Today in History: Dec. 20

It’s a Wonderful Life, a film directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, opened in theaters on this date in 1946. Most reviewers labeled it as overly sentimental (although Time magazine loved it) and it fared poorly at the box office.

It was an expensive film to make, as Capra ordered a small-town set that was the size of a small town: three full-size city blocks, with 75 storefronts, some of which opened to stores which had shelves which were fully stocked with real products, and indoor snow machines for the snowy outdoors scenes.

The studio that produced it, RKO, filed it as a budget loss. The film went down in history as a flop.

By the early 1970s, the film had been a holiday staple on local television stations across the U.S. during the holidays for years; this was because It’s a Wonderful Life was such a flop that the rights to broadcast it were inexpensive for those local stations that could not afford pricier holiday fare.

Viewers started to think of the film as a holiday classic, as they had no preconceived notions about the film’s merits as given to them by critics. They had their own memories of watching the movie at grandma and grandpa’s house.

With time, that phrase “overly sentimental” when applied to the film became “openly sentimental,” and the film was viewed as warm-hearted instead of cloying. It is now regarded as a film classic.

Near the end of his life, Capra said, “It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. The film has a life of its own now, and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud … but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Spoiler alert: here’s the ending:

* * * *
Scream, the film directed by Wes Craven that stars David Arquette and Neve Campbell and killers who wear a mask called “Ghostface,” opened in theaters 20 years ago today.

* * * *
Moss Hart died 55 years ago today. John Steinbec died on this date in 1968. Bobby Darin died on this date in 1973. Mayor Richard J. Daley died 40 years ago today. Carl Sagan died 20 years ago today. Foster Brook died 15 years ago today.

* * * *
Dan Leno was born on this date in 1860.

* * * *
John Hillerman is 84 today. Peter Criss is 71. Dick Wolf is 70. Alan Parsons is 67. Michael Badalucco is 62. Sandra Cisneros is 62. Billy Bragg is 59. Chris Robinson is 50. Jonah Hill is 33.

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  1. Ernie Miller · December 20, 2016

    I saw this film in Rehab about 30 years ago during the Christmas season…talk about tears flowing. Still one of my favorites. There is a SNL skit where the characters get to beat the snot out of Mr. Potter. I must admit it is sort of gratifying although beating the snot out of someone is NOT in the spirit of the movie. Oh can I say I think they all carried Uncle Billy a bit to far….perhaps an intervention could have occurred…then he could have been in Rehab with me. Merry Christmas Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. loisajay · December 20, 2016

    John Steinbeck and Bobby Darin……two of my very favorites. Sad day, Mark.


  3. s1ngal · December 20, 2016

    To think that the film was a flop is quite unthinkable…!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Leigh W. Smith · December 20, 2016

    I had no idea about It’s a Wonderful LIfe’s backstory. I’ll have to look up a couple of the celebrities you mention above, too. Once again, you’ve imparted knowledge (to me); thank you, Mark, and happy holidays to you & J!

    Liked by 1 person

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