In November of 1991, I went to see a movie called All I Want for Christmas. The stars of the movie, Ethan Randall and Thora Birch who play siblings Ethan and Hallie O’Fallon. Ethan and Hallie live with their mother (Harley Jane Kozack) and grandmother (Lauren Bacall).
We soon learn that Ethan and Hallie’s parents are divorced and their mother has been dating a man named Tony (SNL’s Kevin Nealon). The reason for their parents’ divorce? Their father (Jamey Sheridan) left his successful investment banking business to buy and run a 1950’s style diner.
Hallie and Ethan don’t like Tony very much, but he never really does anything evil. Normally with movies like this, the prospective step-parent is participating in something nefarious. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see the trope subverted. On the other hand, Tony really doesn’t deserve what happens to him at the end of the movie.
Even though the movie didn’t get the best reviews, I went to see it twice in the regular theater and at least three times at the discount theater. I also rented it frequently until I could either record it on television or find an affordable copy of it. I bought a DVD last year so I can now watch it every year.
In the meantime, I had magazines like Teen Beat, 16, and Bop. From these magazines, I found articles about Ethan and his previous role as Doyle Standish in Dutch. I started renting Dutch too. Even though I didn’t like the Doyle Standish character quite as much as I liked Ethan O’Fallon, it was nice to have more than one movie with my new favorite actor in it.
There were several scenes I really enjoyed. Early in the movie when Dutch drives onto campus to pick up Doyle, we see beautiful golden autumn scenery. The campus featured in the movie is Berry College in Georgia. One of my co-workers at MediaPlay went to school there and on one of our shifts together, he told me the movie only shows a tenth of how beautiful Berry’s grounds are during autumn.
My other favorite parts are when Dutch sets off the fireworks, the scene in the diner, the racy playing cards, when Hailey (E.G. Daily, known to Gen X kids as Pee-Wee Herman’s love interest “Dottie” or Tommy Pickles from Rugrats) tries to steal Dutch’s pinky ring, and the scene in the shelter where Doyle gives his roll to a little girl.
There’s also a bit of catharsis when Dutch hits Doyle’s father (Christopher McDonald) with his pinky ring. Unlike Nealon’s fairly harmless Tony, McDonald’s Reed Standish is a womanizing scumbag who deserves his fate.
Teen magazines had a section where they printed addresses for talent agencies, TV and movie studios, and record labels for fans to write letters to the actors and music artists they profiled. An article in one of the magazines suggested enclosing a small gift like a coupon for the entertainer’s favorite candy. At that time, I was making friendship bracelets. I put one of the friendship bracelets I made into the envelope with the fan letter I had written to Ethan.
I don’t remember what I wrote in the letter or even when I wrote the letter. All I really remember about the day his reply arrived was that it was a Saturday evening and it was dark outside. I went to the mailbox myself to get the mail that day and when I saw the envelope and the return address on it, my hands shook with the excitement.
I waited until I got inside to open the envelope. Inside was the autographed photo I had requested along with a sheet of note paper with a brief letter. He apologizes for how long it took him to reply, but if I hadn’t heard of him until late 1991 and he mentions going to film a movie that came out in 1993, there probably wasn’t that much turnaround time. I think I waited longer for my form letter from the New Kids on the Block Fan Club.
I’m not sure what Nobody’s Sweetheart actually was. I don’t know if it was retitled to something else or just never released. I do remember seeing both the trailer for A Far Off Place in a movie theater and seeing the movie itself in the theater. This movie was also my introduction to the talent of Reese Witherspoon.
The other movies Ethan was in that I really like are from after he changed his last name to Embry. That Thing You Do, Empire Records, Vegas Vacation, and Sweet Home Alabama are all great to watch at any time of year, but the holiday season belongs to Dutch and All I Want for Christmas.