It’s A Wonderful Life movie

Meet Henry Travers: The Character Actor Who Landed a Heavenly Role

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By Ken Zurski

Travers John Heagerty, better known as Henry Travers, was an English stage actor who came to America in 1917 and starred in numerous Broadway productions that spanned nearly two decades.

His most famous stage role was in “You Can’t Take It With You,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play about “a man from a family of rich snobs who becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured but decidedly eccentric family.”  In over 380 performances, Travers played the role of Grandpa Vanderhof, the patriarch of the oddball Sycamore family.  When it came time to make a movie version, however, Travers was passed over for the more well known American film actor Lionel Barrymore. Jimmy Stewart played the lead.

“You Can’t Take It With You” became the highest grossing picture in 1938 and won an Oscar for Best Picture.

Director Frank Capri won Best Director, his third in five years.

Image result for lionel barrymore you can t take it with you

Although Capri went with more established actors in the Oscar winning film, in 1945, when casting for a new production, he found a role for Travers as a bumbling but goodhearted guardian angel who saves a man from taking his own life and shows him the true spirit of living. In turn, the angel earns his wings to heaven.

The angel, of course, was named Clarence and the film was titled “It’s a Wonderful Life.” 

The rest of the movie’s cast was a familiarity.  Capra tapped the steady Lionel Barrymore to portray the miserly banker, Mr. Potter and mainstay Jimmy Stewart played the part of George Bailey.  Travers got fourth billing behind actress Donna Reed who played George’s wife, Mary. 

But as it turned out, the movie was a bit of swan song for the interminable character actor. After decades in the business and over 50 films, Travis’ appeared in just one more movie, a 1949 comedy, “The Girl for Jones Beach,” starring Ronald Reagan. That same year, Travis retired from acting. He was 75.

Then in the 1970’s, three decades after it’s release, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” gained interest and dedicated fans.  It has been a beloved perennial holiday favorite ever since.

Travers didn’t live long enough to see it.

He died in 1965 at the age of 91.

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Before the Movie, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Had Modest Beginnings

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By Ken Zurski

BB4
Philip Van Doren Stern

In November 1939 Philip Van Doren Stern, an American author, editor and Civil War historian wrote an original story titled “The Greatest Gift,” a heartwarming Christmas tale about a man named George Pratt who gets a dying wish granted that literally changes his life.

Stern’s story begins on a Christmas Eve night as a despondent George leans over the rail of an iron railroad bridge. He contemplates jumping into the river below:

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a quiet voice beside him
said.

George turned resentfully to a little man he had never seen
before. He was stout, well past middle age, and his round
cheeks were pink in the winter air as though they had just been
shaved. 
“Wouldn’t do what?” George asked sullenly.

“What you were thinking of doing.”

“How do you know what I was thinking?”

“Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the
stranger said easily.

George tells the man that he wishes he was never born. The man tells George his wish is granted. “You’ve never been born,” he says.

“The Stranger,” as he is called, then tells George to pose as a door-to-door brush salesman to avoid any confusion with people he knows well, but who now have no idea who he is.

When George confronts his wife Mary, she’s married with a child, a son, who pretends to shoot George with a toy gun. “You’re dead,” the boy tells him.  Dejected, George offers her a complementary brush and leaves.

George goes back to the bridge to confront “the stranger” and demands an explanation. “You already had the greatest gift of all,” the stranger explains, “the gift of life.” George begs for his old life back and returns home to Mary.  There he finds the brush he gave her.

Stern desperately tried to get his little story published, but it never sold. So in 1943, he made it into a Christmas card book and mailed 200 copies to family and friends.

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The card book and story somehow caught the attention of RKO Pictures producer David Hempstead who showed it to actor Cary Grant’s agent.

In April 1944, RKO bought the rights but failed to create a satisfactory script.

Grant went on to make “The Bishop’s Wife.”

Image result for cary grant the bishop's wife

However, another acclaimed Hollywood heavyweight, Frank Capra, who already had three Best Directing Oscars to his name, liked the idea.  RKO was happy to unload the rights.

“The story itself is slight, in the sense, it’s short,” Capri said referring to Stern’s book. “But not slight in content.”

Image result for frank capra

 

Capra bought it and brought in a slew of writers to polish and stretch Stern’s book into a full length feature film.  They hired another a well-known actor James Stewart to play the main character, now renamed George Bailey. “The Stranger” in the book became a guardian angel named Clarence. And while the rest of the film is mostly a screenwriter’s version, the story of George saving his little brother from a drowning incident was included from the book.

In December of 1946, seven years after Stern wrote the original story, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released in theaters.

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‘The Greatest Gift’ is a Story You Know Well

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BB4
Philip Van Doren Stern

By Ken Zurski

In November 1939 Philip Van Doren Stern, an American author, editor and Civil War historian wrote an original story titled “The Greatest Gift,” a heartwarming Christmas tale about a man named George Pratt who gets a dying wish granted by a guardian angel that literally changes his life.

Stern’s story begins at an iron bridge as a despondent George leans over the rail:

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a quiet voice beside him
said.

George turned resentfully to a little man he had never seen
before. He was stout, well past middle age, and his round
cheeks were pink in the winter air as though they had just been
shaved. 
“Wouldn’t do what?” George asked sullenly.

“What you were thinking of doing.”

“How do you know what I was thinking?”

“Oh, we make it our business to know a lot of things,” the
stranger said easily.

Stern desperately tried to get his little story published, but it never sold. So in 1943, he made it into a Christmas card book and mailed 200 copies to family and friends.

zzz4

The card book and story somehow caught the attention of RKO Pictures producer David Hempstead who showed it to actor Cary Grant’s agent. In April 1944, RKO bought the rights but failed to create a satisfactory script. Grant went on to make “The Bishop’s Wife.”

However, another acclaimed Hollywood heavyweight, Frank Capra, who already had three Best Directing Oscars to his name, liked the idea.  RKO was happy to unload the rights. “The story itself is slight, in the sense, it’s short,” Capri said referring to Stern’s book. “But not slight in content.”

Capra bought it and brought in a slew of writers to polish the story. They hired another a well-known actor James Stewart to play the main character renamed George Bailey and in December of 1946, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released in theaters.

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