"Do not grow weary of doing what is right, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up." Galatians 6:9
There are many traditions that have filled the holidays and my heart over the years, but one thing or rather one movie I watch every year is Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life." Besides having fallen in love with dozens of memorable lines, an all star cast and a heartwarming story of a man who finds out life is indeed a wonderful gift, I also love the story behind the movie. It's A Wonderful Life, like its hero George Bailey went through times of optimism and despair and was rescued from oblivion by its friends" (Frank Capra Jr). The movie we know and love today has its own unique story, one with many chapters and a following that spans generations.
It's A Wonderful Life started simply as a Christmas card in 1943. A man by the name of Phillip Van Doren Stern was having a hard time selling his short poem titled "The Greatest Gift" and instead decided to send it out to all his friends and family that year in his Christmas cards.
Shorty after, the story was picked up by RKO Studios for the price of a thousand dollars, but RKO wasn't able to get all the pieces together. The story was moving sure, but after three different attempts at different scripts, it began to gather dust waiting for its chance to be made. Their choice of leading man Cary Grant found another Christmas movie in the form of The Bishops Wife. And none of the three scripts really captured Stern's story the way they wanted. All that changed however, when Frank Capra came along and paid that same thousand dollars for his own shot at the film.
Capra was famous for making wholesome films with positive statements, fondly known as Capricorn. The story of "The Greatest Gift" had moved him and he was determined to highlight the importance of the individual in his film. He believed that no man was a failure and that everyone was born to do something, both of which would come through beautifully in his version of the script.
Capra was able to make great strides with the movie, but he still had to find the right actors, edit his script to Hollywood standards and build one of the largest movie sets ever made before It's A Wonderful Life started to take shape. It was a project that had taken a lot of time, development and heart, but in 1946 it was finally ready to make its debut.
Capra would later say it was one of his favorite films, but the reaction in December of 1946 was far from enthusiastic. Although it was nominated for several academy awards, it didn't win a single one and it wasn't all that popular with moviegoers of the 1940's. Heavy ice that year meant most people would stay home and audiences who did see it considered it to be too depressing for a holiday movie. It was by no means a box office flop but it was soon forgotten and would have probably stayed that way if not for a small loophole in the 1970's.
In 1974 the copyright for the movie expired and could have been renewed for another 28 years, but due to a clerical error it was not renewed and suddenly anyone could play the movie without paying royalties. This mix up allowed the movie to enter the public domain which was not good for royalty owners but it ended up being great news for the movie itself. The movie began to play each year around Christmas, a tradition that has lasted for many years, and it has become a beloved classic all over the world. It was said about the film that, "It didn't make a lot of money but it has enriched the lives of all who have fallen under its spell."
I love that story from beginning to end because it shows that meager beginnings do not have the final word. It may not look like much to us or like things are even going our way but God is holding the future in His hands. No matter how many scripts our lives follow or how many hurdles we face, we can learn from a little movie in 1946 that perseverance can lead to a beautiful story in the end. And like Capra highlighted, we are all born with a unique God given gift to do something great. I'd dare to say, "With God, no man is a failure".
I don't know where this end of one year and beginning of another finds you, but I hope your heart is encouraged to keep on dreaming, keep on moving and keep on hoping. If one movie can go through all that, I think the human spirit can do anything. My church likes to use the phrase: "the best is yet to come" and I think we must choose to believe it; to live in it. In the joy and in the pain, in the laughter and in the sorrow; in the yesterdays and the tomorrows let's allow God to carve out an amazing script. Look to the new year with new hope. Discover the wonder in your life. And let your life be something that enriches others. After all, "It is a wonderful life."
Happy New Year! May 2016 be the best yet!