Sunshine is a 1973 made-for-television docudrama, directed by Joseph Sargent and produced by George Eckstein, about a young wife and mother who dies of cancer at age 20. The movie starred Cristina Raines in the lead role of Kate Hayden (Raines' first big movie role), Cliff DeYoung as Kate's husband Sam Hayden, and twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush as Jill, Kate and Sam's daughter, as a toddler. The movie originally aired on CBS as an episode of the CBS Friday Night Movie on November 9, 1973. When first aired, Sunshine was the most watched made-for-TV movie in history.
Young pregnant divorcee Kate (Cristina Raines) falls in love with struggling musician Sam Hayden (Cliff DeYoung), and they become a couple, eventually getting married. A few months into Kate and Sam's relationship, Kate gives birth to a daughter they name Jill. Although Jill's biological father is Kate's former husband, Sam loves Jill and regards her as his own child.
Shortly after Jill is born, Kate gets the shocking news that she has osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that affects the bone marrow. Kate has two options to treat her cancer: she can either have her leg amputated and hope the cancer does not spread, or undergo chemotherapy. Unwilling to lose her leg, Kate initially has chemotherapy which makes her very ill and unable to function in her daily life or look after Jill. Kate then decides to forego treatment entirely and concentrate on being a wife to Sam and a mother to Jill in the short time she has left, since not treating the cancer will hasten her death.
Kate agrees to take part in a medical research study by keeping a recorded journal in which she describes her feelings about being a young wife and mother facing death. After Kate has been journalling for some time, her tape recorder is stolen, causing her story to gain national attention. She receives a replacement tape recorder and continues her journal until she dies at the end of the film.Cristina Raines as Kate Hayden
Cliff DeYoung as Sam Hayden
Meg Foster as Nora
Brenda Vaccaro as Dr. Carol Gillman
Bill Mumy as Weaver
Alan Fudge as David
Corey Fischer as Givits
Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush as Jill Hayden
Sarah Valentini as the infant Jill Hayden
James Hong as Dr. Wilde
Bill Stout as Interviewer
Noble Willingham as Bartender
Adrian Ricard as Nurse
Sunshine was based on the life of Jacquelyn M. "Lyn" Helton (September 13, 1951 – November 7, 1971). In 1969, shortly after giving birth to her daughter Jennifer, the 18-year-old Helton was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone marrow cancer. Helton, along with her photographer/ musician husband Tom Helton and her baby daughter, moved from Green River, Wyoming to Denver, Colorado to seek medical treatment. Helton began to record her thoughts about dying and leaving her husband and baby behind on audio tape and written journal with the goal of writing a book to help other dying people. In July 1971, Helton's tape recorder was stolen. The local news story of the theft and her journal project was picked up by networks as a human interest story and run in national news coverage. She was gifted with a replacement tape recorder and continued her project.
Helton died on November 7, 1971 at the age of 20. After her death, numerous newspapers and magazines published excerpts from her journal. Lawrence Schiller, then a promoter, acquired the television and film rights to Helton's life story which became the basis for the film Sunshine and a short lived TV series. The opening credits of Sunshine state that the film was "suggested by" Helton's journal, while a voice-over announces that in 1971, a 20-year-old wife and mother died, leaving behind a tape recorded journal about being "young, and a mother, and in love, and dying" and that although names have been changed, the film "retained her spirit, and many of the words from her tapes."
Some critics also viewed Helton's story as having inspired a second made-for-TV movie, Message To My Daughter starring Bonnie Bedelia and Martin Sheen, which was first aired on December 12, 1973 on ABC. In Message, the dying mother of a baby girl makes tape recordings of advice which her daughter receives many years after the mother's death. However, the film's writer and director denied that Message was inspired by Helton, and said that the script was written before Sunshine.
Parts of the film were shot on location in Vancouver, British Columbia with neighbourhood scenes in Kitsilano and the West End, and footage of the Burrard and Granville Street Bridges and North Shore mountains.
The short-lived 1975 NBC television series Sunshine picked up the story of Sam Hayden struggling to raise Jill alone after Kate's death. DeYoung, Mumy, Fischer, and Foster all appeared in the TV series reprising their movie roles, while Elizabeth Cheshire played the slightly older Jill Hayden. The series was cancelled after 13 episodes.
A 1977 made-for-TV Christmas movie, Sunshine Christmas, further continued the story, focusing on Sam and Jill's Christmas visit to Sam's parents in Texas, where Sam rekindles a romance with his childhood sweetheart. It first aired on NBC on December 12, 1977.
A novelization of the movie Sunshine was written by Norma Klein and published in October 1975. Klein later wrote novelizations of the Sunshine TV series (published under the title The Sunshine Years) and Sunshine Christmas.