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‘Wonderful Life’ comes to Fife

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The holiday tradition “It's a Wonderful Life in Fife” is again in the works this Christmas, with a screening of the classic movie from 3-9 p.m. on Dec. 17 at Johnny’s at Fife, 5211 20th St. E. Tickets for dinner and the movie are $10 or $7 with a donation to Seattle Pug Rescue, or with cans of food for Northwest Harvest or toys for Toys for Tots. Admission is free for children and $5 for seniors.

Anchoring the event again this year is an appearance by Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played George Bailey’s daughter ZuZu. She spoke the now famous line, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

The Port Orchard resident guests about 40 “It’s a Wonderful Life” events a year that range from Christmas in July events to the “Wonderful Life” festival in Seneca Falls, NY.

“No one knew this movie would be what it was when we were making it,” she said. “Now it is just huge.”

The film actually bombed at the box office during its first release in 1946 and was all but lost to history until it made the regular circuit on television in the 1970s. It has played steadily ever since.

“It’s a tradition,” Grimes said. “It’s more than just a popular movie.”

Grimes still views the movie about 20 times a year, for example, even when it happens to be on the television when she’s at home. She has traveled around the nation for guest appearances for more than 20 years.

She now gets fan mail from viewers around the nation as well as from Germany, Serbia, Romania and former Soviet Bloc countries that are just now seeing the film. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is ranked the second most popular holiday movie in the United Kingdom and routinely rides the top ranks of best American films of all time.

It is that growing popularity and cottage industry of finding hidden messages in films that have flooded Internet message boards and filled theater seats every time the movie screens. Director Frank Capra was well known for his subtle imagery and symbolism in everyday objects, after all.

“Everything he did had a meaning,” Grimes said. Some subliminal message and imagery were known to the cast at the time while others are still being discovered. “I don’t think that much was known by the cast,” Grimes revealed.

The movie is now set to turn 70 years old in 2016, and there are talks with Paramount to make a sequel for that anniversary, something Grimes admits but she can’t release details about the script other than that there have been many scripts under consideration over the years.


‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ facts and trivia


Frank Capra had a sharpshooter on standby to shatter the window in the scene where Donna Reed throws a rock at the Granville House. She actually hit the window on the first try, which was not unexpected since she played baseball in high school.

A bumbling crew member got a bonus of $10 for stumbling over some equipment at the exact time in a scene when a drunken uncle Billy was set to fall into some trash cans. The actors continued the scene and improvised their lines, which made it into the movie because they worked so well.

A baby photo in the background is actually James Stewart. His parents donated the photo to the film.

The role of George Bailey was actually slated to be played by Cary Grant and Henry Fonda was in the running as well.

Vincent Price was slated to be Mr. Potter. Lionel Barrymore won the role because he had just come off a famous Ebenezer Scrooge in radio dramatizations of “A Christmas Carol.”

The film has two lines of "secret dialog" – spoken quietly through a door that are only heard when amplifying the volume, but are noted in closed-captioning. The lines occur at the end of the scene set in Peter Bailey's private office with Bailey and his son George, and Potter and his goon present. After George raves to Potter that "you can't say that about my father," he is ushered out of the room by his father, then George is shown standing outside the office door. At that moment, George overhears Potter say, “What's the answer?” and Peter says, “Potter, you just humiliated me in front of my son.”

Potter’s offer of a $20,000 salary translates to $350,000 today.

The name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps cookies made by Nabisco.

H.B. Warner really was drunk during the scene in which his character, Mr. Gower, slaps young George, played by Robert J. Anderson. That is real blood coming from his ear.

An FBI analyst wrote in 1947 that the film's "obvious" attempt to discredit bankers "is a common trick used by Communists."

When composer Dimitri Tiomkin's original "Ode To Joy" score was eliminated, tracks of Alfred Newman's score from The Hunchback of Notre Dame were used instead.

The actor who presses the bottom to open the floor, sending dancers into the pool is Carl Switzer. He is best known for his role of Alfalfa in “Little Rascals.”

Bells ring throughout the film; in the intro music and background music; Christmas decorations; cash registers; telephones ringing; a bell on Mr. Potter's desk; the studio logo; doorbells; the movie “The Bells of St. Mary's” is playing at the local cinema.


Film buffs have linked the storyline to the Biblical tales of Job, the Last Supper and the Cruxification.


Tickets: contact Art Mallonee at (425) 463-5182; or Johnny’s At Fife: (253) 922-6686