Thursday, April 30, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - Z is for Zuzu

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Sadly, this is the end of the challenge. I am so grateful for what it has done for me during the month of April. It forced me to look at the film in ways I had never thought of before. I had creative ideas and I wrote about topics I never thought I would suicide.

So thank you for the challenge, and thank you for reading. Stick around. Photo Friday returns tomorrow and it's back to the regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday rotation.


Zuzu Bailey is a special child. One might argue a preferred child. I will make that argument here.

Zuzu and George Bailey
George and Mary have four children. While Zuzu, their youngest daughter, is sick in bed, the rest of the family is getting ready for a family Christmas party that will be held later that night.

Mary, Pete, and Tommy are decorating the Christmas tree. Both boys are wearing Santa Claus masks. Janie is practicing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” on the piano. She plans to play it during the party.

In telling him about their day, his children innocently remind George of their financial situation. When he learns that Zuzu is sick on top of that, he begins to lash out at his family, complaining about their “drafty old house.”

Mary, George and Zuzu.
George goes upstairs to check on Zuzu, and when he gets to her room, we again see the calm, caring George that we have come to love throughout the film. Zuzu has a calming effect on George. She is able to silently remind him that he is there to take care of others. While the other children are annoying him on this night, Zuzu is his special child, who is ill. It is his responsibility to take care of her. We see George’s tenderness when Zuzu wants him to paste the petals back on her flower. Instead of snapping at her like he did at Pete about asking how to spell words, George humors her and pretends to “paste it.” The theme of Zuzu’s petals are even carried to her headboard, which has cartoonish drawings of flowers on it.

Zuzu is treated as a special child from the moment we meet her through the end of the film. She is introduced separately from the other children, and she will greet George separately from the other children upon his return from Pottersville. She is the only child to have a separate, one-on-one scene with George. Additionally, she utters the most famous line of the film when she tells her dad, “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” When George loses control of his emotions, trashes his home office and yells at his family, Zuzu is the only one spared from his anger. George holds her during the final scene, even though she is not the youngest of the Bailey children.

Her name is the only “odd,” non-traditional name in the family. George and Mary’s other children, Tommy, Pete, and Janie, have names that sound like they came straight out of a book written for first graders. Zuzu also is the only Bailey child with a nickname. George calls her “my little ginger snap.”

Scrooge and Tiny Tim.
Of the one-on-one scene with Stewart, Karolyn Grimes’ biographer Clay Eals says, “The scene hints that Zuzu is her dad’s favorite child — or that she is at least the most endearing example of how George deeply values his family” (57).

When George returns to his home after the Pottersville scene, he is joined by his wife and all four of their children. It is the first time we see the Bailey family together in its entirety. Allowing all six members of the Bailey family to be together for the first time just before the final scene solidifies the film's message of the important role that family plays in civic-minded capitalism and the American Dream.

There also are several connections between Zuzu and Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Both Zuzu and Tiny Tim are ill, and both of them seem to be their father’s favorite child. There is a symbolic parallel that can be drawn between Zuzu’s petals and Tiny Tim’s crutch. Furthermore, both of them have a brother named Pete.

Finally, both of them utter their respective story’s most famous lines. In the case of It’s a Wonderful Life, Zuzu observes that “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” Tiny Tim’s famous line is “God bless us, every one!”

The parallels between these two children appears to be intentional on Capra’s part.

Eals, Clay. Every Time a Bell Rings: The Wonderful Life of Karolyn Grimes. Seattle: Pastime Press, 1996.
Purchase Every time a bell rings: The wonderful life of Karolyn Grimes on

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - Y is for You Can't Take it With You

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

You Can't Take it With You:

You Can’t Take it With You was the first of three films made by the film team of Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart.

While Capra borrowed several techniques, ideas and themes from many of his films, a great deal of them began in this film. There are so many connections that it will require one very long blog entry, or several shorter entries. I will work on those at some point.

One major connection to that You Can't Take it With You has with It’s a Wonderful Life is the list of talent.
  • Jimmy Stewart played George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. He played Tony Kirby in You Can’t Take it With You.
  • Samuel S. Hinds played Pa Bailey in t’s a Wonderful Life. He played Paul Sycamore in You Can’t Take it With You.
  • H.B. Warner played Mr. Gower in t’s a Wonderful Life. He played Ramsey in You Can’t Take it With You.
  • Lionel Barrymore played the much-hated Henry F. Potter in t’s a Wonderful Life. He played the much-loved Martin Vanderhof in You Can’t Take it With You.
For now, I want to focus on Peter Bailey.

During the bank run, George takes a phone call from Potter. After that discussion, George turns to a framed picture of his father on the office wall. Three characters from You Can’t Take it With You are reunited in this scene.

As George turned to his father for advice as a child, he continues to do so as an adult, looking for the guidance and strength that Peter represented in life. It is the same picture that will hang on the wall at George and Mary’s future home. Both at home and at work, this picture can always be seen over George’s shoulder whenever he meets opposition or is faced with trouble.

At work, though, there is a quotation beneath the picture that says, “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” In this way, Capra brings the message of You Can’t Take it With You into t’s a Wonderful Life, and makes a reference to his previous film at the same time. This quotation was not hanging under the photo when George took over the business, but it is there during the bank run.

