It’s a Wonderful Mystery…

The headline read, “Is Seneca Falls, N.Y., a ‘Wonderful’ site?”  There are folks who strongly believe that George Bailey, the lead in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” lived in this quaint upstate New York town.  Well, according to our mate, it’s “non importa.”

Frankie had just started Liberty Films after returning from World War II and was struGreatestGiftggling to come up with a story idea for his first movie.  Then one day, Charles Koerner, the studio chief at RKO poked his head into Frankie’s office and told him about an original story he bought that was written as a Christmas card by Philip Van Doren Stern.  It was called “The Greatest Gift.”

After reading it, Frankie exclaimed,

“It was the story I had been looking for all my life!  Small town.  A man.  A good man, ambitious.  But so busy helping others, life seems to pass him by.  Despondent.  He wishes he’d’ never been born.  He gets his wish.  Through the eyes of a guardian angel he sees the world as it would have been had he not been born. Wow!  What an idea.”

Part of the struggle to this point was finding a story that fit his post-War criteria.  We actually had to flip open his autobiography to get details.

My films will explore the heart not with logic, but with compassion.  I will deal with the little man’s doubts, his curses, his loss of faith in himself, in his neighbor, in his God.  And I will show the overcoming of doubts, the courageous renewal of faith, and the final conviction that of himself he can and must survive and remain free...

...And I will remind the little man that his mission on earth is to advance spiritually, that to surrender his free spirit to Big Brother’s concentration camp is a step backward to the jungle.

…As a filmmaker I will champ man — plead his causes, protest the degradation of his dignity, spirit, divinity.  because be he saint or sinner, rich or poor, coward or hero, black or white, genius or retarded, basket case or pole vaulter; be he lame, halt, or blind, each is a piece with his Maker.
Pat the head of a child, you are patting God; slay a man, you are murdering Goodness.

…And finally, my films must let every man, woman, and child know that God loves them, and I love them, and that peace and salvation will become a reality only when they learn to love each other.

Step back and ponder that.

Where a film was made is interesting.  For example, in the same autobiography it is stated that Lost Horizon’s Shangri-La  (“Valley of the Blue Moon”) was located in Sherwood Forest, which was about forty miles from Hollywood. The rioting scene at Baskul was filmed at Municipal Airport, near Los Angeles with the refueling sequence taking place at Lucerne Dry Lake.   The filming of snow scenes and aircraft interiors took place at the Los Angeles Ice and Cold Storage Warehouse.

So if the town of Seneca Falls wants to celebrate the alleged connection to Bedford Falls, that’s fine by us.  We feel it is more important to honor the spirit of the movie — a spirit that has no boundaries or territory.

“It was my kind of film for my kind of people.  A film to tell the weary, the disheartened and the disillusioned… that no man is a failure!  That each man’s life touches so many other lives.”

So lets promise ourselves to live more aware.


One final note…

The folks in Seneca Falls have done a really nice job piecing together their argument for why they are “The” Bedford Falls of “It’s a Wonderful Life“:

  • Seneca Falls and Bedford Falls are both mill towns.
  • Seneca Falls had a grassy median same as the one George runs down in Bedford Falls with a movie theater located off to the side.
  • Both communities boast Victorian Architecture and a large Italian population.
  • The location is perfect: George’s sister-in-law’s father owns a glass factory in Buffalo, NY.
  • Bailey’s friend Sam wants to build a soybean processing plant outside of Rochester.
  • The bank examiner wants to get back to Elmira on Christmas Eve.
  • The train ran through Seneca Falls just as it did in Bedford Falls.
  • The Bedford Falls High School was dedicated in 1927 the same year as the old Mynderse Academy was dedicated.
  • In the film, the Bailey’s Savings and Loan Association builds low cost housing called Bailey Park. In Seneca Falls, 19th Century factory owner John Rumsey helped immigrant workers by lending them money and building low cost housing. It is still known as Rumseyville today.
  • A local businessman named Norman J. Gould owned Gould Pumps, and was one of the richest men in town. He drove his car with license number NJG1. Norman Gould also had great control over politics and economics of the area. Much as Mr. Potter did in the movie. Norman could send someone to fight in the military or retain them for his factory.


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