TODAY’S FOCUS: ‘Early Frost,’ NBC’s Compelling Look at AIDS
NEW YORK (AP) _ Rock Hudson’s bout with AIDS made the public more aware of the illness and sympathetic to its victims. Now, with the made-for-TV movie ″An Early Frost,″ AIDS-support groups feel millions of Americans will have their best chance yet to be educated about the deadly disease and its impact.
″An Early Frost″ is the story of how one family is torn apart when their son, a 29-year-old homosexual lawyer, contracts acquired immune deficiency syndrome. NBC, which will broadcast the two-hour film Monday night, predicts a national audience of 50 million viewers.
Mark Senak, director of legal services for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York, said the interest in Hudson raised both consciousness and fear. The movie ″takes us a step further,″ he said. ″It takes our hands and says, ’Calm down.‴
″Rock Hudson was the first mass humanization of AIDS to the American public,″ said Glenn Kennedy, associate director of AIDS Project LA. ″Until then, it was a name without a face, numbers without a body. That was step one: opening eyes. Step two is putting something in front of those eyes that instructs in a palatable way.″
At a screening of ″Early Frost″ in New York on Friday, AIDS victim Joseph Foulon, 29, was moved to tears several times.
″I’ve been through everything he has,″ said Foulon. ″I’ve been rejected by people and had friends die.″
Foulon became visibly upset while watching the scene in which the AIDS patient, played by Aidan Quinn, is shouted away by his sister when he goes to hug his young nephew. ″I had a great fear of that happening to me, but when I went to see my sister and nephew, it was wonderful,″ Foulon said.
In the movie, the AIDS patient is initially rejected by his father, played by Ben Gazzara. Foulon hasn’t talked to his own father about his illness yet. He says he hopes to do that this Thanksgiving.
″I saw hope in that the father came around in the movie,″ Foulon said. ″You can’t do it alone.″
NBC and AIDS-related groups around the country hope the public will respond to that message.
NBC is sending six-page viewers guides to 200,000 groups, including hospitals, social agencies and schools. The guide has a fact sheet, compiled by the U.S. Public Health Service, that defines AIDS, lists its symptoms and identifies the groups mostly likely to contract the disease.
Rosalyn Schram, NBC’s director of community relations, said the information campaign is unlike last year’s ″Burning Bed,″ ″in which we wanted to raise consciousness on the issue of wife abuse. We know consciousness already has been raised on AIDS. So what we want to do in the guides is focus on specific information and disentangle myth from reality.″
Schram said her job is ″community-awareness, not audience-building,″ but on a more promotional note, Dr. Mark Craig of NBC’s ″St. Elsewhere″ got into the act last Wednesday. After the ″St. Elsewhere″ broadcast, William Daniels, who plays Craig, urged viewers to watch ″An Early Frost.″
″Our only defense is knowledge,″ Daniels said.
At a screening of the film in Beverly Hills, Calif., discussion turned to fears that AIDS could be spread by kissing. The Screen Actors Guild has asked movie producers and agents to notify performers before they sign for a role including intimate contact such as open-mouth kissing.
″If you believe AIDS is a casually transmitted disease, then you already have it,″ said Dr. Paul A. Volberding, chief of the AIDS Activities Division at San Francisco General Hospital. ″The likelihood that you have not come in contact with someone carrying this disease is very remote.″
A study of 14,000 known cases of AIDS did not indicate that it was transmitted by saliva, said Dr. Shirley Fannin, associate director for communicable disease control with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. ″Blood is the medium of transmission.″
Volberding did not quarrel with the SAG policy.
″We know that saliva is not a way it’s spread readily. But the virus has been found in saliva and we have to take that into consideration,″ he said. In conjunction with the film, NBC is offering its local stations a public service announcement featuring Gena Rowlands, who plays the AIDS patient’s compassionate mother in ″An Early Frost.″ The announcement includes a toll- free telephone number from the Public Health Service.
After the film, NBC News will have a half-hour report on AIDS.
Besides issuing its own viewer guides, AIDS Project LA is suggesting that people watch Monday’s movie in groups. Kennedy said each guest will be asked to pledge at least $10 to local AIDS support groups.
Confirmations have come from nearly every state and more than 100 group viewings have been scheduled in Los Angeles, Kennedy said, and the California Association of Health Education Teachers has suggested students watch the movie for extra credit.
Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley sent a letter to the executive board of the National League of Cities and the mayors of major cities asking them and their constituents to watch ″An Early Frost.″
″We must take a leadership role with the efforts to educate ourselves and the public about the myths and realities of AIDS,″ Bradley’s letter said.