It’s a Wonderful Life turns 72 this month. Here are 10 things you probably never knew about this holiday classic:
- It’s probably the only movie ever based on a Christmas card.
When author Philip Van Doren Stern couldn’t sell his short story “The Greatest Gift” to any publisher, he had 200 copies printed up as a 21-page Christmas Card and sent them to his friends. A copy fell into the hands of the head of RKO Studios. He liked it and bought the film rights for $10,000.
- Cary Grant was supposed to play George Bailey.
When RKO couldn’t turn the story into a proper script for Cary, they sold the rights to Frank Capra. It was Capra who wanted Jimmy Stewart for the lead.
- The movie lost over half a million dollars when it was first released.
Most of us know the film bombed at first, but it’s nice to put a price tag on that failure. And back in 1946, that was a considerable box office bath.
- Donna Reed is deadly with a rock
Although they had rigged the window of the old house to break when Donna Reed tosses a rock at it, they didn’t need to. Reed broke the window with her first throw.
- That gym that turns into a swimming pool was no set.
The “swim gym” was for real. The scene was filmed at Beverly Hills High. (Where else would you find one?)
- Recognize the guy who actually pulls the swimming pool prank?
You should. It’s Carl Switzer, better known to us all as “Alfalfa” from the Our Gang comedies.
- Jimmy Stewart’s sweat was no special effect.
While the film takes place around Christmas time, it was filmed in the middle of summer. Sky high temperatures accounted for much of the sweat you see on Jimmy Stewart’s face in key scenes.
- No, Bert & Ernie of Sesame Street were not named after characters in this film.
Despite years of rumors, Sesame Street’s first producer swears he and Henson named the puppets without ever once thinking about the movie (which actually wasn’t that well-known back when Sesame Street got started.
- Zuzu didn’t see the film until 1980!
Karolyn Grimes who played the adorable little tyke said she just never sat down and watched the thing until well after it had become an American institution.
- The FBI hated the film.
They thought the film subversive, claiming in a memo that the movie made “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.” They were sure this was the work of some of those notorious Hollywood Communists.
(They may have had a point as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was one of several writers, including Dorothy Parker) who worked on the script uncredited.)