Capra’s masterpiece is full of great stories akin to naming Mr. Gower after the famous street in Hollywood. In the early days of Hollywood, the area of Gower north of Sunset was full of tiny studios and known as “Gower Gulch” for the plethora of westerns being made there. Every morning real cowboys and authentic Native Americans lined up at the bottom of Gower looking for day work. $5 a day, $10 if you had your own horse. A young Gary Cooper was among the dusty actor wanabes. The studios were so small and known for their struggles that the area was also called “Poverty Row” and the studios known as “Poverty Row” studios.
Another interesting story involves Bert the cop and Ernie the cab driver. When Jim Hensen began his Muppet shows, he borrowed “Bert & Ernie” from It’s A Wonderful Life. Frank Faylen – “Ernie” – later played Dobie Gillis’ father in the TV show and had a daughter that married Regis Philbin. Ward Bond – “Bert” – was a huge star who appeared in almost 300 films. On November 5, 1960 he was scheduled to meet singer Johnny Horton in Dallas so Horton could sign a contract to appear on “Wagon Train.” But Horton was killed when his car was hit by a drunk driver in the early morning hours, and Bond himself died the same morning of a heart attack. Years earlier his best friend John Wayne accidentaly shot him during a hunting trip; Bond left the shotgun to Wayne in his will.
Lionel Barrymore – “Mr. Potter” – was pushed around in a wheelchair not because the character was crippled but because he was suffering from terrible arthritis during the end of his life.
Thomas Mitchell – “Uncle Billy” – was among the few to garner the Triple Crown during his long career. He won an Academy Award for Stagecoach (1939), an Emmy as television’s Best Actor in 1953 and a Tony for “Hazel Flagg” in 1953.
H.B. Warner – “Mr. Gower” – starred in 150 films, as Christ in the deMille Classic King of Kings (1927), with Thomas Mitchell in Lost Horizon (1937), with Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and his final film, another deMille classic The Ten Commandments (1956).
Beulah Bondi – “Mrs. Bailey” – played Jimmy Stewart’s mother in four different films. Besides It’s A Wonderful Life, the others were Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Of Human Hearts (1938) and Vivacious Lady (1938). She died at her Whitley Heights home at 92 of complications from injuries sustained after tripping over her cat.
Adrienne Caselotti – she was a singer at Martini’s Bar – only appeared in one movie and a couple of TV shows. She made a career after Walt Disney personally chose her as the voice of his character “Snow White.”
Sheldon Leonard – “Nick” the bartender… “Hey get me, I’m handing out wings!” – took the role so he could make some money to buy Dodger tickets and went on to become one of the most successful producers in the history of television. He won 5 Emmy awards for series like “Make Room for Daddy,” “Gomer Pyle,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” and “I Spy.”
Samuel S. Hinds – “Pa Bailey” – was a wealthy Pasadena lawyer who graduated from Harvard, but he lost everything in the 1929 market crash and turned to acting to survive. He appeared in over 150 movies and eventually was among the founding members of the renowned Pasadena Playhouse.
Charles Lane – Potter’s rent collector – and Tom Fadden – the bridge toll collector who fell off his chair when Clarence said he was an angel – both appeared in the long-running series “Petticoat Junction.” Lane (“Homer Bedloe” on the Junction) appeared in over 350 films and Fadden (“Ben Miller” on Junction) appeared in over 200.
Bert Moorhouse – Nick’s bouncer – appeared in almost 400 films from 1928 to 1954 before committing suicide in Hollywood in 1954.
The film is so full of stories I’ll have to do another post with more!