November 18, 1996 12:00 PM

>For Hope


THE SCRIPT ALONE WOULD HAVE BEEN enough to keep the cast weepy. For Hope, an ABC movie starring Dana Delaney and airing Nov. 17, is about a 40ish mother of one dying of scleroderma, the often disfiguring, potentially fatal autoimmune disorder in which both internal and external tissue hardens and scars. But the story was also close to the heart of its director and producer, comedian and former America’s Funniest Home Videos host Bob Saget, 40. His sister Gay, a single mom and English teacher in Bucks County, Pa., died of scleroderma in 1994 at age 47. Hope is based loosely on her. diaries and her family’s memories.

After many scenes, says Polly Bergen, who plays Delaney’s mother, “Bob would hug us and lay his head on our shoulders and cry.” In an awful twist, Bergen’s sister Barbra was diagnosed with the incurable disease, which affects 500,000 Americans, even as the actress auditioned for the part last April. “Bob got me in touch with the Scleroderma Research Foundation,” says Bergen, “and found her a specialist.”

Gay Saget was diagnosed in 1992 after her fingers became stiff with what doctors first thought was rheumatoid arthritis. Within a few years her skin had grown so rigid, it was hard for nurses to insert needles into her arm. “The disease started with her kidneys,” says her son Adam, 26, a restaurant manager. “Then it froze up her esophagus. It scarred her lungs and heart. Her body couldn’t take it anymore.”

Adam and his grandparents gave Saget their full support in bringing For Hope to TV. To them, the pain has % been worth it if the broadcast increases awareness of and research into the disease. “It’s a solvable thing,” Saget says. “You just have to believe you can do it.”

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