When families gather this holiday season, millions of them will get in the holiday mood with the tale of a small-town man named George Bailey whose ordinary life is now inspiring new generations of viewers. In fact, when disc players or NBC cues up "It's a Wonderful Life" this holiday season, 72 percent of the adult audience will be younger than the film. Here's some "It's A Wonderful Life" history, facts and trivia:

  • Frank Capra and James Stewart both said, "It's a Wonderful Life" was their favorite film of their careers.
  • Though the film was nominated for five Academy Awards, it did not receive an Oscar. Four of the Oscars for which it was nominated went to William Wyler's "The Best Years of Our Lives," also released in 1946.
  • One requirement of the Production Code was that criminals in films were to receive punishment for their crimes. Mr. Potter was never penalized for his misdeeds. Capra said he received more mail on that subject than any other aspect of the film.
  • The town of Bedford Falls is one of the longest sets ever constructed for a movie -- 300 yards long, which is three city blocks, and over four acres. The set included 20 full-grown oak trees transplanted onto the set, 75 stores and buildings, a bank with a marble front, a post office and a library.
  • The snowy scenes were shot during a record-breaking heat wave in the summer of 1946, and Capra gave the cast and crew a day off in the middle of filming to recover from the heat.
  • The snow in the film was made from gypsum, plaster, shaved ice, foamite, and soap. It was an innovation, which Capra challenged his crew to create for the film to replace the old standard of corn flakes that had been painted white.
  • The gym floor that opens into a swimming pool is real and is in Beverly Hills High School.
  • The mischievous young man who opens the floor to reveal the pool is Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer of the "Our Gang" comedies.
  • Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey and delivers the famous line at the end of the film, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings," also played Debby Brougham in the 1947 holiday classic "The Bishop's Wife" with Cary Grant.
  • The movie was based on short story called "The Greatest Gift," written by Philip Van Doren Stern, who couldn't sell the story so he printed up 200 copies and included them in his Christmas cards in 1943.
  • RKO Radio Pictures purchased "The Greatest Gift" from Philip Van Doren Stern for $10,000 and had three separate screenwriters work on the idea. But RKO was never quite satisfied with the scripts and shelved them.
  • Capra and Liberty Films purchased the script to "The Greatest Gift" from RKO Radio Pictures for $10,000. Capra rewrote the screenplay and changed the name to "It's a Wonderful Life." He added such key elements to the film as the characters of Clarence and Mr. Potter.
  • While RKO had wanted Cary Grant for the lead, Capra says he never wanted anyone but Jimmy Stewart to play his George Bailey.
  • Capra originally asked Jean Arthur to play the part of Mary Bailey. He also considered Olivia De Havilland, Ann Dvorak and Ginger Rogers, but was delighted with Donna Reed and later said she was the perfect choice.
  • The movie wasn't a big box-office success at the time of its release. In the early 1970s, a clerical error allowed the copyright to expire, allowing television stations to play to film as often as they wanted. It was during these frequent airings in the '70s that the film became a holiday tradition


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