All you can take with you is that which you have given away.
This quotation is more than just Peter’s epitaph. Raymond Carney, author of American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra, points out that “George’s father represents a sense of responsibility and obligation to the larger community and a belief in the value of self-sacrifice for the common good that almost all of the earlier (Capra) films advocated” (386). George has gained his father’s values, and the audience is led to believe by the end of the film that these values will in turn be passed down to George and Mary’s children.

The quotation also helps to enforce the film’s message of civic-mindedness. It contradicts the ideology of the period that capitalism is about personal gain despite negative consequences for others, as Potter represents. By showing the Baileys as civic-minded capitalists, Capra has challenged America’s post-World War II ideology in t’s a Wonderful Life. He works to affirm an ideology of civic-minded capitalism throughout the film through the photograph of Peter, through George’s struggles, and in the contrast between the Baileys and Potter.

As author Greg Asimakoupoulos puts it, “When you make deposits in the lives of others, you aren’t always aware of the compounding interest that is taking place. But the bottom line reveals a wealth that exceeds your expectations.”

Asimakoupoulos, Greg. “Finding God in It's A Wonderful Life.” iBooks.

Carney, Raymond. American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lionel Barrymore Birthday April 28

Today marks the birthday of Lionel Barrymore, who played Henry F. Potter in the film, It's a Wonderful Life. He was born April 28, 1878, (137 years ago) in Philadelphia, PA.

Barrymore, who is also know for his roles in films such as You Can't Take it With You, Key Largo, and many more, won one Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his part in A Free Soul (1931). He was nominated for Best Director for Madame X in 1947.

He was also a radio actor, composer and painter, and author. He died Nov. 15, 1954, in Van Nuys, CA.

Learn more about Lionel Barrymore here or here.


Blogging From A to Z - X is for Suicide

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

X is for Suicide:
George Bailey didn't think he could take anymore.

His dreams of travel were shattered. He didn't think he could get out of Bedford Falls. Uncle Billy lost an $8,000 deposit for the family business. He lost control of his emotions in front of his wife and children. He took his problems out on his daughter's teacher. His wife spoke harshly to him for the first time in their marriage.

Potter planted the idea. George went to him for help. Instead of helping him, Potter taunted him with the comment, "You're worth more dead than alive."

George was scared, but he was trying to deal with his problems. He was looking for a way to overcome them. But Potter, being the opportunist he is, kicked George when he was down and proved to be the proverbial straw. That straw broke George.

He leaves Potter, gets drunk, and proceeds to contemplate jumping off of the town's bridge.

The letter X can be a harsh letter. It is often used to cross things out, to remove mistakes, to negate what has been done. Suicide crosses out life. It negates what It's a Wonderful Life refers to as "God's greatest gift."

The problem is that those who contemplate suicide view themselves as mistakes to be removed. They view their personal mistakes as unrepairable and unforgivable. All of that is untrue.

I'm going to tap into my Christian side for a minute, so if that's not your thing, skip to the next paragraph. An X turned on it's side is a cross. Jesus died on a cross to pay for our sins. Sure you made mistakes. We have all made mistakes. But Jesus paid the ultimate price for it so we wouldn't have to. And he was fault-less. That's what love and sacrifice is all about. God sacrificed our son so we wouldn't have to sacrifice ourselves. George is sent a guardian angel - he is saved from suicide - because he prayed. I encourage you to pray, as well. Just like George, ask God to show you the way. He will.

If you aren't a Christian, you can pick it up here:
Whether or not you are a Christian, TALK to somebody. People like Potter are in the vast minority. Someone out there can help you. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Life can be hard but it's worth fighting for. So FIGHT!


Monday, April 27, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - W is for Waterfall

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.


Violet approaches George in the street:
Depressed about the way his life is turning out, George Bailey mopes into town, trying to figure out what to do next after his brother marries and all but takes a job in another town.

As he walks downtown, Violet spies him and suggestively asks if he wants to do something.

George, his mind spinning and his heart seeking adventure, concocts a scandalous evening.

"Let's go out in the fields and take off our shoes and walk through the grass. Then we can go up to the falls. It's beautiful up there in the moonlight, and there's a green pool up there, and we can swim in it. Then we can climb Mt. Bedford, and smell the pines, and watch the sunrise against the peaks, and... we'll stay up there the whole night, and everybody'll be talking and there'll be a terrific scandal..."

Violet is horrified at the idea of taking her shoes off. But she seemed
more than willing to take off more than that for George.
He lost her at "take off our shoes and walk through the grass." Violet, a town girl with pretty clothes, doesn't want anything to do with it. 

But that's not really the point here. I already wrote about Violet. The point is what we learn abut the region. We find out that there is a waterfall. We find out there is a mountain and pine trees, and peaks, and even a pool. Not that pool. Another pool.

What does this look like? Where is it in relation to downtown Bedford Falls? How big is the waterfall? Does it feed the pool, or does the pool feed the waterfall? It's something that I wish had been in the film. It would have been a great place to watch George and Mary's romance grow. On the other hand, if it's the kind of place you would take Violet, perhaps it's not the kind of place you would take Mary. They have completely different personalities and desires.

Maybe Capra was wise in teasing us with this line. It allows our minds to run wild. It allows our imaginations to work. It gives us more opportunity to write our own story around the town and its residents. I'm good with that.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - V is for Violet

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.


