Attaboy, Clarence

By Kristen Castillo

October 16, 2017 5 min read

"It's a Wonderful Life" is a classic Christmas movie of redemption, love and a sense of spirituality. The American Film Institute named the 1947 film the "most inspiring film of all time."

The story follows main character George Bailey, who's contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. His guardian angel, Clarence, comes to the rescue and then shows Bailey what it'd be like if he never existed.

The 2 1/4-hour film is on TV every year during the Christmas season but how much do you really know about this magical and memorable movie? Read on for some trivia on this classic film:

While the film was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Director, it didn't win. However, Frank Capra did win a Golden Globe for Best Director.

The film is based on a short story "The Greatest Gift" by author Philip Van Stern, who when he couldn't find a publisher for his writing, decided to print 200 copies of the story which he mailed out as Christmas cards in 1943. Four months later, a producer for RKO Pictures saw the card and the company paid the author $10,000 for motion picture rights.

Capra loved the story and his production company bought the screenplay for $10,000 and adapted it for the silver screen. Biography says the script pays tribute to the story's title when angel Clarence gets his assignment to save Bailey from suicide, which the heavenly voice calls "the greatest gift."

According to MentalFloss, "It's a Wonderful Life" didn't fare wonderfully at the box office. It was considered a flop and Capra lost money on then production.

Despite it being a winter-themed movie, it was actually shot during a hot summer, including 90-degree temperatures.

To get the look of snowflakes, Capra and his special effects team created a new kind of cinematic snow. According to People magazine, instead of using Hollywood's traditional snow, which were just painted cornflakes, the special effects crew combined Foamite, which was used in fire extinguishers, with sugar and water.

Capra said he'd shoot the whole movie in just 90 days and that's what happened. The cast had a party to celebrate staying on schedule.

Vanity Fair reports the movie's copyright expired, which turned out to be a good thing. That's because TV stations around the country were able to broadcast the movie for free. Since 1994, the movie has aired exclusively on NBC.

Jimmy Stewart portrayed the iconic role of George Bailey but he wasn't the only actor considered for the job. RKO originally wanted Cary Grant but after they sold the project to Capra, the director hired Stewart.

Although she'd had a series of smaller roles on screen, leading lady Donna Reed didn't have a major acting role until this film, when she portrayed Mary Bailey, George's wife.

Bedford Falls, the fictional town on screen, was inspired by Seneca Falls, New York. There's even an It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, the same town that hosts an annual festival.

Building that four-acre Bedford Falls set, complete with 75 stores and buildings as well as 20 oak trees and an actual Main Street, cost $3.7 million. According to MentalFloss, it was one of the most extensive sets of its time.

The Los Angeles Times says the dance scene where Reed falls into a pool while dancing in a gym was filmed at Beverly Hills High School, which has a "Swim Gym." The gym floor retracts by key, revealing a pool, just like in the movie.

The film has many famous lines, including when Zuzu says, "Look, Daddy! Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings." And Bailey replies, "That's right. That's right. Attaboy, Clarence."

Other catch phrases include, "Lassoing the moon!" "Hee-haw and Merry Christmas," "Zuzu's petals" and "I want to live again!"

For the scene where Reed's Mary was supposed to throw a rock to break a window at the Glanville house, Capra had a crew member ready to throw the rock but Reed successfully threw one and broke the window on the first try.

Back in 1999, the late film critic Roger Ebert called "It's a Wonderful Life," an "ageless movie" that improves with age and familiarity, like "Casablanca" or "The Third Man."

The movie, which was shot in black and white, has been colorized three times. It's now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

IMDB says the original closing song was "Ode to Joy." Instead, "Auld Lang Syne" was played.

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