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'It's a Wonderful Life': Cary Grant Almost Played George and 15 Other Surprising Facts (Photos)

Dec 23, 2019

Here’s some trivia you may not have known about the classic Frank Capra film

TheWrap takes a look at some fun trivia about “It’s a Wonderful Life,” courtesy of its lead reviewer Alonso Duralde, as well as IMDb and Old Hollywood biographer Robert Matzen’s new book, “Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe.” You can also go to IMDb for more trivia, goofs and quotes from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The film technically started as a greeting card. When author Philip Van Doren Stern failed to find a publisher for his book about a man named George Pratt who considers suicide until he gets a chance to see what the world would be like without him, he printed it as his Christmas card in 1943.One of the 200 cards he self-published eventually made its way to RKO Pictures producer David Hempstead, who purchased the rights. Capra bought the rights a year later, turning “The Greatest Gift” into “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The film, although now considered a classic, was such a financial disappointment that it busted Capra’s production company, Liberty Films. 

According to Matzen, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was Jimmy Stewart’s first picture after 20 months on the front lines of WWII. He reportedly suffered post-traumatic stress disorder while filming. 

When the rights were still held at RKO, Cary Grant was slated to play the lead role of George Bailey made iconic by Jimmy Stewart.

According to Alonso Duralde’s book “Have Yourself a Very Movie Christmas,” Uncle Billy actor Thomas Mitchell was actually considered to play Mr. Potter, but Lionel Barrymore got the role due to his popularity after radio versions of “A Christmas Carol.” Also Read: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Turns 70: Why America Needs More George Baileys in Trump Era

Jimmy the Raven appeared in Capra’s “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938) and other post-“Wonderful Life” Capra movies.

According to Matzen, the original screenplay began with a scene in Benjamin Franklin’s workshop in heaven. 

Yes, Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street” have the same names as the cop and the cab driver in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But it’s just a coincidence, “Muppets” insiders have claimed. 

The disgruntled prankster who opens the gymnasium floor, revealing the pool during the school dance, is none other than Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the Little Rascals shorts.

Jimmy Stewart said that while filming the scene in which George prays in Martini’s bar, he began sobbing so convincingly, in fact, Capra later cropped the shot to better capture his expression. That’s why the shot appears grainy compared to the rest of the film.

The FBI flagged the film as Communist propaganda, issuing a memo in which the bureau claimed the film “represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers” and “deliberately maligned the upper class.”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” represented the first and last time Capra produced, financed, directed and co-wrote a film.

Actor and producer Sheldon Leonard said that he only agreed to play Nick the bartender so he could buy baseball tickets with his paycheck.

Robert J. Anderson, who played young George Bailey, said Mr. Gower actor H.B. Warner really was drunk in the scene in which he slaps George. The real slaps caused real blood to ooze out of Anderson’s ear. After the cameras stopped rolling, he comforted Anderson.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” was ranked the No. 1 Most Inspirational Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute in 2006.   

The film became infinitely more popular when its rights lapsed, creating a free-for-all for broadcasters to play it nonstop on television during the holidays. That ended when NBC acquired the exclusive rights in 1994.

If you simply can’t get enough “It’s a Wonderful Life” anniversary coverage, read our lead film critic Alonso Duralde’s take on why America needs more George Bailey’s as it enters the Trump era. Go to IMDb for more trivia, goofs and quotes from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
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