“It’s a Wonderful Life” Turns 70

A scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

On this date in 1946, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released in the United States.

Here are some things you may not have known about the classic Christmas movie.

It’s based on a story called “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern, who wrote it in 1939. After failing to sell the story, he made it into a Christmas card and send copies to friends and family in 1943. One of these cards came to the attention of a producer at RKO Pictures, which bought the story intending to make it into a movie starring Cary Grant.

RKO shelved the project after three unsuccessful screenplay attempts were made. Director Frank Capra read the story and saw its potential. His production company bought the rights and the three screenplays for $10,000. Capra worked with a team of writers, including Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling and Dorothy Parker.

The popular belief is that the role of George Bailey was all but written for Jimmy Stewart, however film historian Stephen Cox claims that Henry Fonda was also considered. The part of Mary was offered first to Jean Arthur, Olivia de Havilland and Ginger Rogers before it finally went to to Donna Reed. Vincent Price and Charles Bickford were considered for the part of the villainous Mr. Potter, who was eventually played by Lionel Barrymore.

Filming took place largely at RKO’s studio in Culver City, California and the RKO movie ranch in Encino, California. The only filming locations that remain intact are the home that the Martini family buys in the film, and the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School with its swimming pool under the gym floor.

It’s widely believed that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was originally a box office flop and was dislike by critics. However, this isn’t entirely true. The film made $3.3 million dollars in 1947, placing it 26th among more than 400 films released late in 1946 and in 1947. The reviews were mixed, with Time magazine and Variety praising it, and the New York Times and New Yorker magazine panning it.

It went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Capra and Best Actor for Stewart. It won an Oscar for technical achievement for a new method of simulating falling snow. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

The single event that made the film a Christmas classic didn’t happen until 24 years after it was released. In 1974, the company which owned the rights to the film didn’t properly renew the copyright. This allowed the film to be shown inexpensively on hundreds of local television stations. The film was believed to be in the public domain until 1993, when Republic Pictures proved that it still owned the film rights to the original short story, and because of that, to all derivative works, including “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The movie is now licensed to NBC, which shows it twice during the Christmas season, including on Christmas Eve.

Our question: Which television villain was inspired by the character of Mr. Potter?

Today is unofficially Cathode-Ray Tube Day, Games Day, and National Sangria Day.

It’s the birthday of tire magnate Harvey Firestone, who was born in 1868; author Sandra Cisneros, who is 62; and actor Jonah Hill, who is 33.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1968, the top song in the U.S. was “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye.

The No. 1 movie was “Oliver!,” while the novel “The Salzburg Connection” by Helen MacInnes topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What was the first broadcast network in the United States?

Submit your answer at triviapeople.com/test and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at triviapeople.com. We’ll reveal the correct answer on Friday’s episode.

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Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It’s_a_Wonderful_Life

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Potter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginger_Rogers

http://www.iamnotastalker.com/2009/12/22/the-martini-house-from-its-a-wonderful-life/

https://www.checkiday.com/12/20/2016

http://www.biography.com/people/groups/born-on-december-20

http://www.bobborst.com/popculture/numberonesongs/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_1968_box_office_number-one_films_in_the_United_States

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times_Fiction_Best_Sellers_of_1968

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