Juli Cragg Hilliard

`Christmas Shoes': From Story to Song to Show

A tale of hope and kindness at Christmas has proved so captivating that it has inspired a hit holiday song in 2000, a best-selling Christian novel last year, and now a television movie starring Rob Lowe and Kimberly Williams.
CBS will air ``The Christmas Shoes” on Sunday (Dec. 1). In the film, Lowe (most recently of ``The West Wing”) portrays an attorney who is neglecting his family while focused on career, money and status. Williams (best known for the ``Father of the Bride” remakes) portrays a dying young wife and mother who becomes friends with the spouse of Lowe's character.
But the TV movie softens the specifically Christian approach taken in both the Christian pop group NewSong's tune, which crossed over to mainstream radio and scored No. 1 on Billboard's adult contemporary singles chart, and in the subsequent novel for St. Martin's Press by Donna VanLiere.
NewSong's Eddie Carr wrote the song with Leonard Ahlstrom after reading a short story, ``Golden Shoes for Jesus” by Helga Schmidt, published in one of the ``Chicken Soup for the Soul” collections. The song describes the encounter of a last-minute holiday shopper, ``not really in the mood for Christmas,” with a little boy who is trying to buy shoes for his mother so she will look beautiful when she meets Jesus in heaven.
The film mentions God, but not Jesus, other than when the NewSong recording plays. Beth Grossbard, one of the executive producers, said the changes make the movie ``adaptable and appealing to the masses rather than a specifically targeted group.”
It's the same approach taken by the successful television programs ``Touched by an Angel” and ``Seventh Heaven.”
Grossbard said she had read about the novel before it was published and obtained an uncorrected proof in late June 2001. She took it to lunch, sat outside at a restaurant on a beautiful day, and cried while reading the book and thinking, ``This is the most beautiful Christmas movie I have ever read.” In what she says was an unusually short turn-around time in television processes, the movie was filmed last summer in Halifax, Nova Scotia. ``It was serendipitous,” Grossbard said.
She says she expects viewers to be moved by the way lives intersect and are changed in the movie, and by the contrast of materialism with spiritualism. Lowe's character, Robert Layton, ``has everything he really needs. But he's hungry, he's hungry for something more,” Grossbard said. ``He doesn't realize his most precious gifts are right in front of him.”
Williams' character, Maggie, and her family are less affluent but richer spiritually. Then they find out that Maggie is dying of a heart condition.
Grossbard said while references to Jesus were changed to God in the movie, the revisions didn't diminish the spiritual message. ``I still think the movie has very strong religious statements without beating the viewer over the head.”
Actor Dorian Harewood, who portrays a teacher who befriends and consoles Maggie's 8-year-old son, agrees with Grossbard. He says the movie -- like ``Seventh Heaven,” in which he has a recurring role as the Rev. Hamilton -- addresses religious issues without being preachy or ``force feeding.”
``It talks about what is important about relationships and family and caring for other people, the religion of loving one another and doing well for one another as opposed to being greedy and selfish,” Harewood said.
Williams' character prays in the movie, and she talks to her son, played by Max Morrow, about heaven and gives him hope he will see her again. Lowe's character awakens to his failings.
NewSong can be seen in a group of carolers at the movie's end and performs the song ``The Christmas Shoes” in a video promotion being played in CBS-owned Blockbuster stores. The group is timing a 10-city ``The Christmas Shoes Tour” with the film's broadcast, starting Sunday in Atlanta, NewSong's hometown.
NewSong member Billy Goodwin said the band is pleased with the film, even with its adaptations.
``If we had had total control of it, we would have wanted something a little more direct and in your face about the Christian message. But we all felt good about the approach they used in the movie.”
Goodwin said the song's mainstream success drew nonbelievers to listen to NewSong's other Christian songs, and the group hopes the movie will plant the seed for more. ``Any way we can get part of the message out to get people thinking,” he said. ``You have people who are anxious to hear, and we're anxious to tell.”

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