I need to be blunt, and a little crass for a moment. When a pastor calls you a slut, you have problems.

That is exactly what pastor and author Greg Asimakoupoulos did in his book Finding God in It's a Wonderful Life. More on that a little later.

She hasn't helped her case, though. Apparently without parents, Violent begins her wayfaring ways at an early age. As children at Gower's Drug Store, she tells a young Mary Hatch, "I like him," referring to George Bailey

A quick-witted and observant Mary replies, “you like every boy.”

Violet Bick
Tellingly, Violet proudly asks, “what’s wrong with that?”

Years later, as an adult George talks with his friends Ernie and Bert, Violet, now a sexy, sultry, very adult blonde bombshell, slinks into the scene. She is wearing a provocative sun dress. The focus of the scene changes from the three men chatting to the flirtatious exchange between George and Violet. Bert and Ernie become silent, rubber-necking, drooling idiots who ogle over Violet.

She specifically acknowledges “Mr. Bailey,” but ignores Bert and Ernie. When George complements her dress (he may as well be drooling like the other two men, but seems to have a little more self-control), she gives a flirtatious flip of the hair and comments on how she only wears that dress “when I don’t care how I look.” By the way she looks in this scene, it is doubtful she is telling the truth.

Even the script acknowledges her beauty in this scene, describing Violet as “obviously a little sex machine…Her walk and figure would stop anybody.”

Eventually it does as, according to the script, Violet “swings on down the sidewalk,” and catches the eyes of an older gentleman, who stops walking in the middle of the street and is nearly struck by a car. Violet never looks back to see why the car’s horn is blaring. She knows the effect she has on men. She has tempted four of them in this short scene alone.

Even Bert, Ernie and George watch her walk away. It would be interesting to see how Ernie would have completed his question, “How would you like…,” to which George immediately cuts him off with a resounding “Yes.”

Equally interesting would be to find out what question George was answering. How would he like to what? It is very possible that George may have been answering the unasked, but implied question, “how would you like to have sex with Violet?”

Through Violet’s scenes as a child and as an adult, Capra has established that she is very flirtatious, that she is interested in George Bailey, and that her reputation is, at best, tarnished. Capra even made a note about this while brainstorming ideas for the film: “She doesn’t count sheep to go to sleep, she counts men” (Basinger 22).

Later in the film, after Harry's wedding, George sulks through town, trying to pick up the pieces and figure out his next move. Violet, who is being courted by two men already, abandons them and approaches George. She appeals to him where he is most vulnerable: She is – or appears to be – adventuresome, although not in a travel sense. She asks George, “don’t you ever get tired of just reading about things?”

Our hero, who seems hot to trot at this point, suggests that he and Violet climb Mt. Bedford and go swimming. Is that code for skinny dipping? He contrives a wonderfully scandalous, erotic, thrilling adventure for them. But the idea doesn’t thrill Violet. While she appears to be an adventurous gal, and is seemingly a risk-taker to boot, her idea of adventure is much different than George’s.

Our mind is allowed to wander, as it has before about Violet, that instead of climbing Mt Bedford and risk getting dirty, Violet would rather climb into bed and be dirty.

George’s actions lead us to believe that they would have ended the evening with a roll in the hay – either figuratively or literally – regardless of whose plan they followed. However, George planned to take a side-trip through the grass to get there, and Violet didn’t want to make the effort. While Violet may have appeared attractive to George, she has proven to him once and for all that she is not what he is looking for in a wife. Humiliated, he moves on.

Like George, Violet feels trapped in Bedford Falls. Eventually, she decides to move to New York, but she can't afford to do it without help. She asks George for a loan. At the end of the exchange, she gives George an innocent, well-meaning kiss of friendship and appreciation on the cheek. It leaves a lipstick print, and is witnessed by the bank examiner and others. This innocent kiss starts a wild rumor around town that eventually makes its way to Potter.

Potter confronts George about it. Author Greg Asimakoupoulos observes that "By not refuting the rumors Mr. Potter alleges, George could be falsely accused of inappropriate behavior with the town slut. But here is a man willing to be wrongly labeled in order to stand up for someone he wants to help."

In Pottersville, Violet's proclivities are more pronounced and she is placed in a paddy wagon by police for her predilection.

George has a change of heart during the Pottersville sequence. He realizes that he doesn't have to leave Bedford Falls to find adventure. He has adventure and contentment at home with his family and friends.

At some point, it appears that Violet has come to a similar realization. In about the same amount of time that it took George to make his discovery, Violet has decided to not move to New York after all. It makes me curious to learn her story and how she came to that decision.

It is interesting to note that even Zuzu seems to know Violet’s reputation as the town flirt as she rolls her head and her eyes when she sees Violet during the final scene. Her reputation does, indeed, precede her.


Asimakoupoulos, Greg. “Finding God in It's A Wonderful Life.” iBooks.

Basinger, Jeanine (in Collaboration with the trustees of the Frank Capra Archives), Interviews by
Leonard Maltin. The It’s a Wonderful Life Book. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1996.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - U is for Uncle Billy

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Uncle Billy: 

Uncle Billy.
Uncle Billy forgets to remember what he forgot.

His fingers are covered with strings...a classic, if not exactly fool-proof, old-fashioned method for remembering things.

