15 Interesting Facts You May Not Have Known About The Classic Film 'It's A Wonderful Life'

November 29, 2018

 Before the whirlwind of the holidays sweeps us up in a snowstorm of stress and time management, here at GLT we encourage you to take a break and enjoy 15 fun facts about the holiday classic film It’s A Wonderful Life

 

• The actress Beulah Bond, who plays Jimmy Stewart's mother Ma Bailey in the film, had played his mother three times in other productions: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady

 

• In 1974, the copyright for It’s A Wonderful Life lapsed, which made it royalty free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. Thus it was on television all the time during the holiday season, which helped garner its popularity soon making it a desired holiday classic. The "free ride" for the networks ended in 1994. 

 

• The rock breaking the window in the Granville house was real! Frank Capra had a stuntman in place ready to shoot out the window in the scene where Donna Reed throws a rock through it. However, Reed herself threw the rock that broke the window on the first try. 

 

• The set for It’s Wonderful Life had a budget of $3.7 million. The town of Bedford Falls which covered 4 full acres of RKO Encino Ranch. At the time, it was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built, with 75 stores and buildings, factories, residential areas, 20 fully grown oak trees, and a 300-yard-long Main Street. The whole set took 2 months to construct. 

 

• After leaving the house drunk, it sounds like Uncle Billy stumbles into a trash can and we hear him yell, “I’m alright, I’m alright." This line wasn’t in the script; it was actually a crew member who accidentally dropped equipment during filming and Capra decided to keep it. That crew member even got a $10 bonus for his “off-screen appearance” as Uncle Billy.

 

 • The gym floor that opens to a swimming pool in the famous dance scene was real. While a bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. The retractable floor was real and was referred to as the Swim Gym. The school is in the process of restoring the landmark filming location. 

 

• The final scene in the film originally had the cast singing “Ode To Joy’ instead of “Auld Lang Syne." 

 

• Donna Reed, born Donnabelle Mullenger, was actually a farm girl from Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore, who played Mr. Potter in the film, didn’t believe it so he bet her $50 she couldn’t milk a cow. Reed said, “It was the the easiest $50 I ever made.”

 

It’s A Wonderful Life was shot during a heat wave in the summer of 1946. In fact, at one point Capra had to shut down filming because of the sky high temperatures. This explains why Jimmy Stewart is sweating in many moments of the film. 

 

• Frank Capra, who was trained as a engineer, worked with special effects supervisor Russell Shearman to create a new type of snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common type of fake snow used for films but they created a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix famine (the contents found in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option, thus pioneering a new type of movie snow. The RKO Effects Department received a Class III Scientific or Technical Award from the Motion Picture Academy for the development of the new film snow. 

 

• In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting that the discrediting of bankers and the treatment of Lionel Barrymore’s character as the ‘Scrooge-type’ (so he would be the most hated man in town) was a common trick used by Communists. 

 

• The movie’s characters Bert and Ernie have no relation to Sesame Street. Jim Henson and his long time writing parter Jerry Juhl, who was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street, insists this was pure coincidence. At the time of the puppet naming, Juhl says a sharp memory was not among Henson’s talents and while he would have known about the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, he never would have remembered that the cop and taxi driver were named Bert and Ernie. Henson simply looked at the prototype puppets and decided one looked like an Ernie and one looked like a Bert. 

 

• In 2013, producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, announced in 2013 they would continue with a sequel It’s A Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. However, it didn’t take long for Paramount, who owns copyright, to step in and assure fans that, “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.” 

 

• Up to 25 titles are added each year to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and It’s A Wonderful Life was added in 1990. Each film added to this list is deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” 

 

• Frank Capra, Donna Reed, and Jimmy Stewart have all called It’s A Wonderful Life their favorite movie on which they ever worked.

 

 

It's A Wonderful Life plays here at GLT December 6-16th. Tickets are selling out for this beloved stage adaptation of the holiday film so hurry and call our box office at 864-233-6238 or click here to purchase tickets online. 

 

 

 

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