I have never been to Seneca Falls, the small town between Rochester and Syracuse that proudly bills itself as the real-life Bedford Falls, the fictional town made famous by Frank Capra’s classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. But that changed for me this weekend!
Seneca Falls is as captured by It’s A Wonderful Life as I am. How serious are the Seneca Falls folks about their legendary claim of being Bedford, you ask? They change some signs in town to read, “Welcome to Bedford Falls,” during the event. There’s even a “It’s A Wonderful Life” Museum open year-round where I learned quite a bit about a favorite classic. One unique exhibit features love letters Donna Reed received from servicemen during World War II.
There is no real proof that Capra’s vision of Bedford Falls was derived from Seneca Falls. BUT the Bailey style bridge a despondent George Bailey jumps off and the quaint little downtown look A LOT like Seneca Falls. It’s also known that Capra stayed in Seneca Falls with his uncle in 1945, prior to the movie. The nice thing about it is they’re keeping the legend of It’s a Wonderful Life alive throughout this whole town.
When the movie came out in 1946 it was nominated for five Oscars but won only a technical award for special effects. More precisely, the award was for snow. Yes, SNOW. The scenes with the Bailey kids were shot in Culver City, California during a 90-degree heat wave. So, Capra used a new material made of soap, water and a chemical called Fomite (found in fire extinguishers) and a fan to blow it around. Voila!
Speaking of the Bailey kids, three surviving children actors Jimmy Hawkins, Karolyn Grimes (daughter Zuzu) and Carol Coombs (Jani) attended the 21st annual “It’s a Wonderful Life Festival” in Seneca Falls to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the film. They also performed a Bread, Salt and Wine housewarming like George did for the Martini family. Hawkins has written a several books on the movie and believes “…there’s a little George Baily in all of us.”
Today, viewers can watch it several times during December, and in color. Stewart, who died in 1997, was so against adding color to It’s a Wonderful Life that he told Congress in 1987: “I tried to look at the colorized version, but I had to switch it off — it made me feel sick.” I must agree, watch the original black and white as it was meant to be seen.
Color or black and white, Capra’s message of every persons life touches and has meaning to so many other lives stands as strong today as it did in 1946. I’ll end with Clarence’s simple inscription. It seems to plain on the surface, but is so touching: “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”
VERY strange is that I met Clarence and took his picture with him clutching a copy Tom Sawyer. He was very angelic looking and the photo didn’t appear with the others when I got home. I guess you can’t photograph angels! He left me with a bell and a wink. And just when I gave up hope Clarence appeared: