The holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life turns 70 this year, but it’s still as joyous and infectious as a little kid on Christmas morning. The uplifting story of struggling small-town hero George Bailey remains a must-watch movie at this time of year.
Here are seven things to know about It’s a Wonderful Life that are sure to generate interest at holiday parties.
Zuzu got her name from a cookie. George refers to his daughter Zuzu as “my little gingersnap. That’s because the character’s name came from Zu Zu Gingersnaps, a cookie made by Nabisco in the mid-20th century.
Bedford Falls is in Upstate New York. Well, sort of. Director Frank Capra is said to have based the fictional town on Seneca Falls, New York, which is now home to The It’s a Wonderful Life Museum.
Jimmy Stewart was drawing on real life. Stewart’s beautiful portrayal of a man struggling with the meaning of his life mirrored Stewart’s own experience. The actor had just returned from combat in World War II and was battling a sense that movie-making was a trivial way to spend one’s life.
It was born as a Christmas card. It’s a Wonderful Life is based on a short story called The Greatest Gift. Its author “published” the tale as a 21-page Christmas card. A Hollywood producer came across one of the cards and bought the rights for $10,000.
Musical talent was key. The actress who played George’s daughter Janie got the job because she could play piano in the scene where the family sings “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
There’s a Little Rascals connection. The mischievous kid who opens the gym floor and dunks his fellow dancers in the high school swimming pool below was played by Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in The Little Rascals serial.
It’s the most uplifting movie in history. At least that was the opinion of 1,500 film industry professionals polled by the American Film Institute in 2006.
And, because it’s the season of giving, here’s one more bit of trivia.
The bartender became a TV legend. Nick the bartender – “We serve hard drinks in here to men who want to get drunk fast” – was played by Sheldon Leonard. He went on to produce several legendary TV shows, including The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle and I Spy.
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