I was going to talk about how this movie touches an emotional chord, but perhaps I’ll share those thoughts in another blog. Instead, I got snared by the story behind the movie.
It’s a Wonderful Life is based on the short story, “The Greatest Gift,” written by Philip Van Doren. Van Doren wrote the story in 1939, but was unable to sell it. I think many of us can relate to this.
Mr. Van Doren ended up sending his story out as a Christmas card. For those who hate the Christmas newsletters, think about opening that card? The story came to the attention of RKO producer, David Hempstead, who showed it to Cary Grant’s agent. They hoped to use this as a vehicle for Grant. RKO paid $10,000 for the rights. After three rewrites, the project was shelved. Grant made another Christmas movie, The Bishop’s Wife.
Frank Capra read “The Greatest Gift” and saw the potential of the story. RKO saw the chance of unloading the script. They sold the rights to Capra’s production company, Liberty Films, for $10,000. RKO also threw in three free scripts.
The four writers are listed in the credits, which lets us know that more work was done to the screenplay.
The critics included the FBI. The agency issued a memo stating the film was an obvious attempt to discredit bankers. Casting Mr. Potter, the banker, as a villain was a common trick used by Communists.
The movie wasn’t a box office bomb, but…there were reports it was a loss for the studio.
It wasn’t made as a Christmas movie. It had a December release date so it would be considered for the 1946 Academy Awards.
It’s a Wonderful Life received five Academy Award Nominations:
Best Picture Frank Capra
Best Director Frank Capra
Best Actor James Stewart
Best Editing William Hombeck
Best Sound Recording John Aalberg
While the movie didn’t win, it has the distinction of being one of the most beloved films of all time.