Billy forgets George's wedding. He forgets where he put the $8,000. He forgets where he put his hat (with the aid of alcohol). He forgets how old he is.

According to the symptoms listed by the Alzheimer's Association (, Uncle Billy clearly suffers from dementia. According to the Web site:

"While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:
  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception
People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood."

We see almost all of these factors at different points in It's a Wonderful Life.

I plan to enlist the help of my wife, who studied gerontology, works with hospice, and who has lost family members to alzheimer's disease, to help me examine Uncle Billy and look at this question more closely in the near future.

To learn more about the warning signs of alzheimer's disease, visit

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - T is for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star":

A traditional children's song became the equivalent of a text message or tweet in a classic 1940s film.

Vintage sheet music for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."
In It's a Wonderful Life, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is played on a xylophone ... or possibly a toy piano ... to indicate communication between angels.

The first time we hear the tune, Joseph pages Clarence. He sends a message in the form of the first seven notes of this childhood song.

Just before he is told to do that, Joseph's boss (see my entry on the letter B to learn the identity of the boss) tells him that Clarence has “got the faith of a child — simple.”

This is a hugely important factor in why "Twinkle Twinkle" was used as the tune to communicate between angels in the film.

In the Bible, Jesus addresses the innocence and faith of children:

“'Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?' Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, 'I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.'" (Matthew 18:1-4)

Clarence has the faith of a child because we are all called to have the faith of a child. Jesus tells us that if we do so, we will have access to Heaven. And when we get there, we will be angels. According to this logic then, all angels have the faith of a child. So it is fitting that a children's lullaby would be their communication system - or at least represent communication between angels.

It is also an appropriate song because whenever a star or a solar system talks, it twinkles. We can hear them talk when they are together because they are together. The song is a paging system, or a text message. We hear it only when angels are not together. It is their method of long-distance communication, like a text message or a tweet.

To reinforce the idea of the childlike faith, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" is sung to the same tune as the "ABC Song."

We hear the tune another time, during the Pottersville sequence. After George and Clarence are thrown out of Nick's Bar, George decides to search for answers by himself and leaves Clarence behind. Alone, Clarence begins to talk to Joseph. We can hear his words because he is on Earth - even if he is in an alternate version of our world. When Joseph replies, it comes to us as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

Although hear the tune instead of the music, we know that Joseph asks Clarence if he drank anything in the bar, to which Clarence strongly responds, "No, I didn't have a drink!"

Blogging From A to Z - S is for Sacrifice

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.


George Bailey, the main character of It's a Wonderful Life, gave almost everything he had for the benefit of others. His life was built around sacrifice. Below is a short list of what George gives up so that others may have more:
George hits bottom.
  • George loses his hearing saving Harry from drowning. This occurs only five minutes into the film, including the introductory credits. George loses potential income from his job at Mr. Gower’s Drug Store because of his illness, and cannot serve in the armed forces during World War II because of his hearing loss.
  • George’s dreams of travel, college and engineering dissipate when he takes over the building and loan.
  • George gives the money he has saved for college to Harry when Peter dies and George takes over building and loan. 
  • George’s dreams of travel, college and engineering are negated by Mary’s wish at the Granville house. 
  • Harry takes another job, so George forgoes his planned trip to continue running the building and loan. 
  • George and Mary forego their honeymoon by giving away their savings to save the family business during the bank run. 
  • George is stuck fighting the battle of Bedford Falls while his friends are at war. 
  • George chooses to take the blame when Billy loses $8,000. By doing this, George risks his own reputation and risks going to prison.
  • George almost sacrifices his life, thinking it is the better option. He is wrong.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - R is for Rain

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.


Wedding days are meant to be beautiful. They are days of celebration, optimism and love.

But sometimes it just needs to rain. And for some people, that rain coincides with one of the most important days of their lives.

On the day George and Mary wed, the audience does not see the wedding. The event itself is not important. What IS important is that we see George genuinely happy for the first time in this film.

Looking out the taxi window at the bank run
As the happy couple runs outside, we see them doused by rice and rain. Rain typically is considered to be bad luck on a couple’s wedding date. We soon will learn that while it is a happy day for the couple because of their wedding, it also is a day of trial and success for the building and loan.

As Ernie drives the couple away in his cab, George and Mary tell him about their planned adventures. As they do this, the audience can see through the back window of the taxi that people are running down the street in the rain, some without umbrellas. We soon learn why the residents are running, as Ernie pulls his cab over and tells George that there is “something funny going on” at the bank. He adds that he believes it is a bank run.

George and Mary stop kissing and turn to look. We see the couple in close-up, framed by the rain-streaked cab window. When George climbs out of the cab to see what is going on, Mary is left framed alone and lonely in the cab's window. The rain streaking down the window is symbolic of the sadness she feels at that moment and the tears she is not crying. They are supposed to be on their way to their honeymoon. Instead, they are facing a challenge to the family business.

According to Jeanine Basinger, author of The It's a Wonderful Life Book, Frank Capra learned while researching for the film that the “weather in the New York State area that Bedford Falls was allegedly situated in had rain during the bank run of 1933” (Basinger 41). Capra added rain to the scene to make it more realistic.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - Q is for Quitting Time

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Quitting time:
During the bank run, Potter warns George that if he closes the building and loan early, he will never be able to reopen its doors.

