I know, It's a Wonderful Life is one of those movies you either adore or hate. And it's definitely what Snopes calls "glurge," but I love it anyway. So, in the spirit of the Halloween Horror movie posts, I thought I'd deliver a little inside information about this Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed classic.
• You'll never hear him referenced by name in the movie, but the script for IAWL says the head angel (not Clarence's boss Joseph, but his superior) is named Franklin. Why Franklin? Well, originally, the head angel was going to be Benjamin Franklin. He was going to be shown up in heaven, tinkering away at one of his many inventions.
• The movie started as The Greatest Gift, a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern. RKO Pictures bought the rights to the story and started to rewrite some of it, but it was going nowhere fast. Ideas including Uncle Billy committing suicide and a "Good George" battling "Bad George". Frank Capra loved the story, though, and used his own cash to buy the story from RKO. Although a few of the RKO scenes were kept, including the scene at the dance, Capra and his writers (including Dorothy Parker, who was never credited) rescued It's a Wonderful Life and made it the classic it is today
• When you see the boys sledding near the beginning of the movie, there's a lot going on here. First of all, all of them are wearing caps with skull and crossbones. That's because they all belong to a secret club (boys only, I'm sure). And among the boys there are Ernie and Sam Wainwright. Ernie isn't ever referenced in the movie, but you know it's Sam because he gives his "hee haw" sign. Also, if you look close, you'll see that they are trespassing on old man Potter's territory. In an earlier version of the script, Potter let his attack dogs loose ("Smithers, release the hounds.") on the boys, and when they started running, Harry fell through the ice.
• Donna Reed grew up just outside of Denison, Iowa (not too far from Des Moines) and won a bet with Lionel Barrymore, the actor who played Mr. Potter, when he bet her that she couldn't milk a cow. Apparently she was also an accomplished baker - her rolls won a coveted blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair when she was just 13.
• Sure, the movie looks like it takes place in a snowy December setting. But it was actually filmed during a heat wave in California (that gym with the swimming pool under the floor is Beverly Hills High School). It got so unbearable that Frank Capra actually gave everyone a day off to recover from a hard, hot day of shooting.
• The FBI kept a file on Frank Capra because they felt that It's a Wonderful Life was nothing more than Communist propaganda. Comments included the observation that the Mr. Potter character was obviously an attempt to discredit bankers.
• Zuzu's name comes from ZuZu gingersnaps. Jimmy Stewart cleverly calls her a little ginger snap near the end of the movie, alluding to the origins of her name. Also, there used to be an all-girl band called Zuzu's Petals - the lead singer of the band, Laurie Lindeen, is married to former Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg.
• Since Sesame Street first introduced our favorite Muppet odd couple, there has been speculation that they were named after Bert the cop and Ernie the cab driver from It's a Wonderful Life. Not true, says longtime Muppet writer and puppeteer Jerry Juhl. It's just a coincidence.
• And, finally, a bit of thievery from my mental_floss post on National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - The Capra family must have Christmas in their genes. The assistant director of Christmas Vacation, Frank Capra III, is the grandson of the legendary Frank Capra, who directed It’s a Wonderful Life. The part where Clark “fixes” the newel post by sawing it off with a chainsaw is an homage to It’s a Wonderful Life – the newel post at the Bailey’s house was also loose. Also, Russ is watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV when his grandparents arrive.