It's a Wonderful Life has become a holiday tradition in America as much as Christmas trees, Mistletoe and TV Specials with Charlie Brown. The 1946 motion picture is shown on TV every single year during the Christmas season, and remains one of the most popular (and acclaimed) movies of all time. Here are five random facts about the classic Jimmy Stewart flick.
5. We have two favorite Muppets because of it. Two of the characters in the movie who befriend (and receive loans from ) George Bailey (James Stewart) are the local cab driver and local policeman. The two characters are often side-by-side and show up throughout the movie. The cab driver's name is Ernie and the policeman's name is Bert. These names were remembered by Muppet creator Jim Henson years later when he created two beloved charactes for the PBS kids' staple Sesame Street. These days, more people know the Muppets than the two characters in the 1946 movie.
4. The Pharmacist is Named for The Movie Studio. Child labor laws were not the same in 1946 as they are today, as can be seen in the opening scenes of It's a Wonderful Life. George Bailey has an after-school job at the age of twelve, working at Mr. Gower's Pharmacy. A key scene in the the movie involves George's relationship with Mr. Gower, the sad (and drunk) pharmacist who just lost a son to influenza. The name Gower was not a coincidence, however, as it was the name of the street where Columbia Pictures was located in the 40s. Also on Gower Street? A pharmacy used by studio employees. Also of note was the fact that HB Warner, the actor who played pharmacist Gower in the movie, actually studied medicine.
3. It Was Not a Box Office Smash.It's a Wonderful Life was originally to be released in January, 1947. Besides taking place around Christmastime, the movie is not actually a Christmas film. Frank Capra and the Columbia Pictures were so confident that the public would love the flick, however, that they moved the release date up to December 1946, hoping it would fare better for an Oscar Award. As it turns out, there was have competition, as Life had to compete against pictures like The Best Years of Our Lives and the original Miracle on 34th Street. Life made back its budget (around 3 million dollars), but was expected to pull in twice as much. It placed 26th that year and was met with mixed reviews. Many critics even hated the film and called it a Capra failure. It was not until the 70s, when the movie was released in syndication, that it became the classic that we know it as today...a surprise to everyone involved in the original production.
2. Young George Really Bled. The relationship between Mr. Gower (the pharmacist) and young George Bailey is a key moment in the movie. We are seen the impact young George has on another person's life, something which becomes a theme throughout. During this scene, where George informs the old pharmacist that he has made a terrible mistake, Mr. Gower gets angry and slaps young Bailey numerous times across the face. George Bailey is struck so hard, his ear begins to bleed. This is not a special effect. During filming of this scene, HB Warner (Mr. Gower) actually struck young actor Bobbie Anderson across the ear, causing it to really bleed.
1. Several Endings Were Considered. The ending of It's a Wonderful Life stands as a classic ending to a classic film. It has been re-created on many TV shows and sitcoms over the years. It is not, however, the ending that was originally written or planned. Several were considered along the way, including an ending with George Bailey dropping to his knees and reciting The Lord's Prayer, having his bad luck suddenly reversed. In fact, the famous ending with families and friends donating money to the Bailey's was added on after other endings were deemed too serious or not moving enough. In the original script, mean old Mr. Potter get his just desserts when Uncle Harry remembers (thanks Clarence!) what happened to the missing cash. This ending was parodied on a classic Saturday Night Live episode in the 80s, where the Baileys and friends beat the snot out of the awful Mr. Potter. Little did the people at SNL know, their sketch wasn't that much of a stretch after all.
It's hard to believe that It's a Wonderful Life wasn't always the holiday classic we know it as today. Despite some mixed reviews from some very Scrooge-ish critics of the day, the film was not the box office bomb it has often been called, although it was hardly a Christmas blockbuster. Shown several times throughout December, it's one movie that should be seen by every family at least once.
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