Uncle Billy had already panicked and closed once. The news spread fast. Potter has already heard about it, but George denies it.

I admit that I am not completely sure about this, but Potter is probably referring to federal regulations regarding banking hours.

After calming a mob, George and Mary distribute their honeymoon money to their investors. They have $2,000 to hand out and two goals to reach:
  1. Close at closing time and not a minute before.
  2. Close with money left.
They manage to accomplish both goals with exactly $2 left. George and company place those two $1 bills in a basket, celebrate their success, and create a parade for the bills into the safe. They even toast the bills, naming them Mama Dollar and Papa Dollar ... a fiscal Adam and Eve, if you will.
Bank run celebration.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - P is for Potter

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Henry F. Potter
Henry F. Potter is introduced as “the richest and meanest man in the county.”

He is never referred to by his first name. He is always “Mr. Potter,” “Henry F. Potter,” or just plain “Potter. This serves to dehumanize him and distance him from the audience. This simple detail prevents us from getting close to him or gaining any empathy for him.

Not that we want to. He is a 1940s-era Ebenezer Scrooge. He counts his money. He swindles. He forecloses on his customers for the flimsiest of reasons.

He is also a jealous man. As Peter Bailey tells his son George, “He’s jealous of everybody who has something we can’t have. Jealous of us mostly, I guess.”

Potter rides this fine line between opulently rich and skin-flint. Huge paintings of himself decorate both his office and the bank lobby. There are many fancy decorations and beautifully ornate woodwork decorating his home and office.

Yet he still rides around in a horse and carriage. Granted, it is a very ornate carriage. But almost everyone else has cars. In fact, besides Potter’s carriage, the only other horse-drawn vehicle we see is a flat wagon that passes the luggage company when George gets his suitcase that Mr. Gower bought him.

Historically, the rich were typically the first people to purchase automobiles. The carriage makes him stand out from the crowd. And maybe that’s the point.

When George isn’t there to stop him, Potter’s power runs rampant.

The welcoming Bedford Falls sign vs. the cold, matter-of-fact Pottersville sign.
Peter and George Bailey both make references to the fact that Potter owns almost everything in Bedford Falls. The Bailey Building and Loan is the only thing keeping the community together. It also prevents Potter from taking over the entire town.

Without George around to save the Building and Loan, Potter is able to gain that control. It is not clear when this happens, but during the Pottersville sequence, we learn from the police officer that the Building and Loan “went out of business years ago.” Ma Bailey later confirms this fact.

With Potter in control of everything, he renames the town and stamps it with his name. It’s like a constant reminder to the residents of who is really in charge of the town.

Pottersville is seedy. It is lined with bars and dance clubs of questionable repute. The residents are angry and confrontational, and typically drunk. The entire town has a dangerous, darker, repressed yet unsettled feel to it.

Potter's Field:
The Biblical significance of Potter’s Field cannot be ignored.

The name of Potter’s Field is a Biblical reference to death found in the gospel of Matthew. Feeling guilty about his role in Jesus’ crucifixion, Judas attempts to return the money he was paid for betraying Christ to the priests and elders. He then committed suicide.

Martini's old house in Potter's Field.
The priests and elders, however, knew they could not take the money back because it was blood money. Instead, they used the money “to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. (Matthew 27:7-8).

In It’s a Wonderful Life, Potter’s Field is Potter’s housing developments. The homes are of poor quality, referred to at one point as a shack.

Potter’s Field symbolizes “what would have happened to the working class and their values had George not been there to negotiate between their needs and Potter’s greed” (Schultz 49).

George Bailey serves as the salvation for the residents of Potter’s Field by providing them a means to get out of the ghetto and into a home of their own.

We see this when Martini and his family move to Bailey Park. Martini is proud to tell his neighbor, “I own my own house. No more we live like pigs in thisa Potter’s Field.”
Bailey Park
Clearly, the living conditions are not ideal in Potter’s Field.

There is an interesting contrast here, as well. Potter’s Field is a Biblical reference to death and blood money and indigence. In direct contrast, Bailey Park uses the word “park,” which brings up visions of idyllic, beautiful and serene open spaces. The word also brings to mind children having fun and playing together. There is a sense of pleasure connected to the word “park.” The contrast is very intentional.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - O is for "O Come All Ye Faithful"

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

While the opening credits of It’s a Wonderful Life begin to the soft strain of a string performance of "Buffalo Gals," the real action of the film begins with another song. 

We recognize it. The song is “O Come All Ye Faithful,” a traditional Christmas tune that is about the birth of Jesus. It is played gently on what sounds like a xylophone … an instrument commonly found in elementary school music rooms.

As the song plays, the audience is shown streetscapes. The scene serves to introduce us to the town of Bedford Falls. We also are being introduced to the residents of Bedford Falls. But instead of seeing them, we only hear their voices.

They are all praying for George Bailey. From them, we learn that George:
·      is well-liked.
·      cares for those around him.
·      cares for his community.
·      has a mother who is worried.
·      has a wife who is worried.
·      has children who is worried.
·      someone is indebted to him for “everything,” which indicates something more important than money.
·      is selfless.

The scene is extremely short, but it teaches us so much. We know a lot about George before we really know anything about him.

