The Bedford Falls Sentinel

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Travel like George Bailey ... or at least how he intended to that is. The Enesco Bedford Falls Travel Agency

    An interesting turn in the walk through of Bedford Falls. We now visit a building that isn't seen in It's a Wonderful Life, but it is there. At various times we have heard about where and what George wants to go and do, but we also are able to see a few times as well. George mentions in the Boston Co. Suitcase store some of the places that he wants to visit. He also describes to his dad on their last evening together some of his plans for the future which involve big cities and big bridges. We are able to view some of these places and plans when we see some of the vacation and travel brochures George has. You don't get brochures at the Bedford Falls Library, or garage ... these could only be found at the Bedford Falls Travel Agency.

   Twice we see the the brochures. First as he's excited about his brother's return, while waiting with Uncle Billy. Just by their conversation you can tell that George is not only excited about seeing his brother come home, but that it signifies his long overdue exit from Bedford Falls. Joseph tells us that he's been "waiting for Harry to come back and take over the Building and Loan". He's describing job openings and employment opportunities around the world. He speaks of "Venezuela oilfields" and the Yukon.   Their conversation discusses not what Harry has been doing, or when the train is supposed to arrive, but George speaks of only a future away from there. In his own words he states "there are plenty of jobs around for somebody that likes to travel". 

    The second time we see them, is soon after the first appearance. After George hears about his brothers new wife and plans, he's pondering his own now clouded future. He looks at the brochures in disgust before tossing them away in frustration. No longer speaking of just destinations of vacations as he did earlier, but now these were places he was interested in going to work, study, and live out his dreams.

     Those plans obviously change over time , but there is no visit to South America or Europe or the Yukon. It's very likely that George uses the Travel Agency again, as he and Mary plan their extravagant honeymoon. While riding with Ernie, we hear that they plans to spend at least a week in New York, another in Bermuda and hinting that that's just the beginning. The budget for the trip is $2,000 dollars which when adjusted for inflation came out by some calculations, as over $20,000 2010 dollars! Quite the trip! Of course, the run on the bank ruins those plans, but saves the old Building and Loan from collapse. The even of the wedding is not lost, as Mary never misses a beat and uses the opportunity to create an amazing wedding night at their new home ... 320 Sycamore. Helping her, as well as adding to the atmosphere is Bert and an unknown assistance. They are putting posters up on the windows, posters of romantic places. We are not told specifically where the poster's come from but the man helping Bert mentions 'the company' as being the source. I like to think, and remain convinced that it's the Travel Agency that is referred to as 'the company' here. Seems unlikely that there would be any other type of business that would have posters such as these.


    We see the posters on display as George slowly walks into the setting Mary has created for them. The posters are promoting travel to 'Florida Tours' and 'Luxurious Travel' and 'Cruises on the South Seas'.

    The scene is more than a bit memorable due to the setting, and part of that is Mary's neat little cooking method for roasting the chicken by an old record player's motion. It ends with Ernie and Bert singing their version of 'I love you truly'. 

   The Travel Agency is a special case in a lot of ways. It's not to my knowledge seen in any shape or form as a structure in the movie, yet it's presence is felt by the images above, and most importantly as a reminder of just how much George gave up sometimes. As a village piece it's also very unique. First of all, it's from the last series released by Enesco, and that 'series' has always in my mind was very poor effort by the company. The boxes don't have their pictures and traditional pictured fronts. Scale has never been a point worth noting it seems with the Enesco village but the Travel Agency is in a league by itself when it comes to bad scaling. The quality of the outer facing seems secondary , and the entire shape of the building reminds you of nothing felt from the others. If I had to guess, I would say that Enesco used molds from another village series for this one, and just slapped on the Bedford Falls Travel Agency logo on the windows for release. Still, the piece does have a lot of good points and I always display it, not just because its part of the village, but because of the significance it played in George's character. Like it or not, the building is unique and it will catch eyes for its odd shape. I'll mention a few others as we look through, but onto the pictures. Here's is the Enesco Sixth series building, the Bedford Falls Travel Agency. 

