Sunday, June 28, 2015

Switching it Up This Week

Hi all,

I'm switching it up this week. There are TWO reasons why, and they have everything to do with the fact that I will post on Thursday and Saturday instead of Monday and Wednesday.

Photo Friday will still take place on Friday.

So come back on Thursday and get ready for three days of back-to-back posts.

See you then.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Photo Friday - Bells Part 12

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I post one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week’s entry is the Ohio Bicentennial bell outside inside the Wood County Courthouse in Bowling Green, OH. These photos were taken April 1, 2015. I have included many other photos of this historic building and the various memorials outside of it, as well.

All photos taken by this blogger.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Virginia Patton Birthday June 25, 1926

So I just learned something really cool: I live less than an hour and a half away from Virginia Patton.

Patton, who lives in Ann Arbor, MI, portrayed Ruth ("Ruth Dakin-Bailey, if you don't mind"), George Bailey's sister-in-law.

Some people (including me when I'm feeling salty, I must admit), unfairly blame Ruth for Harry leaving his brother to run the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. They/we insist that Harry should have picked up the reigns and flew the ship while George went to college instead of taking a job with Ruth's father.

But now I'm just mixing my metaphors.

Virginia Patton was born June 25, 1926, in Portland, OR, which is less than three hours away from where Karolyn "Zuzu" Grimes currently lives.

Patton appeared in 15 films, including It's a Wonderful Life. I am embarrassed to say that I haven't seen any of the other 14 films. I will have to fix that.

Today, she turns 89. Instead of talking about her any more, I will let her speak for herself. Happy birthday, Ms. Patton!

Monday, June 22, 2015

What makes a classic a classic?

Last week, I asked the question, what makes a film a film?

Today, I twist that question a little, and ask what makes a classic film a classic?

It's a Wonderful Life is counted among the ranks of classics. But why?

It would be easy to simply say that if it's black and white, it's a classic. But that's not necessarily true, either. I've seen some really bad black and white movies. But there are others, like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and (God help us) The Sound of Music that have achieved classic status in all their Technicolor glory.

So while a lack of color helps, it's not definitive. So what else is there?

First, I believe a classic, in most cases, must be considered a film. I have defined what a film is in an earlier post, so I won't go into it very deeply here. But here are the highlights. A film should do one or more of the following:
  • Makes you think
  • Contains several messages/morals
  • Demands an emotional reaction
  • Leaves you speechless
  • Makes you want to take action for or against something
  • Makes you ask questions
  • Sometimes you are afraid to answer those questions
There are, of course, movies that don't fit into this category, and yet become classics. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story are two movies (but probably not films) that rank right at the top of the list of movies to watch every Christmas season, right there with It's a Wonderful Life. Rocky Horror Picture Show is another movie (not on the Christmas list) that is considered a cult classic.

So as you can see, it's not a simple answer. Yet in a way, it really is. Because what all of these films have in common is a sense of timelessness and relate-ability. Multiple generations can sit down together and appreciate these movies and films and relate to the characters. 

Most boys can relate to Ralphie's desire for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and "this thing which tells time" That desire for a BB gun is timeless.

Every family has that one crazy person in their family that makes Christmas entertaining....or less than entertaining. I have been told that this person has been me in years past. Sometimes we see ourselves or people we know in Clark Griswold and family.

So timelessness and relate-ability: These parts constitute the lynch pin that defining a classic. What do you think?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

"Look Daddy. Paste it."

"Look Daddy. Paste it."

It is an innocent, heart-felt request from a little girl of about 4 years old. Something she loves has broken and she wants her dad to fix it.

Dad and the deck project.
Most of us have done this. We have asked our fathers to fix something. When we were young, we looked up to our fathers as magical beings. They could do anything. Somehow, they could do the impossible and it always left us with a sense of awe and wonder. As we grew older and needed more adult help - like replacing a hot water heater or building a deck or replacing a roof, or fixing a garbage disposal, we knew dad could help. And he never let us down.

Now that I'm older, I realize that I didn't pay nearly enough attention to the lessons. I can't solder two copper pipes together to save my life. Dad tried to show me how. I just took it for granted that he would always be here to do it, and I wouldn't have to know how to do it myself. That was short-sighted. It makes me wonder what life lessons I missed or screwed up on.

I was a bit of a block-head that way. People tried to teach me things and I didn't really learn from it. If 40-year-old me could go back and talk to 12-year-old me, I'd box my own ears, get in my own face and tell my self to learn something.

The good news is that in a way, I can still heed that late lesson. I still have the opportunity to follow the advice of Sweet Caporal cigarettes:
In the mean time, I realize that I'm a dad now and my kids are reaching the age that I can start teaching them how to do stuff. And I find myself praying that they will listen and learn better than I did.

I also keep my fingers crossed that there is no immediate need to enlist dad's aid on any more large crisis-type projects.

