Steve Eighinger

'It's A Wonderful Life' takes on a whole new life

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 18, 2017 2:20 pm

The other night I watched "It's A Wonderful Life."

Again.

I watch the 1946 holiday classic at least once every year at this time, and I usually watch it alone. My wife hates the movie, and I'm not sure why.

"You know, Kathy, every time you tell me how much you dislike that movie another angel gets its wings," I like to say to her, tormenting the Little Woman with my own personal take on one of the film's most famous lines.

For me, Christmas time would not be complete with seeing Jimmy Stewart portray George Bailey, Donna Reed play his wife, Mary, or one of my all-time favorite character actors, Ward Bond, make me smile as Officer Bert.

Recently I stumbled across some information that gave me a whole new appreciation of the movie. I read an article by Jennifer M. Wood of mentalfloss.com, who provided an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes information on the film. Here are some of what I found to be the most interesting:

º Cary Grant was originally selected to play George Bailey.

"But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process," Wood wrote. "In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey."

As much as I have always enjoyed the work of Cary Grant, I can't imagine anyone else playing George Bailey besides Stewart. Good call, Frank Capra.

º The movie was Donna Reed's first starring role. She had appeared in nearly 20 other film projects but none in a leading role.

º Beulah Bondi, the actress who portrayed George Bailey's mom, played the mother of a Stewart character in three other films -- "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Of Human Hearts," and "Vivacious Lady."

º The movie, when released, was a box office disaster -- which I find so hard to believe. How could this film have not been an instant classic? Wood reported "It's A Wonderful Life" left Capra $525,000 in the hole. In 2017 numbers, that's about $6.5 million.

º Fans of "The Little Rascals" will appreciate this: The kid who pushed the button that opened the pool during the dance scene was none other than Carl Switzer, who is best known as "Alfalfa" of Rascals fame.

º A year after the movie was released, Wood said the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential "Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry," citing its "rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists."

And here to think that all of these years I thought "It's A Wonderful Life" was a simple feel-good Christmas movie.

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