Enesco Bedford Falls Travel Agency: Plain box with label

Enesco Bedford Falls Travel Agency: Label

Enesco Bedford Falls Travel Agency: Underside logo

 The building has an odd gazebo shapped extension on the front corner. It draws a lot of attention as it looks very different from all other village buildings. I normally place the Travel Agency between the 'main' street of the setup and the train station.

Enesco Bedford Falls Travel Agency: Main Side

Click below on the 'Read more' to see the rest of the pictures.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Back to High School, Bedford Falls High School that is.

      Jimmy Stewart was almost 40 years old when It's a Wonderful Life was made. Taking a look at the high school, and it's scenes in the film it's worth noting that Stewart had to pull off convincing us that he's almost half his actual age. For the 1928 graduation dance held for his younger brother Harry's senior year we have to assume that George is around 22 years old. He half heartily attends the dance, but quickly finds himself surrounding by many of his old friends. Sam Wainwright pops in, and Marty Hatch comes in to interrupt Violet attempting to get George to make a bid for a spot on her dance card. (Side note: Sam mocks younger Mary's by repeating things she used to say when they were younger. A scene cut from the movie, was of younger Mary, calling for Marty to come home slightly before young Harry falls through the ice) Marty comments on the reunion as being an in prompt to 'old home week'. We briefly see Marty earlier on the sledding hill at the opening of the movie, played by the young Danny Murmmet , and now as adult by Harold Landon. Landon played various bit parts in even more various film and television up until his last role in another of my favorite Andy Griffith episodes in which Barney purchases a motorcycle and side car. I've not been able to locate him as a townsperson in it yet, so drop me a line if you can. Marty is of course Mary's older brother and probably on behalf of her asks George to dance with her. Already aware that she is in love with George and always has been (from her own words in Gower's store) we have confirmation of this again when Marty mentions the dance would give her the "thrill of her life". Marty is again mentioned with distinction of having participated in the 9th armored division's capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Ramagen in 1945. Landon outlived his younger version of Marty by almost 30 years, passing away in 2002.

   It's on the famous Gym floor of Beverly Hills high school that we see those famous looks from George and Mary as they see each other. George has known Mary likely most of his life, although from his face we can tell that something is different.

   Again, it's common knowledge that the suitor George brushes off to dance with Mary, is the famous Alfalfa from the Little Rascals. Cast as Freddie Othello (in a nod to the believed scorned Shakespeare's othello) , Carl Switzer who has the role which latter triggers the famous pool scene. Switzer received many roles over the years but later died tragically in an odd and still controversial fight near his home at age 31. As he's brushed aside, Mary and George start their famous Charleston dance. The Charleston dance craze was at its peak in 1928. The Bedford Falls high school is known for its floor more than anything else. Given credit for the idea in the film, George and Mary are the first to fall victim to the ingenious idea of a pool hidden beneath the court. In actually, the real floor was (and is) of course the nearby Beverly Hills High School famous 'swim gym'. A nice article detailing the gym and its role in It's a Wonderful Life can be found here, and near the end is a short clip of an interview with some of the Bailey kids on the actual floor. A great scene, what I remember and love most about the entire section is the fact that after falling in, George and Mary are still dancing away while Mary looks so happy.
   The High School scene also highlights Harry Bailey as well, telling us first about his exploits on the football field and foreshadowing some of the reasons George decides to give his brother the savings from which to go to college rather than George. Harry Bailey has always intrigued me, for it is him who utters the toast at the end of the movie which is my favorite part of my favorite movie. Harry is played by Todd Karns here, and by Georgie Nokes when younger. Karn's father was a lesser known actor himself who is most famous for his lead role in the 50's TV show Rocky King Dectectives.

Landon in Andy Hardy
    Todd Karn's first roles were as Harry Land on two Andy Hardy films, the second of which was the 1942 'The Courtship of Andy Hardy'. In that we see the breakout role for Donna Reed, and also a young Ann Rutherford fresh off work in Gone with the Wind. On another side note, Ann Rutherford is still alive and well. I recently was reading this article which updates us of the oldest surviving Oscar nominated actors including the likes of Kirk Douglas and Olivia De Havilland.

