Since its debut in 1946, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life has become synonymous with the Christmas holiday. The story of George Bailey (James Stewart) and his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers) has been parodied countless times in popular media and is now considered a classic film. As the holidays approach, here are a few fun facts related to the film that you can pull out to impress your relatives instead of fighting about politics after too much of Aunt Judy's special punch.
1. It's actually based on a short story
If you haven't spent your entire life living in an abandoned hunting shack in the middle of the woods with a family of raccoons (no judgment, especially if those raccoons have wi-fi), you probably know the story of It's a Wonderful Life. Even if you've never seen it, you're probably familiar with its premise given the movie's far-reaching effects on popular culture. But not everyone knows the film — which starred James Stewart as George Bailey, a suicidal man who wishes he was never born only to discover that the world would be a lot worse off without him in it — is actually based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern. "The Greatest Gift" was published in 1945, though it was actually finished in 1943.
2. You can "visit" Bedford Falls
Seneca Falls, NY claims to be the real-life inspiration for the fictional town of Bedford Falls that is depicted in the movie. Every year the town hosts the It's a Wonderful Life Festival, which features a number of themed events to put residents and visitors in the holiday spirit. If you didn't make it for this year's festival (Friday, Dec. 9 - Sunday, Dec. 11), which featured appearances from the actors who played the Bailey children, you can start planning for next year! And if you and Paula Cole don't want to wait for December 2017, you can also visit the It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls throughout the year. Check out The Real Bedford Falls for more information.
3. Sorry, but the characters Bert and Ernie have no connection to Sesame Street
Astute viewers may have noticed that the the cop and cab driver in It's a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. However, Jerry Juhl, head writer for The Muppet Show and Jim Henson's longtime collaborator, has insisted it's just a coincidence that two of Sesame Street's most famous residents share the names.
Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000: "The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive it was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format. ... He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental."
4. It was Frank Capra's favorite movie
Although the late Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels is attributed with coining the term "humblebrag" in 2010, Capra was definitely practicing the art of the humblebrag long before then. Capra once said of It's a Wonderful Life: "I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made. It wasn't made for the oh-so-bored critics or the oh-so-jaded literati. It was my kind of film for my kind of people."
OK, maybe that was just shameless bragging. Carry on.
5. The FBI was certain the movie was Communist propaganda
We can blame the Communists for a lot. Attempting to eradicate organized religion in the Soviet Union? Sure. Spending a lot of money that wasn't immediately recouped to film It's a Wonderful Life as some sort of propaganda? Not so much. Still, the FBI was certain it was so. In a memo dated May 1947, which thankfully was unearthed and transcribed by someone with more time on their hands than I have because of all of my holiday shopping (rampant consumerism!), the FBI claimed: "With regard to the picture It's a Wonderful Life, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented 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."
The memo continued: "In addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters." The memo then goes on to explain the ways in which the person whose identity was redacted would have written the film instead. Basically, what we learned from this is that FBI memos were the internet comments of their day! Who knew?
6. There's still no proof an angel gets it wings every time a bell rings
If anyone would like to help us clear this matter up, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's a Wonderful Life is airing many, many times between now and Christmas Day. Check your listings.