It’s not too late to do one more story on Christmas, and what better way to wrap up this season than with another look at It’s a Wonderful Life from a nationally known expert on popular culture and an Emmy Award-winning producer who answered the following questions: Why did this movie have such an impact? and What about The Real Bedford Falls?
On last week’s State of Greater Western New York Report, Sentinel Publisher Chris Carosa interviewed Robert J. Thompson and Stu Lisson.
Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture and a Trustee Professor of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, says It’s a Wonderful Life received little fanfare when it was originally released. “Back in those days, the movie would be released, play for a few weeks, then we’d go on to the next one,” says Thompson.
“For all intents and purposes, It’s a Wonderful Life went away for almost three decades.”
“It wasn’t until its prominent play in the 1970s when it was rediscovered by a whole new audience and it became a Christmas tradition,” says Thompson.
Since then, there’s been much speculation as to what Director Frank Capra patterned the idyllic Bedford Falls after. The preponderance of evidence suggesting Western New York’s Seneca Falls led to the creation of the Emmy Award-winning documentary The Real Bedford Falls: It’s a Wonderful Life.
“Francis DiClemente, my co-producer and I have always been fascinated by the possibility that It’s a Wonderful Life could have been influenced by the town of Seneca Falls, says producer Stu Lisson, who previously won an Emmy for his Miracle on 42nd Street documentary.
Lisson was motivated by “the idea that the trajectory of the movie was possibly altered by Frank Capra’s visit to Seneca Falls.”
The documentary, which took two years to make, features interviews with Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life), Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey in the 1946 film), Monica Capra Hodges, granddaughter of Frank Capra, and film critic Leonard Maltin. The 30-minute films is narrated by former NBC Today Show correspondent Bob Dotson, who also co-wrote it.
“It was just a wonderful coincidence that we got all these people together,” says Lisson.
If you’d like to watch this wonderful documentary, it’s widely available through most streaming services as well as for purchase in DVD format.