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Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and Clarence the Angel (Henry Travers) mull the practicality of discussing Clarence's identity at a bar in the alternate reality Pottersville in Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life.
In the summer of 1946, Oscar-winning director Frank Capra and his Oscar-nominated leading man, Jimmy Stewart, had both returned to Hollywood filmmaking after serving during World War II. Remembering the pair’s pre-war hit, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the public eagerly awaited the film, titled It’s a Wonderful Life.
The film received solid—if not exactly glowing—reviews when it opened in December of 1946. It received no Academy Awards even though it was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Although both Capra and Stewart considered it among their finest work, the movie barely made enough at the box office to pay for itself and the financial stress eventually sank director Capra’s Liberty Studios.
How then did the film become an enduring classic more than 70 years later? Today, it is considered by many to be among the best American films ever made, and it has become a cherished holiday tradition to watch year after year. Perhaps it’s the movie’s realistic and bittersweet themes of friendship, family, hope, and dreams that ring true—or maybe it’s the sentiment that each person’s life can touch so many others that still resonates today as it did in 1946.
The Elmhurst History Museum will present Hometown Holiday: It’s a Wonderful Life in Elmhurst, a new exhibit that explores the making of the film, the lives of the people who made it, and its journey from obscurity to classic. The key focal point of the exhibit is a private collection on loan from Chicago-area collector Richard Goodson that includes a diverse array of rare photos, advertisements, lobby cards, memorabilia and more to tell the story of It’s a Wonderful Life.
The exhibit, sponsored by Lakeside Bank, will share interesting facts about the film through reminiscences of cast and crew, personal letters, autographed photos, and other ephemera. An original copy of Philip VanDoren Stern’s short story, “The Greatest Gift,” which the movie script was based on, is also featured. The challenges of filming a holiday movie in California during summertime will be detailed, as well as the careers of the memorable character actors who played a part in the movie.
To add a local tie to the Hometown Holiday: It’s a Wonderful Life in Elmhurst story, holiday-related items will be added from the Elmhurst History Museum’s collection from the post-World War II era. Featured artifacts include toys and gifts, plus advertisements from former Elmhurst merchants. A collection of handmade ornaments from Dresden, Germany and holiday cards created by former Elmhurst resident Lee Sturges, a well-known artist and etcher, will also be on display. Thematic holiday décor courtesy of the Elmhurst Garden Club will add to the festive atmosphere inside the Glos Mansion, home of the Elmhurst History Museum.
For the latest exhibit and program information, please visit www.elmhursthistory.org or call (630) 833-1457.