Young Harry


   Harry Bailey of course is the younger brother whom George saves from drowning in the movie opening. He becomes a star high school and college football player. He later marries and to George's initial frustration, lives away from Bedford Falls.

Without George
   He goes on to win the medal of honor as a navy pilot during the Second World War. He dramatically saves hundreds of lives by downing an enemy plane attempting to sink a troop transport. And of course it's him who delivers that toast of toasts, settling once and for all who is the richest man of Bedford Falls. (See background!) Side note alert. Harry might not have all fans for some of his actions throughout the movie as I discovered this mildly sarcastic but well worth reading post concerning the youngest Bailey brother.

    So that's from our look at the inside of the Bedford Falls High School, here is Enesco's look and take on the outside. The Bedford Falls High School is from the 3rd series of the village. It's the first of four from that series. Here is the box views.

Enesco Bedford Falls High School: Box Front

Enesco Bedford Falls High School: Side 

Enesco Bedford Falls High School: Back face, with new insert for 3rd series. Please click  below at 'Read More' to view the rest of the pics

Friday, February 24, 2012

You can't visit Bedford Falls without visiting the Bailey house. Specifically the Enesco Ma Bailey's house

   Home is a critical theme in It's a Wonderful Life. Home crosses all veins of this film. Home can be seen in the film's portrayal of family, and George's relationship with them.  Home is a town, it's where we work, sleep, play, drive, and walk. It's Bedford Falls. Home, at least our ultimate home (hopefully ;) might be heaven, and its' plan and activity is seen by our witnessing Clarence's story. Home is of course where we we live, it's the building were we reside. Too put it better it's where "a couple of decent rooms and a bath". Home in It's a Wonderful life is of course located at a specific address. It's 320 Sycamore street, Bedford Falls. It's on the cover of many versions of the movies VHS and DVD covers. It's also the first building of the first series from the Enesco village. Yet, it's not George's first home. His first home is the Bailey home, the home of Mr. and Mrs Peter Bailey and their two sons. George calls the place 'home' when he answers Harry arriving at the train station inquire about their mother. "She's home, cooking the fatted calf" She of course, is Ma Bailey, played by the great Beulah Bondi. Besides being a fellow Hoosier, Beulah has the nice distinction to be known as Jimmy Stewart's onscreen mom because she played his mother four times! Including in the great Mr. Smith goes to Washington by Capra. Bondi also stared in two other movies that I love and highly recommend to people who have taste good enough to enjoy and cherish It's a Wonderful Life. She's in a 1937 film along side Lionel Barrymore titled The Gorgeous Hussy. For those with a taste for purely classic CHRISTmas movies she's also mother in the hidden (although finally getting some attention) gem of Remember the Night with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

   It's "in the old Bailey Boarding House" that we see George excited about his last meal before finally running      off to see the world. Instead it becomes the last night he's see his father, but mercifully is able to share with his father one of my favorite scenes of the movie. It's when his dad gets to sum up what is his and then becomes George's life message and George is able to respond with his famous and apparently overdue line of "I think you're a great guy".

We see Ma Bailiey being antagonized by her sons for making noise and borrowing her best Haviland china set for the high school dance. Look also for the Bailey dog in this scene and try to catch George telling him to 'Shut up' :)

   We see that it's right after the marriage reception of Harry and Ruth, George direct Uncle Billy home after one too many drinks. Fans of the series also probably know about the loud crash sound was actually Thomas Mitchel really stumbling into some on set trash cans. It's also here that we see Ma Bailey provide the much needed encouragement and inspiration for George to find his way over to Mary's house.


    Another look at the angle of the stairwell in the house. This time after George and Marry tie the knot.Before they come down the stairs we see the home decorated with flowers. Likely purchased at the Bedford Falls Florist shop we've already seen.


  We see some more of the exterior later on, but as the scenes are in the world without George we don't know how accurate they are to what the real George filled Bedford Falls dimension would have. It's here that we see that without George Ma Bailey's house would have indeed just become a dark and cramped looking boarding house. 

