It’s a Wonderful Life is by far the greatest Christmas film ever. Like most cult classics, it was a failure at the box office, but now, exactly 65 years after its 1946 release, it is one of the most beloved films in the world. As someone who is caught up in It’s a Wonderful Life mania, and as a person who has an affinity for strange minutae, I have spent way too much time researching some unusual details about the film and some of the people who starred in it. Nonetheless, I think you’re going to enjoy a few of my weirder discoveries.
1. A couple of weeks ago, FOX Business Network stated that the new Muppets movie was communist propaganda, due to the fact that the bad guy was a Texas oilman. Well, in 1947, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI sent out a memo stating, “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.” I suspect that Glenn Beck hates It’s a Wonderful Life, since it gives so much comfort to the enemy.
2. Todd Karns played Harry Bailey, George’s brother, in the film. Like Harry, Karns served in World War II. (In the movie he served in the Navy, in real life he served in the Army.) Jimmy Stewart didn’t serve in the war in the film, but in real life was a WWII hero who flew in more than 20 combat missions and earned numerous awards for bravery. Frank Albertson, who played Sam Wainwright also served in the Army Air Forces in WWII.
3. Vincent Price was among the actors who tried out for the role of Mr. Potter. Ginger Rogers was offered the part of Mary but turned it down. The script was originally written with Cary Grant in mind, but he did The Bishop’s Wife instead. Capra bought the script and revised it under the auspices that Jimmy Stewart would take the role.
4. The town of Bedford Falls was just a set, and was torn down after the movie was filmed. However, the gym floor that opened into a pool actually existed then, and still exists now, at Beverly Hills High School. The Martini house in “Bailey Park” is also still standing, in La Canada Flintridge, California, and is a private residence. Seneca Falls, NY, claims to be the town the movie was based on, and there is a “It’s a Wonderful Life” museum located there. Strangely, it is closed on Christmas Day.
5. The scene where Uncle Billy leaves the house drunk and then crashes into what sound like garbage cans off screen? A crew member had in fact accidentally dropped some equipment right then, and Thomas Mitchell (playing Uncle Billy) ad libbed, “I’m alright! I’m alright!”
6. Why is George Bailey sweating so much when he’s on the bridge? Because they were filming in July, and it was 90 degrees when they shot that scene.
7. The young man who opened the swimming pool and looked like Alfalfa? Just as you m.ay have suspected, that was indeed Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer.
8. Bobby Anderson played young George Bailey in the film, and the next year had a bit part in The Bishop’s Wife. In the 1990s, he worked as a production assistant on Passenger 57 and Demolition Man. That’s right: Sly Stallone has one degree of separation from It’s a Wonderful Life.
9. Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter) was born in Philadelphia and attended Episcopal Academy. He is Drew Barrymore’s great-uncle.
10. In the 1950s, Gloria Grahame, who played the sexy Violet, married Nicholas Ray, the director of Rebel Without a Cause. The marriage ended when Ray caught Grahame in bed with his 13-year-old son by a previous marriage.