Although It’s A Wonderful Life has long been thought to be an American classic, it was not a hit with original audiences. It wasn’t until the copyright (accidentally) lapsed in 1974, which made it available royalty-free, that it gained a new audience. It became a holiday staple during that time, and though the free ride ended around 1994, the die was cast and it became a Christmas staple.
The story of It’s A Wonderful Life started off as a short story, written by Phillip Van Doren Stern and titled The Greatest Gift. He attempted for years to get his story published, to no avail. Finally, he decided to gift his tale to 200 of his friends in the form of a 21-page Christmas card, and eventually, that card found its way to RKO Pictures producer David Hempstead. In 1944, RKO bought the story as a vehicle for Cary Grant, but as the script was written and re-written, Grant went on to make a different Christmas film, The Bishop's Wife.
Carl Switzer, also known as Alfalfa in The Little Rascals, was cast in the film as the prankster who opens the pool in the dance scene.
RKO convinced Frank Capra to read the short story, and Capra bought the rights to the story for his new production company, Liberty Films. Notables like Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Dorothy Parker were brought in to “polish” the film leading to several drafts of the screenplay.
Casting George was easy. As Capra recalled in his autobiography, “Of all actors’ roles I believe the most difficult is the role of a Good Sam who doesn’t know that he is a Good Sam. I knew one man who could play it… James Stewart.”
It’s A Wonderful Life – The Musical was written in 2000 and has been performed by hundreds of theaters, churches and even schools. This show has taken a timeless story and enriched it with music that warms the heart. It honors family and community, and reminds us that when all is taken into account, it truly is a wonderful life.