'It's A Wonderful Life' Turns 65

By Streib, Lauren | Newsweek, January 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

'It's A Wonderful Life' Turns 65


Streib, Lauren, Newsweek


Byline: Lauren Streib

How a box-office bomb transformed into a beloved and inescapable classic.

Dec. 1943

Philip Van Doren Stern sends Christmas cards to friends and encloses a 21-page, 4,000-word short story, "The Greatest Gift."

April 1944

RKO buys film rights for $10,000, after pressure from George Bailey wannabe Cary Grant. Later, Frank Capra snags the rights from RKO.

Dec. 21, 1946

The film is rushed to the box office because the studio lacks enough copies of planned holiday release Sinbad the Sailor.

Dec. 1946

Critical reception is lukewarm. The New York Times: "the weakness of this picture ... is the sentimentality of it--its illusory concept of life."

Jan. 7, 1947

The studio earns a mere $3.3 million from the release (production and distribution cost was $3.8 million), and nabs five Oscar nominations but zero wins.

Late 1940s

Capra becomes informant for House Un-American Activities Committee; seven of film's other eight writers end up blacklisted.

Late 1960s

More than 20 years after its release, the film gains modest followings in collegiate film societies.

1970

CBS begins to air the film about once a year in the days before Christmas.

1971

Capra memoir and museum retrospective set off craze. …

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