    It's interesting that the village pices goes by the name more closely resembling what the place came to be called if George was never born rather than some more cheerful like Mr.and Mrs Bailey's home. It might just be me, but when I hear Ma Bailey's house I just think of George standing at the porch reading the signage on his childhood home. 

  Thankfully, the Enesco Village is of happier times and is full of color and life. The Enesco pieces is from the 2nd series and is #1 of 4 in that lot. Starting with the box, here is the piece. 

Enesco Ma Bailey's House: Front face

Enesco Ma Bailey's House: Side view

Enesco Ma Bailey's House: Back face with series at that time. Click the 'Read more' to continue with the rest of the pictures

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The upcoming Bedford Falls Village tour itinerary

It might be helpful to see the order in which I hope to put up a new post representing each building in the Enesco It’s a Wonderful Life Illuminated village series. As stated, I’m somewhat going through them as they appear in the film, but it won’t be exact. For example I’m withholding 320 Sycamore for the very last. After the village buildings are posted , I hope to do the same thing for all the accessories of the series. Culminating with posts concerning the entire village set up and as a whole. Somewhat around the time period that they broadcast the movie. I think they will again because NBC got pretty goodratings for it last year. That comes as a surprise to me, but a very welcome one. Depending on how things go, hopefully I can also post updates on my attempt to build my own bridge for the village as I’m dissatisfied with all those currently released. Potentially also, posts on the Target village. Here is the order I’m currently working toward:

Gower’s Drugstore
Bailey Brothers Building and Loan
Boston Co. Suitcase Store
Bedford Falls Florist Shop
Ma Bailey’s House
Bedford Falls High School
BF Travel Agency
BF Train Station
Mary’s (Hatch) House
BF Church
Mr Potter Mansion
Mr and Mrs. Martini’s New Home
Savings and Trust Bank
BF City Hall
Martini’s Bar
BF Enesco Bridge
BF Library
Bijou Theatre
BF Emporium
BF Post Office
BF Garage
BF Diner
320 Sycamore 

Home owner: I mean Pottersville! Don't you think I know where I live? What's the matter with you? 
[He proceeds toward his house. George is completely bewildered
George Bailey: Oh, I don't know. Either I'm off my nut, or he is... 
[to Clarence]  ... or you are! 
Clarence: It isn't me! 

A walk through the streets of Bedford Falls and a stop at the real and the Enesco American Florist Shop

   Not long after George has his new suitcase he heads back home, but on the way he stops to hitch a ride with Ernie and chat with Bert. Bert is reading a copy of The Bedford Falls Sentinel , which is covering the nomination of Al Smith in 1928. Smith was the first Catholic to be nominated by a major party (Democratic), and largely because of that, was easily defeated by Herbert Hoover (Republican) in the subsequent election. Hoover, coincidentally can be seen in a portrait hanging in George's office later on in the film.

   Side note alert! Also in that shot is a gang of old football players that we could presume to be George and his pals. Reference to this comes from Sam Wainwright just before George sees Mary grown up for the first time at the dance. Wainwright makes the comment speaking to Harry Bailey:

"Well, you'd better make it fast. We need great ends like you. (Harry) Not broken-down old guys, like this one! (George)"

We'll never know but I like to make the connection. I suppose it could be of his brother Harry's team. George rightly also has his picture of his mother on his desk and we already have mentioned the portrait of his late father in an earlier post. 
   Meanwhile back on location, as Bert and Ernie talk and make to go their separate ways a walking distraction strides by. This is our dramatic first encounter with the little girl who likes all boys, all grown up. Violet Bick was played by Gloria Grahame who was 23 at the time. Grahame is most famous for her role as Violet which is significant because she also won an academy award for her performance in The Bad and the Beautiful in 1952. Her career faded after the 50's and she passed away in 1981. Oddly her last marriage was arguably her most successful one, and it was to her former stepson. Violet has had some lasting power that few besides the lead roles had. She's on facebook, she's a consulting firm, and her namesake has been slapped onto foods representing her duel personalities of sweet and spicy. I don't think it's a coincidence that Capra chose to introduce the adult Violet in a scene in which she walks down a street directly past the Bedford Falls American Florist shop. Being named Violet, this seems a direct twist on our quick glimpse of the florist shop. She's pulling attention from every man in sight, (including the man who makes me laugh ever time as he's almost hit by a car) and as all eyes are on her and her dress it's a flower store in the background. This must be the place where George purchased the wreath he carries on CHRISTmas eve and where Zu Zu's flower might have come from. Mary decorates their first night in 320 Sycamore with flowers that must have come from the wedding decorations, and subsequently the Florist shop as well. That's what I like to think though. :)

