The lazy, crazy — and sometimes spine-tingling and dangerous — days of summer are here! To celebrate the entertaining ways that families spend summer vacations, Roma Downey, Lea Thompson and other stars from two July Original Movies on Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel share their personal memories — and prove that sometimes “crazy” really is a fitting word for summertime exploits. Who faced the horrors of wayward grasshoppers? Who was almost struck by lightning…threatened by a spitting cobra…ran from a bear? Read on.
Beloved TV matriarch Marion Ross plays the senior member of a sports-loving, hugely competitive clan in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie World Premiere “Keeping Up With the Randalls” Saturday, July 16. Things were more sedate during Ross’ childhood in small Albert Lea, Minnesota, back in the 1930s and ‘40s. She recalls her family’s summertime trips to a cabin by the lake as a wondrous adventure during a far more innocent and carefree time in America.
“The house we stayed in was filled with all kinds of jigsaw puzzles and games,” Ross remembers, “and it was too bloody hot to do much more than loll around and swim. There was no air conditioning back then. Yes, trust me, I’m old. But there was something wonderful even about the discomfort. You couldn’t sleep at night because it was so hot, but that was OK, because we’d take a blanket out to the lawn and sleep outside instead.”
About the farthest that Ross’ family would travel from home were driving trips up into Saskatchewan, Canada, where her mother was born and raised. But those rides in the car were fraught with their own unique peril.
“Because we had no air conditioning, the windows of the car always were rolled down. And that meant the grasshoppers would come in. Always. Hundreds of them would splatter against the windshield and cover us from head to toe in the backseat. They’d be hopping all over us – on our arms and legs, our neck, our hair. It was absolutely terrifying. They didn’t bite, but my God did they look scary.”
“Keeping Up With the Randalls” star Roma Downey says she can identify with Kayla Ewell’s character in the movie — the not-so-athletic girl who feels out of place among her boyfriend’s (Thad Luckinbill) rough ‘n’ tumble family. Roma had to get used to rigorous physicality to keep up with her husband, since 2007, reality TV producer (“Survivor,” “The Apprentice”) Mark Burnett.
“When we were dating, he gave me a very, very large bag, so I knew it wasn’t the earrings I had been hoping for. And in the large bag was a wetsuit and all of the paraphernalia that would go along with scuba diving. And I said, very casually and trying to disguise the rising panic that I was experiencing, that I did not know how to scuba dive. And he said, ‘Oh, but that brings us to my second gift, which is scuba diving lessons!’” she recalls with a laugh. “What can I tell you? I’ve been swimming around the bottom of more oceans than I ever dreamed I would.”
Roma’s summertime travels are often related to diving — and also, to her charitable work. Last summer, the Irish-born “Touched by an Angel” star and her teenage daughter Reilly Anspaugh set off for the Central American nation Nicaragua on a humanitarian medical mission as volunteers with the group Operation Smile, which arranges and pays for corrective surgeries for children with facial deformities.
As she recounts the experience: “We bonded with a little boy called Eduardo and his mom, who shared all of her fears that her son never would have a real smile, never be able to eat properly, never be able to kiss a girl. All of the things we take for granted. We had the privilege of handing Eduardo back to his mom (after his procedure). To be witness to that moment is truly miraculous.”
Talk about being touched by an angel.
Unlike her city girl character in “Keeping Up With the Randalls” Kayla Ewell grew up loving the outdoors. Her dad is a serious mountain climber, and every summer he takes the family (Ewell has two brothers and a sister) to Joshua Tree National Park in California to rappel down a sheer 120-foot rock face. They’ve been doing it since Kayla was 11. “If it sounds scary, well, it is,” admits the “The Vampire Diaries” actress. “It’s really hardcore. It’s the scariest thing I’ll ever do, and we do it every year. I mean, 120 feet may not sound like a lot, but when you’re hanging from a rope tied to other people on a giant rock attached to a mountain overlooking a cliff, it’s heavy-duty.”
Kayla was on a family hike in the back country of Yosemite National Park – a portion ironically called Bear Paw – when she had a different sort of heavy-duty encounter at age 13.
