1. The fictional town of Bedford Falls was built on the RKO ranch in Encino, which is in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. This is one of the hottest parts of Southern California, and all of those winter scenes in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE were shot during a heat wave in the summer of 1946. Jimmy Stewart can be seen sweating in various scenes, but it totally works because of what his character is going through.
2. The teenager who opens the floor to reveal the pool when George and Mary are doing the Charleston contest is Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in The Little Rascals.
3. Lionel Barrymore didn’t actually believe that Donna Reed was a country girl! (She grew up on a farm in Iowa, and Mary Bailey was her first starring role.) He bet her $50 that she couldn’t milk a cow, and she later said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.
4. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE has been parodied by everyone from The Muppets (IT’S A VERY MERRY MUPPET CHRISTMAS) to Beavis and Butt-Head.
5. Jimmy Stewart, who will forever be George Bailey in many people’s minds, was NOT the first choice for the role! RKO wanted Cary Grant! However, it took a while to get the film going and there were a bunch of rewrites, and at that point Cary was attached to THE BISHOP’S WIFE. RKO sold the rights to Frank Capra, who brought Jimmy on board.
Listen to our discussion of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, with Audience of One Michael Wright (former head of programming for Turner Classic Movies and current CEO of Amblin Partners), here.