Kevin O’Connor / Staff Photo
A “Santaville” sign from the Hallmark Channel television movie “Moonlight & Mistletoe” is featured in the window of Chester’s Fullerton Inn.
It remains miraculous, the moment the town of Chester, population 3,154, was saved on Christmas 2008.
And again, night after night, during the holiday season of 2009. And 2010. And 2011. And 2012 ...
So begins the story of “Moonlight & Mistletoe,” a Hallmark Channel television movie that keeps on giving.
When residents here saw cameras from the Vermont-based Edgewood Studios arrive for filming five years ago, they figured the result would air that coming winter, then melt like the season into a memory.
But in an age of DVDs, YouTube and cable marathons, the movie hasn’t stopped playing — and playing and playing (most recently on national television this past Friday and Saturday).
“For years I’ve gotten emails and phone calls from people I went to school with who say, ‘That looks like Bruce Bouchard!” says Bruce Bouchard, executive director of Rutland’s Paramount Theatre and one of a few locals cast alongside stars Tom Arnold and Candace Cameron Bure.
Bouchard portrayed a banker trying to help the leads keep their Santaville attraction in the center of town. He still has the “Chester Bank” faux-marble foam sign placed in front of the real public library. He also has behind-the-scenes stories not shared in any DVD special features.
“There was a freak heat wave during the filming,” Bouchard recalls of a spring shoot delayed by a writers’ strike. “Someone had a thermometer — it was 116 degrees inside. I had on four layers of clothes. After, I removed everything down to a bathing suit and dumped a 5-gallon bucket of water on my head.”
Across Main Street, the Hugging Bear Inn and Shoppe was decorated as the family home where a daughter returns “in her effort to help her dad save his beloved Santaville,” TV Guide still reports, “reconcile her past and find love in her future.”
“They had snow sprayed everywhere,” says inn manager Laura Thomas, who still laughs at the idea of neighbors sweating underneath winter costumes. “It actually ruined the varnish on our front door.”
Alas, you can’t see that anymore — the inn recently refinished the entrance. But walk down to the train station next spring and you’ll hear the same background sounds from the film’s wintry depot scene.
“It was snowing, quote unquote,” Thomas recalls, “and if you listen very carefully there are peepers chirping in the background.”
For long-timers in Chester, “Moonlight & Mistletoe” is like a relative you welcome to the holiday table, only to have differing opinions about upon departure.
At the Fullerton Inn in the center of town, co-owner Bret Rugg not only hosted filming but also rented half the building’s 20 rooms to the cast and crew.
“They didn’t bring in or spend much money, and there were a lot of things we had to work around,” Rugg says. “But it was quite an adventure.”
The Fullerton Inn offers proof on its website: “Crew setting up shot of Tom Arnold as ‘Nick’ in sleigh in front of the inn,” one photo is captioned. “It was in the high 80s that day.”
But any cold feelings melt away when you watch the cast shiver and shake and ultimately dissolve into tears when everyone — spoiler alert — discovers the true meaning of Christmas during the happy ending.
“There were people here who were unhappy, but it gave a positive image of the town,” Rugg concludes. “Anything that puts us in people’s minds is good. I’d do it again.”
Then again, he doesn’t have to. Instead, just check your local listings for time and channel.
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