“They were telling us, ‘Watch out for bears, there are bears here, be careful of bears’,” Ewell remembers. “But I’m like a kid. It doesn’t register this could happen to me. So there I am, bopping out in front of the group. And there’s this giant brown bear right in front of me. I did exactly what they tell you not to do. I screamed at the top of my lungs, turned around and ran. But I guess I was meant to live. He didn’t chase me. Thank God he’d already had lunch.”
Thad Luckinbill of “Keeping Up With the Randalls” has been a water guy since his childhood in Oklahoma. In fact, he and his twin brother were called The Two Fishes by their mother for their habit of staying in the water pretty much nonstop during the hot and sticky summertime. “We’d swim, and then when we were like 12 or 13 we started to water ski and a group of us still get together every year to do it,” Luckinbill says.
One watery memory that particularly stands out was the summer when the boys were 17 and hit the water early in the morning. Thad’s brother’s water ski somehow got tangled up, he wiped out awkwardly, and his back muscles stopped working. He basically couldn’t move is the way Luckinbill recalls it.
“We knew that nothing was broken, but it was bad enough that he couldn’t get around,” Luckinbill says. “So I’m like, ‘oh great, we’ve got to get him to a hospital.’ But my buddies said, ‘Forget that, we’re stayin.’ So we propped my brother up on a beach chair on the lakeshore, gave him some water, and left him there to watch while we skied for seven hours straight. He couldn’t move! We’d wave at him while we skied by. He was so mad. But that’s just how it was, you know? If you were too injured to ski but you weren’t dead, you were out of luck.”
Sounds like something a Randall would say.
One can say that lightning struck for Lea Thompson when she was cast opposite Michael J. Fox in the first of what would be three wildly successful “Back to the Future” movies. And while it’s surely rare for lighting to strike that second time, it nearly did for Thompson three years ago during a summer family vacation in Montana – this time literally.
“We were all playing baseball outside and started to see thunder and lightning that seemed as if it was relatively close,” recalls Lea, who stars in the Hallmark Movie Channel Original World Premiere “The Cabin” debuting Saturday July 30. “Almost as a joke, we were saying, ‘Oh, we’d better stop and go inside, it’s too dangerous.’ Right? And my stepbrother is saying, ‘Oh come on, you’ve got about as much chance of getting hit by lightning as you do winning the lottery.’
“So literally about 40 seconds after that, we’d just left the field and were huddling under a porch when maybe 20 feet in front of us there’s this huge flash of light and a ‘Kaboom!’ Lightning had hit the ground right where we’d just been standing. I mean, right there! We were like, ‘Oh…my…God!’ It was just the spookiest, weirdest thing. So of course we all immediately ran out and bought lottery tickets.”
Lea and Dundee, Scotland-born Steven Brand play divorced single parents who each bring their children to a outdoor festival of the clans in Scotland, only to find that they’ve been mistakenly booked into the same cabin in the romantic comedy.
Brand recalls that when he was a young lad, his father was a telecommunications engineer who was transferred with his job to East Africa, meaning that Brand spent years chasing cheetahs, zebras and giraffes in Kenya and Uganda. “Every weekend was basically a vacation for me,” he says. “We’d go on regular safaris in Nairobi… It was as amazing as it sounds for a kid.”
While Brand was fortunate not to get into any dangerous scrapes with the wildlife he hung out with, he did have a few close encounters with poisonous snakes. “There’s this one breed of Cobra snake called a Spitting Cobra, whose venom is so lethal it can permanently blind a man from 30 yards away,” he maintains. “These are not the kind of creatures you want to be fooling around with.”
In fact, it makes summertime annoyances like sizzling temperatures and flight delays seem not so bad after all.
Remember the schedule:
Watch Keeping Up With The Randalls on Hallmark Channel Original Movie World Premiere Saturday, July 16 (9pm ET/PT, 8C)
And Watch The Cabin Hallmark Movie Channel Original World Premiere Saturday, July 30 (8p.m. ET/PT, 7C)
Follow me on Twitter for more Hallmark Movie Channel scoop.