Sunday, December 26, 2021

"It's a Wonderful Life" Revisited

Happy Boxing Day, friends! Like the first spirit in Dickens' classic tale, we're celebrating another Christmas Past. I hope the day--and the whole holiday weekend--were lovely for you and yours. If your family is like ours, your celebration included yet another viewing of the classic movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." 

Given the movie's current popularity, it's hard to believe that the film was initially a flop. In fact, it failed so badly that it shut down the studio and just about ended Frank Capra's career. 

Based on a 1938 novel by Philip Van Doren Stern, the story initially found its way to movie producer David Hempstead. Cary Grant loved the story and took it to RKO, but the story was eventually sold to Liberty Films, who signed James Stewart for the leading role. The movie's debut was disastrous and proved the death knell for Liberty Films. 

Conversely, the movie marked a return to life for its lead actor. Jimmy Stewart had enjoyed a successful acting career before the second world war. Like many others of his age, Stewart enlisted as a private. He returned as a heavily decorated colonel in the Army Air Corps, a wing commander in charge of a squadron of airplanes.

Stewart distinguished himself as a bold and successful pilot who always returned from a mission and brought back his crew, even after 20 missions. He couldn't work miracles, though, and sometimes lost one or more of the planes in his squadron. When he returned from the war, the deaths of those friends he could not save haunted him, 

It wasn't called PTSD then, but the symptoms were the same. Stewart's life had been steeped in the darkess of warfare and he wasn't sure he could return to making light-hearted entertainment, The story of George Bailey, with its mix of darkness and light, gave Stewart the perfect vehicle. It was his first film back after the war, and his daughter later told reporters that the movie was her father's favorite. Meanwhile, Stewart continued his military career, finally retiring as a brigadier general.

The film's rise from failure to beloved classic may be due to a clerical error. At some point in 1976, someone forgot to renew the company's copyright, putting the film in the public domain. Thrilled to find a Christmas movie they could run without paying royalties, TV execs jumped at the chance to show "It's a Wonderful Life" and the rest is movie history. 

It's also become a regular part of Aylworth history. This year we saw IAWL on Christmas Eve. I expect it will continue to be a part of our celebration in every Christmas Future.

Susan Aylworth is the author of more than 20 novels. Over the Rainbow, a prequel to the Rainbow Rock Romances, is available free to everyone who subscribes to her newsletter on her website: Contact her on her Facebook author page or via or join her on Twitter @Susan Aylworth.


No comments:

Post a Comment