Being a history buff I enjoy learning the origin of things. Who was the first to sing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?” What happened to Susan in “The Miracle on 34th Street?” Was there a Bert and Ernie in “It’s A Wonderful Life?”
Like you, I watched my share of traditional Christmas movies. I thought you might enjoy learning about some tidbits from several of these favorites.
"It’s A Wonderful Life"
“It’s A Wonderful Life” originated as a short story titled “The Greatest Gift.” Phillip Van Doren Stern, the author, shopped the book around to publishers without much luck. He eventually made 200 hundred copies of the book and sent them as Christmas cards. Someone from RKO pictures saw it and purchased the book for $10,000.
Gary Grant was initially selected to star as George Bailey. The movie, however, was sold to director Frank Capra who gave the role to James Stewart. Starring with James Stewart was Donna Reed. This would be her first major role in a movie. Donna Reed would later star in a TV series titled “The Donna Reed Show.”
James Stewart, like many actors, served in World War II as a pilot and became the highest-ranking actor in American military history—a brigadier general.
It took four months to build the set of Bedford Falls that consisted of 75 stores and buildings, 20 live oak trees and a 300-yard main street. The original Bedford Falls is Seneca Falls, N.Y. At least the people of Seneca Falls says it is.
The cop and the taxi cab driver were named Bert and Ernie but they had nothing to do with Jim Henson’s Muppets by the same name.
Beverly Hills High School actually had a retractable floor with a pool beneath it. The pool scene in the movie was filmed at the high school. It was called the “Swim Gym.”
James Stewart made many movies but he claimed that “It’s A Wonderful Life” was his favorite. I remember him saying this on the Johnny Carson show.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” was not a big hit in the box office. It lost over $500,000. When the copyright for the movie ran out in 1974, it became royalty free and that is why you see it so often on TV during the Christmas season. Aren’t we lucky?
"The Christmas Story"
Because I can identify with so much of what happens in the movie “The Christmas Story,” I would rank it as my favorite. What boy in the 1950s didn’t want a Red Ryder BB Gun? Ralphie said he wanted the BB gun 28 times during the movie. That’s a good lesson for all kids, persistence pays off.
Ralphie is played by Peter Billingsley who is now a director. He made a cameo appearance in the movie “Elf” where he played Ming The Elf. Billingsley retired from acting in the 1990s.
Darren McGavin, who played the father, died in 2006 at the age of 83. Jack Nicholson had some interest in playing the part of the father but it didn’t work out.
Ralphie’s house in Cleveland is now a museum. It was sold on eBay in 2004 for $150,000. It has been restored as it was in the movie.
Yes, kids are still putting their tongues on frozen metal. Everyone should have that experience at least once.
You probably already know this but you can still buy a Red Ryder BB Gun. BB guns are produced in many sizes and shapes and are widely collected. I, too, had one when I was about 8 or 9 years old and I have yet to shoot my eye out.
You can buy a leg lamp on Amazon for about $30. I thought I might buy one for our home but then I thought, “They really don’t give off a whole lot of light.”
"Miracle on 34th Street"
The Macy’s parade in the movie was the real deal and Edmund Gwenn who played Santa Claus in the movie actually appeared in the 1946 parade as Santa. The movie was released in 1947 in the summer when movie attendance was greater.
The name of the movie was originally titled “The Big Heart.” Natalie Wood, who played Susan in the movie, was eight years old at the time. She went on to become a big star who married Robert Wagner two times and was divorced from him two times. She starred in West Side Story and many other films. She died in a mysterious drowning incident in 1981 at the age of 43.
While shooting the scene where Susan spots her dream house, it was so cold that the cameras froze. The filmmakers considered it a miracle that they were eventually able to thaw out the cameras and film the scene.
We can’t forget the cartoon TV movie “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Cowboy star, Gene Autry, was the first to sing the song in 1949 and it sold 2 million copies that year. It remains right up there with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” as one of the best selling songs ever.
(Some of the information used to write this column was taken from the online source “Mental Floss” and Turner Classic Movies.)
Riddle: Why didn’t Rudolph make honor roll in school this marking period? (Because he went down in history.) Kids need to be reminded to attend school otherwise they, too, will go down in history.
Thanks for everyone who supported 100% during this past year. People are becoming more aware, but we have a long way to go. Let’s be persistent. Remind young people everywhere they need to graduate from high school. We can do it!
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.