The fact that these prayers are being said during a Christian song that includes the word “faithful” is significant. This film is about faith. It’s not about religion. It is about faith. There IS a difference. The song is inviting us to watch what eventually becomes George Bailey’s rebirth in faith. It is also a rebirth of his trust in God, his family, his community, his business, and himself.

A belief in God is not required, but it is helpful in the effort to fully understand the depths and meanings of this film.

If you don't believe in God, please join the conversation! Do you enjoy this film anyway? What messages do you take away from it?

If you do believe in God, does this film strengthen your faith? If so, how? If not, why not?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - N is for Nick

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Nick the bartender is an interesting character.

We see two sides of him. The nice side of him lives in Bedford Falls. He cares about his customers. He takes care of them. He encourages them to stop drinking. He throws out the fighters and cares for the injured. We see his heart and his compassion. We like this Nick.

In Pottersville, Nick has a mean streak. His driving force is to sell hard liquor to make more money. He owns the bar in Pottersville instead of working for someone else. The bar is named after him. He throws out customers when they talk about strange things he doesn't understand. They don't have to fight. They simply have to talk about something he doesn't understand.

Pottersville Nick mocks homeless drunks and religion. In short, he is a bully.

I'll take Bedford Falls Nick any day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - M is for Many things

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.


George, Ma Bailey and Uncle Billy.
There's something about the connection an oldest son has to his mother.

Call it love. Call it dedication. call it whatever you want. You can even call it being a Mama's Boy. I'm a Mama's Boy, and I'm okay with that.

So was George Bailey. Sure, he gave her a hard time on occasion. But when it counted, he listened. Although he would never admit it, he visited Mary after Harry got married on the advice of his mother. He knows the wisdom she holds. She has gained that wisdom by being a caring individual, dedicated to Peter and the entire family.

Mary is the total package. She is beautiful, dedicated, smart, willing to sacrifice for the greater good, not judgmental except for that one brief moment before she caught herself. She is a dedicated and loving mother, gracious host, artist, and hopeless romantic.

Mary Bailey
She values the sentimental things in life, such as a meaningful song, or a turning point in a couple's relationship.

She is an American, helping soldiers and supporting her husband in his role fighting "The Battle of Bedford Falls."

Mary is in tune with her family, sensing when things aren't quite right. She is forgiving, not confronting Zuzu's teacher, and not dwelling on the frightening questions when she finds George has returned home.

She may be a Hatch by birth, but she is a Bailey at heart.

Mr. Martini
Martini is the embodiment of the American Dream in this film. An Italian immigrant, he came to America to follow his dream to live in a decent home and support his family with a comfortable living. He managed to find that American Dream thanks to the building and loan and the end of prohibition.

Martini reminds us that with hard work, we too can accomplish our dreams. It is one of the many messages found in this film.


It's always about the money, isn't it? This is an unfortunate reality that we all must deal with.

The movie's characters such as 'Uncle Billy' walked the streets of downtown
Seneca Falls greeting the many visitors. The village of Seneca Falls turned into
the real Bedford Falls as it celebrated with the annual 'It's a Wonderful Life'
weekend Dec. 12-14, 2014. Stephen D. Cannerelli |
Photo and caption source:
It can buy us what we want, but it can't give us what we need.

More often than not, money leads to any number of issues. Look at the top 3 reasons for divorce. Money is always one of them.

Like it or not, the Bible is correct when it says, "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows." (1 Timothy 6:10)

Money, by itself, can do nothing. It is an inanimate object.  The LOVE of money is what causes the evil. The LOVE of money is the embodiment of Potter. And at the end of It's a Wonderful Life, Potter sat alone...with the exception of his goon.

George was tempted....many times. That temptation almost cost him his life. Instead, he rose above it and discovered that a wonderful life is about faith, family, friends and community, not how many dollar bills you have in your pocket.

And if you don't believe that, don't forget about the toast and parade they held for Mama Dollar and Papa Dollar. It was little, but it was enough to celebrate.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - L is for Love and Life

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.


George and Mary kissing.
Only minutes into It's a Wonderful Life, Mary Hatch proclaims her love to George Bailey. She proclaims it into his deaf ear, so George is oblivious.

During the pool scene, we see George and Mary's eyes meet. This is the definition of "love at first sight." Even though they grew up together, this is the first time the audience meets them as adults. Technically, it's not "first sight," but for us, it is.

Love is a powerful thing. It allows you to let go of the $2,000 for the honeymoon so that your husband can save the family business. It allows you to work long hours while missing your family. It allows for dedication when you feel like there is nothing left inside to give.

Sure, we talk about the surface messages of It's a Wonderful Life a lot. We can't forget to look at the deeper message of love. After all, the other messages start with love.


George celebrating his return from the Pottersville nightmare.
God's greatest gift. It's what George was going to throw away on the bridge. Life is part of the name of the film. "The Greatest Gift," referring to life, is the name of the story by Phillip Van Doren Stern, upon which It's a Wonderful Life is based.

The final scene of the film is a celebration of many things: Saving the Building and Loan (giving it life), celebrating Harry Bailey (for saving other people's lives in the war), and celebrating George's life, which Clarence saved by way of the Pottersville sequence. The entire final scene is about celebrating life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blogging From A to Z - K is for Karolyn

Welcome to the It's A Wonderful Blog's Blogging From A to Z April (2015) Challenge. For this challenge, I will post every day in April (except for Sundays) about topics related to the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart film, It's a Wonderful Life.

