US poster for It's a Wonderful Life, 1946 © BFA/RKO Radio Pictures via Alamy Stock Photo.

Premiere of a Christmas Classic

He got the idea while shaving. But it would take five years for Civil War historian Philip Van Doren Stern to finish his greatest gift, his sweet, understated story about a man contemplating suicide who gets to see what the world in his small town would have been like if he had never been born. He printed 200 copies as Christmas cards and sent them to friends in 1943.

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Cary Grant read it and loved it. RKO Pictures bought the rights to them for $10,000. But three screenplays and three writers later, the story’s potential was yet to be unleashed. RKO sold it to director Frank Capra.

It took five more writers, including Capra and Dorothy Parker, to distribute what was now called it’s a Wonderful Life, It was shot on a four-acre set in California that included a 300-yard main road. The blizzard at the heart of the film was filmed in 90-degree heat, the falling snow being a mixture of fire-extinguishing foam, soap and water.

The film premiered on 20 December 1946. [who] Resist all the meanness that exists in the world. They’ll go down fighting for a lost cause, and you’ll be happy for them. This is the closest I can get to heaven.’


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