out today.
"There's so much celebrity out there now; they find these young actors and make them stars so quickly," she says. "My husband and I say, 'get thee to college.' " Saint recalls that she began her studies intending to be a teacher. "I didn't switch to drama until after I'd studied for a while."
Saint says she feels fortunate to have worked with Hollywood's best, but she gets as much pleasure from her three grandchildren as she does from working. "I never wanted to be in a sitcom because I never wanted to have an imaginary family," she says. "I had everything I needed from my real one."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society