Karolyn Grimes:

This blog entry covers my experience with It's a Wonderful Life, and my visit with Karolyn "Zuzu" Grimes-Wilkerson on Nov. 29, 1997. This is a re-post from a couple of years ago.

My interest in It's a Wonderful Life began sometime in the 1980s. My uncle Tod told his wife, my aunt Lora, about an old film called It's a Wonderful Life. She loves old movies, so she watched it one year and liked it, so she told my mom about it.

My mom is a Christmas junkie. She buys books of Christmas stories she will never read and decorates for the holidays like a real pro. Additionally, she likes old Christmas movies, and if it has anything to do with angels, she has it. In fact, she has an angel Christmas tree ornament that she had as a child that she insists must be hung on the very front of the tree at eye level. That is okay except for one minor detail. The angel is stark naked!

Since the movie is so old, and she likes angels, she fell in love with the movie. Clarence reminded her of my Grandfather, who later died in 1995 of cancer. Clarence did, in fact, remind me a lot of Grandpa in both looks and actions. When he died, we put a guardian angel near his headstone and named it Chloe, a combination, I guess of Clarence and Cloyce, my Grandpa's name. Grandpa is my Clarence.

Since my mom is a sentimentalist, she made her family sit down and watch it on television with her. My father likes it a little. My brother, who hates movies, likes it enough to tolerate it, but I fell in love with it. When the film was in public domain, my mom and I would sit and watch it over and over, scanning the channels when one was over for a new one that still had the most remaining to watch.

It got to the point that my mother and I would dialogue with the film, answering each other in character. One day when shopping, back when VHS was king, the Internet as we know it didn't exist, and old movies were not readily available, Mom found a copy of the film at a dollar store. She bought two copies and gave one to me. At that time, I didn't even have a television of my own.

I imagine I watched the film at least once a month, and at least once a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every time I watch it, I find something new. My viewing of the film and frequency with which I view it changed drastically during my college career.

When I was in college, Republic bought the underlying rights to the film and limited its viewing from nonstop during the Christmas season to only once a year on NBC. My friends at college thought I was nuts when I would tell them to shut up while I was watching the movie. I don't blame them, especially considering my hypocrisy. I think I turned more than one friend away from the movie, or at least toward duct tape because I kept saying all of the lines in character. It drove them nuts.

Also during my sophomore year, I found the movie on CD ROM. Between my mother and I, I think we have nearly 10 copies of the film floating around. I myself have five.

During my senior year, I had to do a year-long research paper on a subject pertaining to communication. Early in my college career, I knew I wanted to write it on this film, but by the time I got to the class, I forgot. So during a brainstorming session, I decided to research Civil War and World War II newspapers, comparing the language used during the two wars.

When I took my notes back to the class to discuss them and hash out different ideas in a large-group setting, a floor mate of mine said, "I thought you were going to do your paper on It's a Wonderful Life. He had a better memory than I did ! Within ten minutes, I had written a page of notes for a reader-response paper about the film. I presented both ideas to the class, stressing my want to do the It's a Wonderful Life project, and my classmates and professor loved it. They said they would prefer to read something about the movie than about the Civil War. That suited me fine.

One of the suggestions my professor had (one of many, may I add) was that I change the focus of the film from reader response to an examination of the representation of money and social class. I kind of blew it off at first. I didn't want to write a paper for him; I wanted to write it for me. But I thought about the film more and I realized that I couldn't get away from money and social class when writing my paper. 

Curiosity got the best of me, so one night I put on my rhetorical/analytical thinking cap and sat down to analyze the movie with money and social class in mind. I found that I had to pause the movie numerous times to take notes. Every scene in the movie has something to do with money, whether it is on the surface or somewhere deep below the surface that effects the thoughts, actions and speech of the characters. The more times I watched it, the more things I found.

I even found a number of conflicting facts. In all of my reading, I every reference to the kissing scene states it was shot in one take. Everything I read told me that, but my eyes and ears told me different. The answer lay in the movie's trailer. Simply stated, it was different from what was in the movie. The inflection is different, George's actions are different, and the stress is on different words in the trailer than in the film.

The paper is finished and I still find something new each time I watch it. On November 1, 1997, I noticed that Mary touches her stomach like pregnant women often do, two scenes before she tells George she is pregnant. Capra's attention to detail is precise and unfailing.

By the time I was finished with the paper, it was 36 pages long with six pages of bibliography, including between 40 and 60 sources. I have expanded it into a book, and hope to publish it one day.

This is the article (date unknown) from the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune
that put me in touch with Karolyn Grimes. (Blogger's collection)
While researching the paper, I ran across an interview with Karolyn Grimes-Wilkerson, who played George and Mary's youngest daughter, Zuzu. In the interview, which I had clipped from the newspaper nearly three years prior, she said that she often got fan mail, saying that the envelopes were often simply addressed to "Zuzu, Stillwell, Kansas." (She has since moved, so this won't work anymore)

Again, curiosity got the best of me, so I wrote a letter to her. I told her I didn't want anything from her and I explained my paper and what I was trying to do with it. Two or three weeks later, I got a response from her on an It's a Wonderful Life greeting card designed by Todd Karns, who played Harry Bailey. She said she wanted to read my paper when I finished it and thanked me for not wanting anything.

