Time to re-post this story of the close connections between George R. Stewart and Jimmy Stewart, and between the mythical It’s a Wonderful Life town of Bedford Falls and the real Indiana, Pennsylvania, boyhood home of both Stewarts. Christmas ispast, but Little Christmas awaits. And since the iconic film ends with “Auld Lang Syne” this is perfect for New Year, 2019. It’s a Wonderful Life is still popular on local screens around the country: This year, the local Carson City, Nevada, Galaxy Theater showed the film twice on the Saturday before Christmas. Long may it live.(Don’t miss the interview with one of the stars at the end of this post.)
It’s A Wonderful Story
(Originally posted on December 13, 2015)
This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies. A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 54th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and, of course, It’s a Wonderful Life.
In Arroyo Grande the local theater, owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie. …To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages is a reminder of what we’ve lost. Now we watch movies on TV, often alone, and usually less intently. But watching Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street or It’s a Wonderful Life in the movie theater, we are enfolded in the story.
For many people It’s a Wonderful Life is the Christmas movie. So those who are George R. Stewart fans will be interested to know the connection between that classic film and GRS.
George R. Stewart spent his boyhood in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived. His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson, planned to be a teacher and even helped found a school (which became the prestigious Kiski School). But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family so he went into the mercantile business. He had a hand in a hardware store in Indiana, owned by another Stewart. That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.
George and Jimmy looked alike. With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related. But they shared only one possible distant relative, and they lived in different worlds, in Indiana. The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill. GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.
Their paths apparently never crossed. When he was 12 GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together. Yet in this Christmas season we should remember there is one thing they shared: The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century. Watching It’s a Wonderful Life we share the town with them, for a time walking the streets and meeting the people of the town and the time where the boys grew up.
Here’s a passage about Indiana, Pennsylvania as Bedford Falls:
George R. Stewart’s boyhood town was so archetypically American that it could pass for George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact, the town was “Bedford Falls” – at least for the movie’s male star. Indiana, Pennsylvania, was also the boyhood home of James Stewart, who played “George Bailey” in Capra’s film. Although the movie’s “Bedford Falls” was built on a studio backlot in the San Fernando Valley, Jimmy Stewart said that when he walked onto the set for the first time he almost expected to hear the bells of his home church in Indiana.
Each year, Indiana holds an It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, with a parade, hot chocolate, tree lighting, and continuous showings of the film at the Jimmy Stewart Museum. People line the streets in their warm clothing bringing life to the snow-bound town as the movie brings life to the streets of Bedford Falls.
This Christmas, when you watch Capra’s film please give a thought to the boyhood of George R. Stewart, celebrating his Christmases in a town which for Jimmy Stewart believed was the model for Bedford Falls.
Merry Christmas to everyone.
- A Christmas gift, for 2019 readers – a link to the radio interview with “Tommy Bailey,” one of the Bailey children growing up in Bedford Falls, setting for It’s a Wonderful Life.
Posted in Christmas festivals, Christmas movies, Uncategorized | Tagged American small towns, Christmas movies, Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life, movies, Tommy from It’s a Wonderful Life | 3 Replies