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Jennie Garth f inds lesson of Christmas a simple one

Friday, December 12, 2003

By Dave Mason, Scripps Howard News Service

Jennie Garth, the star of the TV movie "Secret Santa," a whodunit and wake-up call to what's important in life, says she doesn't fall into the cynicism the movie portrays. Instead, she tries to remember her priorities as she juggles her career and family.

"The true meaning of Christmas for me is giving your love and receiving love from others," Garth said.

In "Secret Santa" (9 p.m. tomorrow on NBC), the "Beverly Hills, 90210" actress plays Rebecca Chandler, an Indianapolis reporter who tries to uncover the identity of an anonymous hero doing good deeds in a nearby small town.

In addition to "Secret Santa," Garth is in her second season co-starring in "What I Like About You," a sitcom on The WB.

In "Secret Santa," Garth makes Rebecca cynical but likable. Rebecca has a good reason to be bitter -- her boyfriend, who should be about to propose to her, instead dumps her at the last minute for another woman he just met.

So having given up on romance, Rebecca is determined to prove her worth as an investigative reporter to uncover the Secret Santa. In the process, she uncovers a bigger story -- the real meaning of giving.

"I don't think I'm ever cynical about Christmas," said Garth. "But living life in the city, there are times when we can go down that road [about other things]. When I sit down and take a deep breath and look at my children, I realize what life is all about."

The holidays have always been important to Garth, 31, who grew up in a good setting for a Christmas story -- a 25-acre horse ranch outside Urbana, Ill.

Garth and her husband, actor Peter Facinelli, have two daughters -- Luca Bella, 6, and Lola Ray, who recently had her first birthday.

Charlie Robinson ("Night Court") also starts in "Secret Santa." He plays a nursing-home manager who takes Rebecca in when there's no room at the small town's only inn.

Steven Eckholdt, who plays President Bartlet's son-in-law on "The West Wing," co-stars as John Carter, the town's generous millionaire. He's Rebecca's No. 1 suspect for being the Secret Santa.

And in a rare TV treat, Barbara Billingsley, 80, of "Leave It to Beaver" fame appears as Miss Ruthie, a nursing-home resident who builds a connection with Rebecca.

Garth depicted the angst of the teenage/young adult years as Kelly on the Fox primetime soap "Beverly Hills, 90210" (1990-2000). Behind the scenes of her newest show, she speaks up to make certain that "What I Like About You" is responsible in any messages it sends to young viewers.

"I've always been a huge advocate of the show not being about two girls going out to find guys to validate their self-worth," Garth said.

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