‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Turns 65: Celebrating a Holiday Classic

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It's a holiday staple, a family-friendly tradition for generations. And on December 20, the 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life" is set to turn 65 years old. But with decades of annual television airings under its belt, should it be retired?

The numbers say no. A TV ratings press release showed that NBC's recent 31st primetime telecast of the 1946 classic movie nabbed the network the top 18-49 rating for a non-sports Saturday night in nearly a year. That last time that happened was during last year's "It's a Wonderful Life" telecast in December 2010.

So while the film-turned-annual- television staple is still getting plenty of viewers, what will set this year apart?

65th Anniversary Celebrations

In Seneca Falls, New York-which is dubbed the real Bedford Falls- the two actresses who played Zuzu and Janie Bailey in the film will make an appearance at a special 65th anniversary screening of the movie. Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu) and Carol Coombs-Mueller (Janie) will attend the special screening event in the modern-day Bedford Falls.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Hollywood stars Annette Bening, Bryan Cranston and Peter Gallagher will be participate in readings of the movie at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. The readings will emulate the radio shows of the 1930s and 1940s. Of the original film, Bening said, "It is one of the great classics, isn't it? There is no way you can't be moved at the end of that."

And according to Pittsburgh Magazine, memorabilia from the classic movie will also be on display at Kennywood Amusement Park, courtesy of the Jimmy Stewart Museum, which is located in the nearby hometown of the late movie star.

In an interview with "My Fox Phoenix," actor Jimmy Hawkins (he played little Tommy Bailey in the film) said that the message that producer Frank Capra was trying to get across is that "each man's life touches so many others."

Hawkins also recounted that the film lost $500,000 when it was first released and said he was glad that Capra and star Jimmy Stewart lived long enough to see all their hard work come to fruition.

Indeed, the movie was initially considered a flop and, sadly, many of its stars didn't live to see the film's resurgence in the 1980s when it became a public domain free-for-all, with incessant television airings during the holiday season.

Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter), Beulah Bondi (Ma Bailey), Gloria Grahame (Violet Bick), Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy) and Henry Travers (Clarence the angel) were some of the actors who died well before the film's second "wonderful life."

Of the film's enduring popularity, child star Karolyn Grimes told Studio, "People can watch this movie all year round and really enjoy the message that it conveys. It gives people hope and inspiration, and how many movies do that today?"

"It's a Wonderful Life" will air on December 24 on NBC.

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