NBC’s Christmas Eve broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life” will be enhanced by former President George H.W. Bush narrating a simultaneous audio description of this perennial holiday classic for the visually impaired.
The ex-prez (and Ronald Reagan’s vice president), 86, has already recorded the narration, according to Variety. President Bush’s narration will be available on SAP (second audio program) channels during the telecast starting this Friday night at 8/7c on NBC.
As in past years, this year’s telecast will be three hours – ending at 11 p.m./10c. Jimmy Stewart starred in the 1946 black-and-white movie as a small-town banker who contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve when confronted with a potentially ruinous financial crisis.
It’s become a TV staple at this time of year, though it was not nearly as popular when it was released in ’46. It lost money and reviews were mixed. Though it was nominated for five Oscars, it won none of them, and Hollywood wondered if director Frank Capra – who had a gift for making popular movies (“It Happened One Night,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Meet John Doe” and others) – had lost his touch.
A couple of things you might not have known about “It’s a Wonderful Life”:
Before there was Twitter: In much the same way that ideas for TV shows sometimes spring today from unusual sources such as some ordinary person’s Tweets (William Shatner’s CBS comedy “$#*! My Dad Says” was developed from a Twitter feed maintained by Justin Halpern, a guy Tweeting about his father), “It’s a Wonderful Life” also came from an unexpected source. Author Philip Van Doren Stern couldn’t find a publisher for a short story he’d written called “The Greatest Gift,” so he made it into an elaborate Christmas card in 1943 that he mailed to 200 friends and acquaintances. An RKO producer heard about the Christmas card and optioned the story.
The bartender who became one of the kings of television: Look for tough-guy actor Sheldon Leonard in the role of Nick the bartender. He’s the same guy who would later produce so many legendary TV shows of the 1950s and ’60s, including “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle USMC,” “I Spy” and others.
The little rascal who was no longer little: Also look for “Alfalfa” Switzer – then 19 years old and long past his heyday as one of the stars of the “Our Gang” comedies – as one of the teens in the high school dance scene. He’s the one who Mary (Donna Reed) hands her drink to when she gets a chance to dance with George Bailey (Stewart). “Hey, this is my dance!” complains Switzer, in the role of “Freddie.” “Why don’t you stop annoying people!” replies George.
The equipment crash they kept in the picture: That crash you hear in the scene where George helps guide his drunken Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) toward home was not planned as some sort of distant automobile accident. It was some equipment toppling over, which might have ruined the scene if Mitchell had not cleverly ad-libbed: “I’m all right, I’m all right!” As a result, the scene stayed in the movie.
For many families, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” together has become an annual holiday tradition. How about you?