Does this line sound familiar?
“Strange isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
You don’t have to be much of a movie aficionado to recognize this gem from Frank Capra’s bittersweet classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
As a film historian commented, if there is one movie ready to be canonized into sainthood by popular acclaim, this 1946 lump-in-your throat feature would be it.
Although multi-themed, one of the key messages in “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a simple affirmation of life.
As Capra pointed out in his best-selling 1971 memoir, “The Name Above the Title,” he made the movie for “his” people — all of us who have felt disheartened by circumstances, those who have experienced depression or loss, those who have been through difficult times. Every life, no matter what the condition or situation, matters.
This point certainly resonates with us at Martin Oaks Cemetery and Crematory in Lewisville, Texas.
We see it all the time with clients: the legacy one leaves behind is most firmly entrenched in the memories of the beloved family and friends who survive. It is that legacy that will stand the test of time.
Capra evoked this perfectly — George Bailey was the richest man in Bedford Falls because of the friends he made, the lives he impacted with the generous/responsible way he conducted business.
The story of the path of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a familiar one: opening in late 1946, it made a paltry $3.3 million in box office receipts (break-even would have been slightly higher than $6 million) and soon faded into obscurity.
Lack of studio interest allowed the rights to lapse — because of this, public television stations began featuring it heavily during the Christmas season in the 1970’s, and then, “bewilderingly,” as critic Pauline Kael described it, the film caught fire. DVD sales soared (estimates vary from $70 million to over $100 million) and, public regard, once tepid, reversed itself — today the American Film Institute’s list of best movies has it in the 20th spot.
Capra said that the roller coaster ride of the film was like having a child who did poorly in school and then, by dint of hard work, ended up being elected President of the United States.
In truth, Capra greatly aided the advancement of his work — in retirement, he frequently appeared at film festivals, answering student’s questions patiently and kindly. A small, cheerful man, Capra was received respectfully everywhere he went.
Capra’s sheer life force that came across in his films still exerts an influence today, perhaps one that exceeds any other Hollywood personality.
There are a number of Capra celebrations that occur each year — one of the most famous takes place in Seneca Falls, New York, the city which claims to be the model for Bedford Falls in Wonderful Life — but none of these compare to the relationship his adopted hometown, La Quinta, California, has with the director.
Nestled just south of Palm Springs, La Quinta is named after a lush resort which opened in 1926 (fyi, this resort has no association with the national hotel chain).
Capra first came to La Quinta in the 1930’s when celebrities like Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, and Cary Grant were in conspicuous evidence. Along with his frequent screenplay writer, Robert Riskin, Capra eventually set up shop in Casita 136 — which was and still is named San Anselmo — and screen magic happened.
Riskin wrote eight films with Capra (ultimately, the two labored on 13 films together), many of them crafted at La Quinta. Titles included, “It Happened One Night,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” and “Meet John Doe” – a splendid line-up by any account.
The script for “It’s a Wonderful Life ” is credited to Capra and the writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, but many other hands were involved, including Dorothy Parker — although historians are uncertain, it’s likely that at least some story editing on the film took place in Casita 136.
Many years later, when his film career was over, Capra and his wife, Lucille, actually took up residence in the three bedroom bungalow.
Today, the hotel is a virtual shrine to the director: at last week’s Christmas tree lighting, an event that annually attracts hundreds, scenes from “It’s a Wonderful Life” were screened on hotel walls and Capra’s name was repeatedly invoked during the ceremony.
A plaque and a commemorative bench sit near the Casita — Capra passed away in 1991, but he definitely lives on at La Quinta. What a legacy.