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Zuzu's petals! "I want to live again!" Lassoing the moon! "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings."
Who doesn't immediately recognize some of the classic elements of the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life," the perennial holiday favorite starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed?
The film has become a beloved American institution, though as most of us know, it was not well-received at the time.
"I think one of the reasons it wasn't successful when it came out is that it was marketed as a romantic comedy," suggested Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu). Grimes sat down with TODAY's Al Roker along with fellow co-stars Carol Coombs (Janie) and Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy) to talk about the film's enduring appeal Monday.
But even though it wasn't a big success on the screen at first, the cast members felt then (and now) that they developed a special bond. "We've had a wonderful life," said Coombs. "[We] really admire each other and love each other.... It's true friendship."
It's a delightful surprise to learn that the cast is still close, but that's not the only surprise the movie has in store. As we approach the 70th anniversary of its New York City premiere (December 21), here are 7 other details you also might not be aware of!
1. The real-life Bedford Falls is located in upstate New York
Though there's some controversy over this fact, director/co-screenwriter Frank Capra based Bedford Falls on Seneca Falls, in New York's Finger Lakes region. (Other locations, like Rochester, Buffalo, Elmira and Cornell were discussed only after he got involved in the script.) The Seneca Falls "It's a Wonderful Life" Museum is one of only four movie museums in the country.
2. Zuzu actually was a gingersnap
Recall how George Bailey (Stewart) calls his daughter Zuzu his "little gingersnap"? Well, there's a reason: There actually was a cookie called Zu Zu Ginger Snaps from 1901 to the early 1980s by the Nabisco company, with the mascot Zu Zu Clown.
3. Getting the movie from story-to-screen was a whole saga in itself
Philip Van Doren Stern wrote the story on which the film is based, called "The Greatest Gift," but only managed to get the short "published" when he printed up copies as a 21-page Christmas card. When a producer at RKO Pictures saw the card, he bought the rights for $10,000. But getting it to the script stage was tough — official screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett found Capra condescending. So when they walked out, Capra had others work on the story, including Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo and Clifford Odets, among others.
4. Musical ability came in handy
When George rushes home, frayed and harried and feeling like his life is over, he's greeted by a warm family tableau — and daughter Janie picking through "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" on the piano. Well, while we're sure she was a fine young actress, apparently being able to play the song without making a mistake was partly what secured her the job!
5. Alfalfa is responsible for jump starting George and Mary's romance
When George starts dancing with Mary Hatch (Reed) at the school dance in the gym, the gym floor suddenly opens to reveal a swimming pool beneath. Credit goes to Freddie, played by Carl Switzer, who had started his career as Alfalfa in "Our Gang"! Of course, as we all know, getting dunked led to George and Mary's ultimate romance. Bonus trivia: That's a real gym floor/pool combination, located at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.
6. The darkness in the story comes from a real place
"Wonderful Life" was a return to feature films by both Stewart and Capra, who each took time away from Hollywood during World War II to fight (Stewart) and make documentary war films (Capra). Both were battle-weary and wondering if they still "had it," Hawkins told The Huffington Post earlier this month. "He felt, like, coming out of a world war and now he's on the set of a movie, he thought it was frivolous," Hawkins said of Stewart. "He was ready to just pack it up, go back to his hometown, run his father's hardware store." So when you watch George mentally wrestling with his circumstances, bear in mind: Stewart might not have been acting as much as we think he was.
7. It's the most inspirational film of all time
In 2006, the American Film Institute polled 1,500 filmmakers, actors and critics and came up with a list of most-inspirational films ever, and "Wonderful Life" topped the list. (TODAY viewers seem to agree.) Not bad for a film about depression, disillusionment ... and the redemptive power of community.
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