There is a sequence in "Skylark," the sequel to 1991's acclaimed "Sarah, Plain and Tall," which star Glenn Close believes is the emotional core of the drama.
"It is one of the most favorite moments in anything I have ever done," said Close, who also serves as co-executive producer of the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation premiering Sunday on CBS.
The scene is as poetic as it is romantic: Two years after their wedding, Kansas farmer Jacob Witting (Christopher Walken) and his Maine mail-order bride Sarah (Close) are genuinely in love, though their happiness is being tested by a horrible drought. Despite their hardships, Jacob throws a surprise birthday party for Sarah. Her present is a record player sent by Sarah's aunts in Maine. As an aria emanates from the player, Sarah and Jacob lovingly begin to dance and the rest of their guests join in.
"That music in that context is so wonderful," Close said. "It was a wonderful scene to play. You see how deeply connected these two people are."
For Patricia MacLachlan, who penned the Newbery Medal Award-winning children's novel on which the original film was based, the scene "is a symbol of how people can come together and rise above the worst of what's happening in everyday life."
Added MacLachlan, who wrote the screenplays for both TV movies: "I have this kind of commitment to everyday people because I think the greatest stories just come out of them."
"Skylark" is the first sequel that "Hallmark Hall of Fame" has produced in its 42-year history. The original received nine Emmy nominations and scored No. 1 in the ratings, becoming the prestigious production's most-watched presentation.
Dick Welsh, Hallmark creative director, said the company decided on a sequel after the phenomenal success of the the first. "We had been working on the material so deeply that when it was successful, I think we all just kind of said, 'Maybe we should do this again.' We knew there was a lot more to the story that was possible."
In her heart, Close said, she wasn't willing to say goodby to Sarah and Jacob. She didn't think viewers were either. "People really seemed to love it and love those characters," she said.
Close believes that more than 50 million people watched "Sarah" because it wasn't typical TV movie fare. "They tell you that someone has to get killed or a car has to crash every 15 minutes to keep people interested, and 'Sarah' is opposite of that," she said.
"It takes its time. The drama is really in the hearts and the faces of the people who the story is about. (The first one) aired in the middle of the Gulf War. I think it offered people a kind of comfort they really wanted at that time. So (it will be interesting to) see what it does this time."
Initially, MacLachlan wasn't interested in writing a sequel. "When they asked me to do it, I said, 'No, 'I think it is a terrible idea.' "
But she eventually agreed because she found Close, Walken and Hallmark's enthusiasm for the project infectious. "Christopher and Glenn have this great respect for words, and they liked the characters and were intrigued with what would happen next," she said. "How could I not get kind of lured into the same sort of excitement. When they are excited, I am excited."
Both Close and Walken worked with MacLachlan on story and character development. "She had our voices in mind," Close said. "I think that was a great help to her. Chris Walken had great input because he wanted to make sure that Jacob was not the same when he last saw him. A woman had made a difference in his life and he had a good marriage."
"There were times I would write something and one of them would object," MacLachlan said. "They would say for some reason the character wouldn't say that and more often than not, they were right."
Close said she never had any trepidation about doing a sequel. "The only reason for me to do it," she said, "was to try to make it better than the original and try to really advance the characters, show that they evolved and yet have the continuity that is very comforting not only to the audience, but to us as well."
The majority of the cast, crew, extras and even the animals from "Sarah" reunited for "Skylark."
"We also in many cases wore costumes we had before," Close said. "The suit Chris wears in the sequel is the wedding suit from the first one. I wore some of the clothes before. It is two years later in the story and it was two years later in all of our lives. I think that had a great deal to do with the depth of the second one, which is even richer (than the first). You have a kind of history because you made the first together and that is all worth its weight in gold. There is no way you can act that. The connection has been made before."
MacLachlan currently is writing the novel version of "Skylark," which will be published in 1994. Like the "Sarah" novel, the story will be told through the eyes of Jacob's daughter, Anna. "It is difficult to write for some strange reason," MacLachlan said. "I have the plot, but the book is from a point of view, so it changes incredibly."
And if Close gets her wish, MacLachlan may be soon at work on the third installment in the "Sarah" saga. "My dream is to make a trilogy," Close said. "Each one would have its own title, but all three of them will fit together as a history or a continual story of these people."
"Hallmark Hall of Fame: Skylark" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.