Dig Deeper - The "Real" Bedford Falls

seneca fallsThe village of Seneca Falls, New York claims that it was the inspiration for Bedford Falls in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.  Every December, the town has an annual It's a Wonderful Life Festival.  The town boasts both The Hotel Clarence, named for George Bailey's guardian angel, and the It's a Wonderful Life Museum.  This year, "The Bailey Sisters", Karolyn “Zuzu” Grimes and Carol “Janie” Coombs as well as Mary Owen, the daughter of Donna Reed, will attend the festival.  The town will also give out the 10th annual George Bailey Award - "to honor an individual who embodies the spirit of George Bailey by consistently contributing to the lives of his/her neighbors.  The award especially seeks to recognize individuals who have not received awards previously and without whom Seneca Falls would be a very different place."  The festival website has a very interesting article discussing the reasons why the town, despite never being mentioned by Frank Capra, may be able to claim it's the "real" Bedford Falls.  Here's an excerpt from that article and a link to the Festival website:

The final proof offered for the town’s claim is the story that Frank Capra visited the town in late 1945. He was going to visit an aunt in nearby Auburn and stopped in Seneca Falls and had his hair cut. Barber Tommy Bellissima didn’t know who Frank Capra was at the time, but when the movie came out, he recognized the name of his famous patron on the poster. He remembered Capra because the two had talked at length about their lives in Italy and common experiences as immigrants. The name stuck with Bellissima because capra in Italian means goat.

But Capra never mentioned Seneca Falls in his memoirs, and nothing about the town is found in his archives. No definitive proof has been found that Frank Capra visited Seneca Falls and brought the image of the town back with him to Hollywood.

Bedford Falls might just be a composite of small towns across America, set in Upstate New York. But the fact is no town in Upstate New York has as many similarities to the town in It’s A Wonderful Life as does Seneca Falls.  Either by design or extraordinary coincidence, when Frank Capra created Bedford Falls, he replicated Seneca Falls.


Dig Deeper - Improv on the Set

Donna_Reed_and_James_Stewart Frank Capra (1897 – 1991), director of the film It's a Wonderful Life, was famous (or infamous) for his improvisational directing style.  He often walked onto the set with no more than the master scenes written.  Capra explained his reasoning:

What you need is what the scene is about, who does what to whom, and who cares about whom ... All I want is a master scene and I'll take care of the rest – how to shoot it, how to keep the machinery out of the way, and how to focus attention on the actors at all times.  (Wakeman, 1987)

This style worked both for and against the lead actor, Jimmy Stewart.  It's rumored that Stewart was very nervous about his scene on the phone with Donna Reed because it was his first screen kiss since returning from his service in World War II.  Capra filmed the scene in a single, unrehearsed take and it worked so well that part of the scene was cut because the censors deemed it too passionate!

Dig Deeper - Award-Winning Snow

Although It's A Wonderful Life is now considered one of the most critically-acclaimed American films of the 20th century, at the time of its release it was viewed as a disappointment at the box office and lost out at the 1947 Academy Awards.  It was nominated for 6 awards, but won only the Technical Achievement Award for a revolutionary new method for snow shot for wonderful lifesimulating falling snow on film sets. Before It's a Wonderful Life, fake movie snow was mostly made from painted cornflakes and made so much noise when actors walked on it that any snow-filled scenes with dialogue had to be re-dubbed afterwards. So, working with Russel Sherman, RKO studio's head of special effects, director Frank Capra developed a new type of quiet fake snow. Mixing a material used in fire extinguishers, with sugar, water, and even soap flakes, a sprayable version of artificial snow was created that could be quickly blasted over set pieces.

Our Production Manager, Brian Proball, and the rest of the production team at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, will be bringing our own special extra-long lasting snow effect for our stage production of It's a Wonderful Life opening November 15th.  See you then!

Cassandra Proball Education Director & Dramaturg