It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is a beloved American Christmas fantasy drama produced and directed by Frank Capra. To this day, the film continues to connect with audiences all over the world and is widely considered to be a key viewing during the holiday season.
In the winter of 2018, the Elmhurst History Museum hosted the It’s a Wonderful Life exhibition, spotlighting the collection of Illinois collector Richard Goodson. The exhibit detailed information about the film and its stars, in addition to the time period. The exhibit also drew parallels between the issues the fictitious town of Bedford Falls faced to that of the small Illinois city of Elmhurst. Below, you will find my photos from the exhibit.
The film was actually based upon a short story entitled The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939. It is this story that would become the basis for the film.
It’s a Wonderful Life was to be James Stewart‘s first film after his service in World War II. Frank Capra was slated to direct and had already established a positive relationship with Stewart through their work together in previous films.
Jean Arthur was another individual who worked frequently with Stewart and Capra; however, she turned down the lead female role. Donna Reed was cast in her place.
The two leads would also be supported by the young actors who would be portraying their children. The Bailey children were played by Carol Coomes, Karolyn Grimes, Larry Simms, and Jimmy Hawkins. Bobby Anderson would play a young George Bailey.
Completing the cast was a lengthy roster of character actors, each with a wide range of experience in other films.
The film would eventually become a treasured classic. Both the film and initial text have been translated into numerous languages for audiences worldwide to enjoy.
The exhibit also displayed various items from the time period that the film depicted, including some Christmas decorations from the era.
In addition to getting the period and setting just right, the process of filming was also daunting. Scenes were reimagined, added, or cut, while Capra worked to bring the story to the screen.
To complicate the matter, the false snow itself could also be problematic. It had to photograph in a way that was just right to be visible on camera and be accepted by viewers as snow.
Once filming was completed, publicity for the film became more aggressive as the stars and key scenes were promoted to capture the interest of audiences.
Overall, it is fascinating to see an exhibit so focused upon the many facets of completing this holiday film. From all of the pre-production work to the production itself and post-production work, the efforts of the numerous talents invested in the creation of the film are appreciated to this day. Furthermore, it is a delight to see that the film still has fans to this day, as evidenced by the Goodson’s own collection and the many individuals who visited the museum to enjoy it.
It is my understanding that the film did not get a great acceptance when originally released. It was only when in the ’50s that television programmers looking for a Christmas film put it on television and then it became popular.
And I am glad it did.