You can watch just the scene here

    For location purposes you can see the shop lies across somewhat from Gowers. As young George runs out in the movie beginning we see the shop briefly again for only a split second. 

Bedford Falls florist shop
  But onto the shop itself. Here again is the Enesco village, specifically the American Florist Shop of Bedford Falls. Box first, and certificate. It's from the 5th series of the village. 1 of 4. Enjoy

Bedford Falls Florist Shop

Bedford Falls Florist Shop

Bedford Falls Florist Shop. Front Box. Click the Read more below to see all the rest of the photos.

Monday, February 20, 2012

San Quentin State Prison and It's a Wonderful Life ???

 If your a fan of the movie ... well actually even if you are not a fan ... you've probably encountered dozens if not inumerous reviews, ratings, and opinons written and verbalized about It's a Wonderful Life. Some old ones ignoring it's potential and new ones revisiting it as the classic masterpiece it is. Well here is an article with opinons and thoughts on the film from a source I'm betting you've not ever seen. Bob Thomas again writes in a Febrary 12, 1947 article of The Windsor Daily StarHere Opinions of Inmates. Thomas has interviewed inmates of the San Quentin State Prison after a screening of It's a Wonderful Life. An interesting audience , with some interesting responses. Full text below. 

   "Hollywood – For years producers have polled every type of movie goer to determine public taste. Now for the first time a prison audience has been polled, and the results provide an interested cross section of opinion. A showing was arranged at San Quentin Prison and inmates were invited to write their reactions to the film to Warden Clinton Duff. Over 300 responded and I have gleaned some comments from the original letters. The picture was “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The excerpts:

It IS a wonderful life. A lot more of this kind of show and a lot less horse opera ‘Lassie Lassie come home Lassie’ deals.

The picture was not any good. It gave out with too much insanity. Just when I was set to see a perfect show.

I have finally realized that the individual is nothing, the community everything.

Life can seem unbearable and times, but this picture proves it can be worse …

Wonderful picture, but it reminds me too much of my own trouble.

Warden, I will tell you a little secret I look around me in the show and through my tears I could see several more wet yes. It’s no disgrace to cry …

I enjoyed it up to the place where the bar got drunk and run the car into the tree. Being an alcoholic myself, I can remember too many fool things I did. And they grieve me so I can’t stand to see much of those things any more. We have had two horse pictures lately that I like better than any of the others …

I like any kind of movie regardless of type …

I like the movie and wish that we had more of them. It makes me think about home. I would say more but I can not spell the word.

… One thing that really hit me hard was the part where the $8,000 turned up missing. It showed what great heartache and suffering it caused a man, his wife and children, besides all the people who had their life savings in the company I believe the reason this park stuck so hard is because I am in San Quentin for armed robbery and it showed me how much pain and suffering and misery that I probably could have caused many people had I continued a life of crime.

One letter was written on the back of a parole request form and signed. “Respectfully yours until parole A-3774." 

If If you know anything of San Quentin then you know it's not a place for petty theives and crooked clerks. It houses some of our country's worse criminals. Manson was there at one point for example along with the infamous Black Bart that was portrayed in all kinds of Westerns over the years. It's also ironic that this article was written 22 years before (almost to the day) Johnny Cash gave his famous At San Quentin concert. Makes you wonder what inmates in San Quentin would say today if the movie was shown to them. Just a guess but I'm confident that they would sound a bit different. But , because of that curiosity I've contacted the prison paper (yes they have a paper, the one and only prison published) to inquire about a new showing, records of those old opinions, and the fate of inmate A-3774. 