To be honest, I thought someone else may have written the letter, not knowing if she read the mail herself, or if she had someone else reading letters and responding to them. I knew that she was a busy woman.

I wrote back to her, anyway, hoping that just maybe she was really reading them. This time, however, I did ask her for something. It was a simple request, but one that I expected to be denied, just the same. I asked for Jimmy Stewart's address. I told her that I wanted to send him a letter similar to my first one to her, explaining my paper and love of the film. To my surprise, she sent it to me. I filed the letter away, finished the paper, graduated, and moved back to my parent's house. I printed five copies of my paper, using an entire ink cartridge in my printer. I gave one to my mother, sent one to Karolyn, and kept three for myself.

After finding a job just two days after I graduated from college, I moved to an apartment in my hometown, Bowling Green, Ohio, just down the street from my parents, making us the fourth Van Vorhis household on the street. The other three were my parents, my great uncle, and a man with the same first name as my dad, so the mail carrier was quite confused, I'm sure. I moved into the apartment in June, just two days before I started my new job as the religion and auto editor at the local newspaper.

I was soon to learn a hard lesson about not putting off until tomorrow what I can do today. On July 1, 1997, I was sitting, probably working on my computer, when I realized that I hadn't yet written to Jimmy, even though I had his address for nearly two months. It was late, so I decided to write to him the next day. As you may recall, he died July 2, 1997: the day I was going to write to him. That was a rough day for me.

I wrote to Karolyn again, offering my sympathy. She wrote back a letter that was lengthy for her, thanking me for my thoughts. Soon after, she wrote again, responding to my paper, giving it a thumbs-up. She told me she had let other people also read it and that they thought it was accurate.

We kept in touch, writing to each other usually once a month. Out of the blue, I received a letter from her inviting me to Cleveland to meet her. She said she would be in town November 28-30, 1997 for the opening night of the "A Wonderful Life" musical and at a book signing. I jumped on the chance to go. I got my tickets a week before the show, so opening night was sold out. I settled for Saturday evening tickets, hoping that I would get the chance to meet Karolyn at the book signing.

In the meantime, Karolyn began e-mailing me. We wrote back and forth quite often, trying to organize a meeting in Cleveland. Nothing seemed to be working out, so she asked for my phone number, saying she would call me when she arrived in Cleveland.

My work schedule got hectic that week, and I was forced to schedule a meeting that Friday afternoon. Karolyn hadn't received my last e-mail telling her my schedule, so on Friday morning, she called the phone number I gave her.

For better or worse, I gave her the wrong number. Instead of my home phone number, I gave her my parent's phone number. My mother took the call at 7:50 Friday morning. Mom called me at work immediately after to tell me about her discussion. Suffice it to say that having Zuzu call the house made her day.

I got to Cleveland late Friday evening and was forced to stew and wait until noon the next morning. I had hoped to take Karolyn out for dinner and spend some time talking, but although we tried, we hadn't figured out how to make it work.

I finally got to Borders for the book signing about ten minutes before it started. Karolyn was no more than ten yards in front of me as I stood in line. I kept wanting to walk up to her and introduce myself, but I remained calm and stayed in line.

This was Karolyn's reaction when I told her my name. (Blogger's collection)
When I finally got up to the front of the line to meet her, I handed her a book to sign. She commented on my tie, and I asked her if she was tired yet, not telling her my name. When she asked who to sign the book to, I told her my name, and you should have seen the look on her face. It was a mix between recognition, surprise and excitement ... a lot more dramatic that I had expected. She jumped up and gave me a hug and asked me how I was. We talked for a while and she signed a book for myself, a copy for my mother, and a copy of the Zuzu newsletter that she published one of my letters in.

She agreed to have a cup of coffee with us after the book signing. After a long wait, she came over with her friend Chris, to talk. I bought all of us something to drink, and we spent about an hour talking about the movie, my paper, and careers.

She gave me some wonderful insight about the film and we discussed the film on big screen and movie rights, referring a number of times to what she calls the "Potter-like Republic pictures." She told me that It's a Wonderful Life would be on the big screen in Cleveland at Cedar-Lee Cinema around December 12-14.

We also talked about the musical, which I am glad we did. She told me about the main differences between the film and the musical, including the fact that George tries to throw himself in front of a train instead of jumping off of a bridge.

Karolyn and I after coffee in Borders bookstore, Cleveland (Blogger's collection)
I thanked her for everything, and left for the musical. I arrived at the Cleveland Playhouse just as the lights were dimming.

The tickets were $39 apiece, but they were well-worth it. I enjoyed it a lot, and as a rule, I hate musicals. I think they interrupt the plot and prevent the story from moving forward at an understandable pace. However, I will say that I enjoyed this production and would pay the money to go again.

One last side note about the musical: the children were played by different children each night. Emily Krassen, who played Zuzu the night I saw the production is absolutely an adorable child. When she came onstage and said that she was feeling better, she said her temperature was normal, back to 68 degrees. It was so cute.

While I hope to eventually spend more time with Karolyn, talking about the movie and more about each other, my experience that weekend was a chance of a lifetime (you hear me, the chance of a lifetime!!) and I'm glad I got it.

Visit Karolyn's site at

She can also be found on Facebook by searching for Karolyn Zuzu Grimes.