Christmas Movies: It’s a Wonderful Life

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Today, It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas staple. For years, NBC has shown the beloved movie on Christmas Eve. However, it’s start was not as great.

George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clarence

The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams to help others. His imminent suicide brings intervention from his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in Bedford Falls would be if he were never born.

It’s a Wonderful Life was originally titled The Greatest Gift and written by Philip Van Doren Stern in November 1939. After begin rejected by several publishers, he had it printed as a 24-page pamplet and mailed it to 200 family members and friends in Christmas 1943.

The story came to the attention of either Cary Grant or RKO producer David Hempstead, who showed it to Grant’s agent. In April 1933, RKO bought the rights to the story for $10,000. The hopes was to turn it into a vehicle for Grant.

Dance scene is one of the best known scenes

Several writers worked on the screenplay before RKO shelved the project. But, RKO Studio chief Charles Koerner ured Frank Capra to read “The Greatest Gift”.

Capra immediately saw potential for his new production company, who had a film distribution agreement with RKO. The studio sold him the rights for $10,000 and three in the three film scripts writers worked on.

Capra worked with other writers and many drafts of the screenplay. There was much change over and tension over the screenplay and a dispute over who should receive credit. Capra renamed the screenplay It’s a Wonderful Life.

Every time you hear a bell ring an angel gets his wings

Frank Capra claimed Senaca Falls, New York was inspired and modeled for Bedford Falls after he visited the town in 1945. The town holds an annuals “It’s A Wonderful Life Festival” and has a museum. However, a Capra historian claims to never find any evidence of Capra’s claim.

Capra had worked with James Stewart on two other movies including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and felt he was the only man who could play George Bailey.

The film was shot at RKO Radio Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. Filming lasterd for 90 days from April to July 1946.

Original movie poster

“Only two locations from the film survive. The first, the swimming pool that was unveiled during the high-school dance sequence, is located in the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School and is still in use as of 2013. The second is the “Martini home” in La Cañada Flintridge, California.”

Alternate endings were considered and several sequences filmed but cut from the film.

It’s a Wonderful Life premiered at the Globe Theatre in New York on December 20, 1946, to mixed reviews.”

“The film recorded a loss of $525,000 at the box office for RKO.”

A clerical error led to the copyright being renewed in 1974 and it lapsed into the general domain. The royalties paid were only for the story “The Greatest Gift” which was renewed in 1971. The film soon began to air on networks and became a holiday favorite in the 1980s.

Three colorization versions have been produced over the years from the original black and white.

The film has also been adapted for radio, a musical state production and adapted for several Christmas movies {Happened One Christmas, Click and The Christmas Spirit.”}

“In 1990, It’s a Wonderful Life was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.”

It’s A Wonderful Life is now considered one of the greatest films of all time. The American Film Institute ranked it #11 in 1998 as one of the 100 best American films ever made.

Capra revealed it was his personal favorite among the films he directed and that he screened it for his family every Christmas season.

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