I CAN tell my dad thank you. I didn't listen as much as I should have, but that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate it, or that I don't love you.

Or as George tells his dad, "Pop, do you want a shock? I think you're a great guy." Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Photo Friday - Bells Part 11

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week’s entry is the handbell in the third grade classroom at All Saints Catholic School in Rossford, Ohio. This photo was taken March 15, 2015.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


I don't know what happened on Wednesday, but I have to give you a shout out and say THANK YOU!!!!

This blog typically sees traffic of fewer than 75 hits per day. In fact, on a typical day when I post (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), I usually see views numbering in the 60s. In April, when I participated in the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I would occasionally get more than 100 views.

And then Wednesday, June 17 happened. I posted a simple tribute to an actor who performed in two films I have watched. It wasn't deeply researched, nor did it go heavily into his life or anything else. In fact, I would classify it as one of my short posts.

But then this happened:

My mind is blown. You can see my typical daily average dating back to June 10. There isn't a lot of variation before June 10. And then the spike, which is more than a 700% increase in one day. I was excited to hit 300. I'm over the moon to hit 400.

Thank you to all of you who came to check it out. I invite you to follow this blog or follow me on Twitter. All of the links can be found in the right-hand column of this page. There is a LOT more to come.

Thanks again to all of you,

-Greg "IAWLFAN" Van Vorhis

Larry Simms Memorial - June 17

Larry Simms, who portrayed George and Mary's oldest child, Pete in the classic film It's a Wonderful Life, died June 17, 2009, in Chonburi, Thailand, of emphysema. He was 74.

Simms, while well-known for this role, was probably better known for his role as Alexander 'Baby Dumpling' Bumstead in the Blondie series. He also portrayed Hopper Boy in another Capra/Stewart film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

He was born October 1, 1934, in Los Angeles, CA. His first film was as Joe Krozac Jr. as a baby, an uncredited role in the 1937 film, The Last Gangster. Most of his film career took place in the 1930s and 1940s, with a few more films in the 1950s.

According to Internet Movie Database, in a mini biography labeled as being written by "Brad Wimer, a close friend" of Simms, "After Larry's first retirement, he worked at Arabian-American Oil Company refinery in Saudi Arabia for Fluor Daniel. Later, Larry was tasked to spearhead the implementation of the Telecommunications infrastructure for a Shell refinery in Rayong, Thailand, also at the employ of Fluor Daniel. Then he remained in Thailand in true retirement."

Simms in his later years. (Source:
Personally, I find it really interesting that Simms did in real life what his film father, George Bailey, dreamed of doing. He got to work in the oil fields. That makes me smile.

So on this day, the day of his death, we remember Larry Simms, who gave us many fine performances, including two films with Capra and Stewart, and most often as a child.

If Simms was alive today, he would be 80 years old.

(Source: Internet Movie Database)

Monday, June 15, 2015

What makes a film a film?

This might be a moot point for some of you, but do you believe there is a difference between a film and a movie?

I do. And for me, the difference is huge. So what is the difference, you ask? Let me tell you how I see it. Perhaps Billy Walsh from Entourage put it best:

A movie has one or more of the following aspects:
  • Shallow theme or message
  • Created for entertainment value and any deeper meaning was tacked on as an afterthought
  • Low production value/quality
  • Goes for cheap laughs or scares
  • Something you would throw in the blu-ray player when you wanted something on in the background or as a distraction so you didn't have to think.
  • Nobody's lives are changed because of it....except the actors and crew who got paid.
Some movies I would pile into this category include:
  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Mall Cop 2
  • Anything starring Adam Sandler
  • Anything starring Will Ferrell
  • Most (but not all!!!) cartoons -this is my weakest example, so spare me the vitriol
  • The Transformers franchise
A film, on the other hand, displays one or more of these characteristics:
  • Makes you think
  • Contains several messages/morals
  • Demands an emotional reaction
  • Leaves you speechless
  • Makes you want to take action for or against something
  • Makes you ask questions
  • Sometimes you are afraid to answer those questions
Because of its deep nature, my list of films is much shorter than my list of movies. My list of films include:
  • It's a Wonderful Life
  • Practically any Capra film
  • American Sniper
  • Juno
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • Philadelphia Story
  • Cool Hand Luke
Do you notice anything special about my list of films? They all have something in common. None of them have extensive special effects. In fact, American Sniper is about the only film on that list with special effects, and those are fairly minimal.

Old films didn't have CGI and computer-generated explosions. They were filmed on set with props, and sometimes there were painted backgrounds. But there wasn't a green screen behind them and a computer geek controlling the action and setting behind them. The older films depended on the ability of the actors and actresses to carry a scene and build the emotion. Newer movies rely more on the special effects to carry them. For an example, I will point to the Twilight series, in which it has been widely noted that Kristen Stewart could have been replaced by a cardboard cutout with the same flat, a-tonal, emotionless acting.

