Olivia Newton-John made her TV movie debut in 1990 as a mannequin come to life in a department store, years after Grease, “Physical,” and Xanadu; but, this is not the live mannequin narrative you’re thinking of right now. You may want to take a seat for a few moments to really appreciate A Mom for Christmas.
Since well before 1990, live mannequins had been employed in the media. Some of them possessed the spirits of ancient Egyptians who had come through time in pursuit of love (Kim Cattrall in Mannequin, 1987), while others were hopelessly befuddled and in need of a thimble (Anne Francis in a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone). Fast forward to the year 2000, when a young Lindsay Lohan, still very much a tomboy, receives a doll that changes into Tyra Banks for her birthday. Newton-John, who died on Monday at the age of 73, was one of many females who could shine brightly and far.
Amy, a mannequin at a Cincinnati department shop with black-and-white tile floors and a magical salesman played by Doris Roberts, is played by Newton-John. Several songs by Olivia Newton-John appear in the film (written by her longtime collaborator John Farrar).
In the video, teens congregate in the women’s clothes section and call each other “dweebs” for dressing too femininely. Jessica (Juliet Sorci Duncan), the bullied girl, is 11 years old and spends most of her time staring wistfully at other girls as they shop with their mothers, regretting the death of her own mother when she was three years old. She tells Roberts that she desperately wants a mother for Christmas, and then Newton-John appears at her door.
Amy, like all the other movie mannequins, has to return to work on Christmas Eve. But she makes the most of her limited time by playing the role of the adoring mother Jess has always wanted her to be, guiding her through a teenage crush and helping her overcome stage anxiety. Amy, for example, has fallen in love with Jess’s father and developed a fondness for sleeping (“You just lie there!”) (Doug Sheehan). She discovers the importance of fire safety as she decorates a Christmas tree with 12 taper candles and soon burns down the entire living room. Amy is saved from a destiny worse than death, like in all good Christmas movies, when the store chooses to replace all of its mannequins with dreadful faceless ones, and she gets to live out the rest of her days among the humans.
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Newton-John finished her tearful portion in a single take, according to the A Mom for Christmas IMDb page. Newton-John could do anything, including play a mannequin in a TV movie in which she plainly outperformed herself. She’d go on to appear in more films, including 1994’s A Christmas Romance, and even host Hallmark’s children’s show Timeless Tales, all of which are now virtually forgotten. Every year around the holidays, I would watch A Mom for Christmas on Disney Channel. I even put it on for my family once when drunk.
According to co-star Juliet Sorci Duncan, who played Jessica, Newton-John was unlike anyone she had ever worked with. According to Rolling Stone, her genuine abilities were her friend’s compassion and charity. “It just so happened that she was also highly talented and beautiful.” “Just by being around her, you’d never suspect she was a celebrity.” We were filming A Mom for Christmas in Ohio at the time, and Olivia took her daughter, Chloe [Lattanzi], and me trick-or-treating. Because of her fame, the townspeople knew her and would invite us in for complimentary apple cider. She accepted pleasantly and spoke with everyone. She made it a point to keep in touch after we were done. She was the kind of lady who would call to tell me she had breast cancer so I wouldn’t read about it in the paper. Olivia was the first person to come to visit me when I needed surgery years later. Despite her hectic schedule, she made an effort to be present. There are thousands of similar stories. After meeting her, I can state without a doubt that she had the largest heart.
While Newton-John is most known for her most renowned parts, her work in smaller roles, such as the mannequin in A Mom for Christmas, should not be overlooked. Amy was an uncomfortable person in real life. She couldn’t breathe or blink, but she was inquisitive, charming, and friendly, making her probably the cutest mannequin ever portrayed on film.