December 24, 2017
Every December I’m reminded of the only banker who ever gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. He’s George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) from the classic movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” who gives up his dreams of traveling the world to live a life of quiet desperation running the family’s small-town business, the Bailey Building and Loan.
When, on Christmas Eve, his bumbling Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses a big deposit that threatens to ruin the bank, George becomes suicidal and wishes he’d never been born. His wish is granted by apprentice seraph Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), who is dispatched from heaven to earn his angel’s wings by convincing George not to take his own life.
Sure, I know the outcome. But, every year I still watch with bated breath as George steps into a parallel universe where he’d never existed, and learns just how much his life has touched others. And I still tear up when the spell is broken and he returns to his real home where his wife, Mary (Donna Reed), has rallied friends from all over town to donate the missing funds, a dollar at a time. It rekindles George’s faith, and mine, in humankind.
Like its protagonist, the movie itself needed all the help it could get when it was first released in 1946. It was struggling at the box office in March 1947 when Beaumont’s Jefferson Theater hosted a premiere with a five-day run of the film. Jimmy Stewart and director Frank Capra made a three-hour stop-over for a promotional party at the Hotel Beaumont, where they received keys to the city and the Lamar College band played “Buffalo Gal Won’t You Come Out Tonight,” a song from the movie.
When I watch “It’s A Wonderful Life,” I’m reminded of what a recurring role it has played in my own life.
For a score of Christmas Eves, the story of George Bailey appeared faithfully on late night television keeping me company while I assembled doll houses and bicycles for my daughters.
They grew up and moved away, so they don’t need me for that anymore. But, almost four decades later, I still spend those holiday evenings watching Capra’s cinema gem and remembering what a wonderful life it was when they were around.
George Bailey has the greatest gift of all. He never grows old. He just waits for us to pay his family a visit each Christmas. No matter how bleak our world may seem, still we come to share in his redemption. And to watch his little daughter celebrate his return with the line we wait to hear all year long — “Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
Atta boy, Clarence.
Malcolm D. Gibson