And that puts other works in this strange in-between section of film vs. movie. The best example I can come up with is the first six Star Wars movies. The original 3 (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) were filmed with physical props and relied very little on special effects. The light sabers and laser guns were about the extent of it. The rest was physical props and actual acting. The second trilogy (Episodes 1 2 and 3) made heavy use of green screens and CGI. The result? Very cool graphics, but again cardboard acting by Hayden Christensen.

Maybe it's the homophonic names: Kristen/Christensen. Maybe not.

But the point is that I consider the original trilogy (few special effects) to be films, while the second trilogy (heavy on computer animation) consisted of movies. Revenge of the Sith *almost* redeemed itself. We will see if the third trilogy will do any better.

For clarity:



So what do you think? Is there a difference between films and movies? Is there something that separates the two that I didn't talk about? Or am I all wet?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jimmy Stewart: Bomber Pilot - Kindle Deal $2.99 today only

I just bought the book Jimmy Stewart: Bomber Pilot on Kindle for $2.99.

As far as I know, that deal is only good for today (June 12, 2015). Check out the link below to pick it up for yourself!

Photo Friday - Bells Part 10

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week’s entry is the bell outside of Van Buren United Methodist Church in Van Buren, OH. These photos were taken March 15, 2015.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review - Zuzu's Wonderful Life in the Movies

In my book reviews, I give my brief thoughts on what I read. Sometimes I will expound on those thoughts, but more often than not, I will just give a brief opinion. I could go into detail about what the book is about, but a lot of people have already done that. You can read their descriptions of the book, plus the official description on Amazon.

Zuzu's Wonderful Life in the Movies by Christopher Brunell.

My copy of Zuzu's Wonderful Life in the Movies.
You can find a lot of information on the Internet. Right now, I can go online and look up the film history of Karolyn Grimes. In fact, I'll save you the effort. Click here to see all of her films.

Here, Brunell explores all of the movies she appeared in. What is interesting and useful about this book is that it Brunell had (has?) access to Karolyn's personal collection and archives. So there are behind-the-scenes photos and stills with autographs from many of the actors and actresses she worked with.

It also tells stories abut the films and shares Karolyn's memories about what happened on the set.

It's a fascinating book that is a quick read, full of pictures, yet goes deeper than any single Web site to go. You would have to spend hours searching for all of this information to collect it all in one place. Luckily Brunell has done it for you.

I had the pleasure of meeting Brunell in 1997 in Cleveland. At the time, he was traveling with Grimes, who was on tour supporting her cook book. I have a picture of the three of us together somewhere, but I can't find it right now. If I find it, maybe I'll post it.

4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Where's the Martini

During the A-Z Blogging Challenge, one of my readers asked me a question that stumped me.

She asked me what happened to Mr. Martini in the Pottersville sequence. I didn't know.

So I started doing some research. Here is what I found:

Someone named going by the name Hermione posted the following on Dec. 19, 2012. It was posted on the Web site The Straight Dope, under a thread titled "It's A Wonderful Life - what happened to Martini??": "...I've got a couple of books on the making of the movie, and there was a deleted line from Clarence in one of the early shooting scripts about Martini's fate. Apparently, the Martinis were still in one of those firetrap shacks in Potter's Field, where a fire did indeed break out. Martini saved his family but died of his burns."

In Frank Capra and It's a Wonderful Life: A Burkean Cluster Analysis of a Rhetorically Self-Expressive Film, James T. Coon states that "Martini's bar has become Nick's Bar because, as Capra's notes indicate, Martini died in a Potter's Field slum fire." (p. 48). Sadly, he doesn't cite his source.

These are the only places I can find any reference. Even my favorite go-to reference, The It's a Wonderful Life Book by Jeanine Basinger,  does not have any information about least that I can find.

What I do know is that in the bridge keeper's toll house, George says he wants and needs to find Martini. Since Martini is the last person George saw before he walked to the bridge, he believes that Martini can bring him back to his senses.

The fact of the matter is that Martini can't bring him back to his senses, because Clarence and the other angels are in control. And since Martini can't "fix it," there is no reason for us to find out what happened to him. George is on a chase to prove something that he can't prove. Instead of proving, he must learn. Martini can't teach him.

There is no real reason to find Martini. He cannot add anything to the lessons others teach George.

Is there a scene that got cut? Did Martini die in a fire? I don't know. Do you? If you know of an old script or some other reference that sheds light on this, please let me know!

Coon, James T. “Frank Capra and It’s a Wonderful Life: A Burkean Cluster Analysis of a Rhetorically Self-Expressive Film.” Thesis, Bowling Green State University, 1989.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Photo Friday - Bells Part 9

Welcome back to Photo Friday. Here, I one or more photos each Friday. I will do my best to relate it to It's a Wonderful Life.

This week’s entry is the bell outside of the former Webster United Methodist Church in Webster Township, Wood County, Ohio. These photos were taken March 15, 2015.