Heidi (1968 film)

Promotional poster
Based onHeidi
by Johanna Spyri
Written byEarl Hamner, Jr. (teleplay)
Directed byDelbert Mann
StarringMaximilian Schell
Jean Simmons
Michael Redgrave
Jennifer Edwards
Walter Slezak
Theme music composerJohn Williams
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Frederick H. Brogger
James Franciscus
Gyula Trebitsch
CinematographyKlaus von Rautenfeld
Editor(s)Walter Boos
Donald J. Cohen
Running time105 minutes
Original networkNBC
Original releaseNovember 17, 1968

Heidi is a 1968 NBC made-for-TV film version of the 1880 novel of the same name by Johanna Spyri which debuted on November 17, 1968. It starred actress Jennifer Edwards, stepdaughter of Julie Andrews and daughter of Blake Edwards, in the title role, alongside Maximilian Schell, Jean Simmons, and Michael Redgrave. The score was composed by John Williams. The film was sponsored by Timex.


The film altered the plot of the novel considerably, primarily by redefining the relationships of characters to one another. Heidi, instead of being the orphan of Grandfather's late son, becomes the orphan of the Grandfather's late daughter and her late husband; Dete becomes Heidi's aunt as the living but estranged daughter of the Grandfather. In addition, Heidi is further recast as Herr Sesemann's niece because of his late brother's marriage to Grandfather's late daughter. As Sesemann's niece, Heidi becomes cousin rather than simply companion to Clara, who early in the film is negatively portrayed as a hateful and spoiled child. By casting Simmons as Fräulein Rottenmeier, governess for both Heidi and Clara, the film remakes Rottenmeier as an extremely sympathetic character; she becomes almost a surrogate mother to Heidi. This drastic character transformation removes the antagonism between the two, thus removing the tension which dominates and enlivens the novel. So changed is Rottenmeier's personality that she falls in love with Sesemann, and he with her, a situation impossible in the novel.

The film also added a subplot in which Heidi's grandfather, a church organist in this version, has long been unable to play because of a family tragedy, which is shown to be his daughter's marriage to Sesemann's brother and her subsequent death. At the very end of the film, he regains his confidence, mounts the steps to the organ, and begins to play.

Another difference between the book and the film occurs during Clara's attempts at walking after Sesemann has accepted the Grandfather's invitation for Clara to visit Heidi in his home. In the novel, Sesemann's kindly and strong-willed mother teaches Heidi to read and to pray; she visits the girls on the Alp. Her character is cut completely from the film. In the novel, Peter becomes jealous of Heidi's attentions to Clara and deliberately destroys Clara's wheelchair so that the crippled girl will have to return home; the chain of events resulting from that destruction ends in Clara's taking her first successful steps on the Alp while leaning on Peter and Heidi. In the film, Fräulein Rottenmeier and Herr Sesemann visit the girls, and Grandfather deliberately leaves Clara alone on the mountains, knowing that she actually can walk but has been afraid to try. Clara struggles to get out of her wheelchair, knocking it over and falling down in the process. As she tries to get up, she sees her father, Herr Sesemann, looking at her encouragingly, and haltingly walks towards him. The film ends with a significant glance between Fraulein Rottenmeier and Herr Sesemann, a glance which promises a future for them together.[1]

"The Heidi Game"

NBC's decision to cut away from the Jets-Raiders game to air Heidi at 7 p.m. sharp (on the east coast) is noted as one of the most controversial occurrences in television and sports history.

The film's premiere on NBC was preceded by an American Football League game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets; although NBC was contractually obligated to begin the broadcast of the film at 7:00 p.m. ET on the East Coast, network management allowed the game's broadcast to continue to its completion, and delaying the broadcast of Heidi until after the game concluded.[2] However, they were unable to communicate this change to a network control facility in New York, as numerous viewers had called the network to inquire over whether NBC would be broadcasting Heidi, or the end of the game. The enormous number of calls blew out all 26 of the NBC phone line switchboard fuses.[2] As scheduled, Heidi began at 7:00 p.m., ending the broadcast of the game on the East Coast. Shortly afterward, Oakland scored two touchdowns within the final minute of the game, winning 43-32 in a major upset that a large portion of the country was unable to witness.[3]

Heidi was the most watched television movie of all time with a Nielsen rating of 31.8 and an audience share of 47% until it was surpassed by 1971's Brian's Song.[4]

Current airings

In recent years, the film has been periodically shown on Trinity Broadcasting Network's digital children's channel Smile of a Child.[5]


  1. ^ "Smile of a Child TV // Television Program Schedule". Smileofachildtv.org. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  2. ^ a b "The Huntley-Brinkley Report, November 18, 1968". 22:01. 18 November 1968. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  3. ^ Matt Schudel (July 5, 2012). "NBC Chief faced 'Heidi Bowl' wrath (obituary for Julian Goodman)". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company.
  4. ^ "Hit Movies on U.S. TV Since 1961". Variety. January 24, 1990. p. 160.
  5. ^ "Site Admin". Smile of a Child TV. Retrieved 2013-11-19.

External links

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