Enjoy these little known facts about …It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Lionel Barrymore convinced James Stewart to take the role of George, despite his feeling that he was not up to it so soon after World War II. James Stewart cited George Bailey as being his favorite character. The part was originally developed at another studio with Cary Grant earmarked for the role. When Frank Capra inherited the project, he rewrote it to suit Stewart. James Stewart and Donna Reed reprised their roles in 1947 on radio, first on “The Lux Radio Theatre” and then on “Camel Screen Guild Theatre.” In the Lux version, instead of putting Zuzu’s petals in his pocket, George has a bell that Zuzu likes to play with. The “Lux” version aired in March; the “Screen Guild” version aired December 29th.
Films made prior to this one used cornflakes painted white for the falling snow effect. Because the cornflakes were so loud, dialogue had to be dubbed in later. Frank Capra wanted to record the sound live, so a new snow effect was developed using foamite (a fire-fighting chemical) and soap and water. This mixture was then pumped at high pressure through a wind machine to create the silent, falling snow. 6000 gallons of the new snow were used in the film. The RKO Effects Department received a special award from the Motion Picture Academy for the development of the new film snow.
The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) is showing at the movie house as George runs down the street in Bedford Falls. Henry Travers, who plays Clarence, the angel, starred in that film as Horace P. Bogardus.
For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone’s amazement, Donna Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman!
James Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss because it was his first screen kiss since his return to Hollywood after the war. Under Frank Capra’s watchful eye, Stewart filmed the scene in only one unrehearsed take, and it worked so well that part of the embrace was cut because it was too passionate to pass the censors.
Jean Arthur was Frank Capra’s first choice for the part of Mary. However, she declined the role since she was already committed to a Broadway play. Ginger Rogers was offered the role of Mary, but turned it down. It was Donna Reed’s first starring role.
Originally ended with “Ode to Joy”, not “Auld Lang Syne”. When composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s original score for the finale (featuring “Ode To Joy”) was eliminated, tracks of Alfred Newman’s score from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) were used instead, most notably the chorus singing “Hallelujah”.
In 1947, an FBI analyst submitted, without comment, an addition to a running memo on “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” recording the opinion of an industry source who said that the film’s “obvious” attempt to discredit bankers “is a common trick used by Communists.”
The gym floor that opens up to reveal a swimming pool was real and was located at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.
Vincent Price was considered for the part of Mr. Potter.
The instant that George says “God” on the bridge, it starts snowing, showing that he is back in the real world.
The cigarette lighter seen in this film (the one which George wishes he had a million dollars on) was previously seen in another Frank Capra film, You Can’t Take It with You (1938).
The set for Bedford Falls was constructed in two months and was one of the longest sets that had ever been made for an American movie. It covered four acres of the RKO’s Encino Ranch. It included 75 stores and buildings, main street, factory district and a large residential and slum area. The Main Street was 300 yards long, three whole city blocks!
The raven, named Jimmy, appeared in all of Frank Capra’s movies.
Two of “Sesame Street” (1969)’s Muppets, Bert and Ernie, share their names with the film’s cop and cab driver, respectively, but this is said to be just a coincidence. When Officer Bert shoots at George, the “s” and the “v” in the electric “Pottersville” sign far away in the distance, go out.
While filming the scene where George prays in the bar, James Stewart has said that he was so overcome that he began to sob right then and there. Later, Frank Capra reframed the shot so it looked like a much closer shot than was actually filmed because he wanted to catch that expression on Stewart’s face.
The film has two lines of “secret dialog” - spoken quietly through a door. (They can be heard when amplifying the volume, and are also explicitly depicted in the closed-captioning.) The lines occur at the end of the scene set in Bailey’s private office with Bailey and his son George, and Potter and his goon present. After George raves to Potter that “you can’t say that about my father”, he is ushered out of the room by his father, then George is shown standing outside the office door. At that moment, George overhears the following two lines of dialog through the glass pane of the door behind him: POTTER: What’s the answer? BAILEY: Potter, you just humiliated me in front of my son.
Pharmacist Gower’s son’s death at college is attributed to “Influenza” in the telegram that Young George reads, dated May 3, 1919. Around that time, there was the “Spanish Flu” worldwide epidemic that claimed millions of lives.
The name of Bedford Falls was combined from Bedford Hills, in Westchester County, New York, and Seneca Falls, a small town midway between Rochester and Syracuse. The town of Elmira, mentioned by the bank examiner, is a real town in New York, not that far from the actual Seneca Falls.
The scene on the bridge where Clarence saves George was filmed on a back lot on a day where the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why James Stewart is visibly sweating in a few scenes.
Despite being set around Christmas, it was filmed during a heat wave. It got to be so hot that Frank Capra gave everyone a day off to recuperate.
According to an interview with Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played Zuzu, the name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps. George makes reference to this near the end of the movie when he says to Zu Zu at the top of the stairs, “Zuzu my little Ginger Snap!”