*When looking into the prison paper I cam across this comment concerning the same warden mentioned here. Apparently he'd done some good works in there. *

I give them most of the credit for my continued freedom [42 years this coming August]. I was considered a hard core convict until I met Bill Sands [Author of My Shadow Ran Fast} and former Warden Clinton Duffy. Was raised in the correctional system, never thought I could be anything else until I got involved with the 7th step program."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A quick look at the Enesco Bedford Falls Boston Co. Suitcase Store

   The movie, and thus our tour of Bedford Falls takes us face to face with adult George Bailey. In the famous close up freeze frame with Jimmy Stewart's hands outstretched as Joseph and Clarence discuss the update from young George in the years around 1919.

 The next stop on our visit through the town immediately shows us our only look at the suitcase store and unless you read the window in the background we never even hear the name of the store. The address is 417 something Bedford Falls though :) Everything is shot from purely the interior. We are introduced to Joe, presumably the proprietor/owner of the store and hear some extended and comical narration by the other angel in the movie known only as Joseph. We met Joseph at the beginning of the film of course in stars scene depicting heaven getting the pleas for George. We never see him but his voice is very meaningful for the film as it's basically our narration for most of the movie. His deep voice leaves its impression as he mildly chastises Clarence and we hear him coach his fellow angel as they learn more about this man called George Bailey. Joseph's voice is that of ironically Joseph Grandby, who was a bit actor and lent his talents to various films and televisions shows up to the 50's before his death in 1960.

   In mostly uncredited roles throughout his career, I was able to find him online acting in an episode of The Cisco Kid titled The Phony Heiress in 1951. Look for him at around the 22:55 mark as a judge. Look quick as he's only on screen for a few seconds. It's good to put a face to the voice we love so much yet never see in It's a Wonderful Life. On a side note (something I tend to note) for those (who like me) are just as much in love with the era and classic period of the 40's and 50's ... Grandby's roles led me to a couple of great sites concerning Westerns and Toys of that era. My wife will likely have to block that toy site for fear of outgoing funds!

 Our other Joe is well ... named Joe, and is as much as we know about him. Just Joe, as George calls him. They seem close as they discuss George's plans for world travel before heading off to becoming that architec and builder in some far off place. George mentions his 'trick' ear when he finds out that his suitcase is free. The actor Ray Walker played this small part. Walker acted in dozens of television shows over the next few decades.

      The store is also a sporting goods store as you can read on the front door again in the background. You see the luggage behind Joe at the counter and some ski's and what looks like bowling pins in the front windows. Watch the background and you'll see some various period clothing and even a couple men wearing those all too famous 1920's straw hats! Capra's appreciate to detail is always appreciate by this devout fan.

   This store might have a very small part in the film, but I like to think that it has strong significance on George. I've often thought (and apparently not the only one) of that suitcase as it probably sat somewhere on 320 Sycamore for years collecting dust rather than foreign stamps. George mentions 3 places specifically that he wants to visit. Italy , Baghdad, and a town now in Uzbekistan that has the distinction of being a town conquered by Alexander the Great ... Samarkand around 1928. Odd to think of George Bailey vacationing in the Soviet Union :) Still though, it must have served as a nice memory as a gift from a close friend.

   But lets move on to the village piece. The Enesco village put the suitcase store in the 4th series and is my favorite series of the village. It was 1 of 4 in the set. The 4th series also seems to be the rarest of all them (excluding the last one that I really don't equate with the others) , even more than the 5th. I apologize for the lower resolution of these images as my wife's camera was out of operation for these. I might go back and replace at a later date, but hopefully the better camera will be back in action for the next stop in our tour ... the Florist shop which again has only a very small part in the actual film. So here she is: The Enesco Boston Co. Suitcase Store. Unboxing first.

I love the 4th Enesco series

Enesco Boston Co. Suitcase Store: Front box face. Rest of the images below, under 'Read More'.