It Was/Is A Wonderful Life

   It was a wonderful life.

One of my all time favorite films is “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  I never tire of seeing it.  I love the way it reflects small town America of the mid-40’s and embraced the ideals that seem to be slipping away from us in this new millennium.

I’m only bringing it up now because George Bailey passed away last Friday.  Not the George Bailey played so inspiringly well by James Stewart, but the young 12 year old George Bailey played by a not so well known Bob Anderson.

You’ll recall it was this George Bailey that saved his younger brother when Harry broke through the ice and nearly drowned one winter’s day.  Saving Harry caused George to suffer from pneumonia and lose the hearing in one ear. 

George worked for Mr. Gower, the druggist.  George operated the soda fountain and it was here that Mary Hatch declared her undying love for him.  Mary whispered her sentiments sweetly in George’s deaf ear while he prepared her a sundae with coconut sprinkles from the Fiji Islands.

That day Mr. Gower received the news via telegram that his son had died and accidentally put poison in a prescribed medicine then called George to deliver it.  By then Gower had already started drinking to numb the pain of his loss.  George had found the telegram by the cash register and read it.  Knowing Mr. Gower’s sorrow, George asked if there was anything he could do for him.  But Gower, stricken with grief could only say no to young George and stare at his son’s photograph.  When George persisted, Mr. Gower chased him out, telling him to “get going” and deliver the medicine.  But George suspected the error and ran to ask his Father what he should do about it down at the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan. 

When young George went to seek his Father’s advice, old man Potter was there declaring George, Sr.  a “miserable failure” to which the youthful George retorted, “He’s not a failure!  He’s the biggest man in this town!  Bigger than you!”  and he shoves against Potter’s chest.  Quickly George, Sr. dismisses young George Bailey, and it was afterwards that George realizes he hasn’t found out what to do about the tainted medicine.

Returning to the drug store, Mr. Gower is on the phone with the customer for whom the prescription was for.  “What?” bellows an irate Mr. Gower, nearly three sheets to the wind with alcohol consumption, “that medicine should have been there an hour ago!” 

Enter an unsuspecting George and Mr. Gower; half drunk, over come with grief and irritated by the phone call, grabs George and starts hitting him.  “Why haven’t you done what you were told?  People need that medicine!”  Gower lands several blows to George’s head, causing him to cry out as his ear starts to bleeding.  “You’ve done something bad with that medicine!  It’s not right, I tell you!  Check it, Mr. Gower and see what you’ve done!”  Gower soberly checks the medicine and discovers young George prevented a double tragedy that day.   Reaching to apologize to him, George shrinks back crying, “Don’t hit my sore ear!”  The scene ends with George weeping in Mr. Gower’s arms,  “I know you feel bad,” he sobs, “I won’t tell anyone, I promise Mr. Gower, I won’t tell a soul.”

And he never does.

Later the adult George Bailey languishes over his life and declares it would have been better for everyone if he hadn’t been born.  His guardian angel, Clarence, has the job of setting him straight and shows George what life would have been like without him.

Bob Anderson later told the story of H. B. Warner (Mr. Gower) drinking alcohol on the set to get into the mood for his part and the scene where he confronts “George.”  

“He actually bloodied my ear,”  reported Anderson according to the L. A. Times,  “My ear was beat up and my face was red, and I was in tears.”  Later after the scene was filmed, Warner warmed up to Anderson, giving the young actor a sincere hug to set things right.

Bob Anderson acted in other films in his young life.  After serving in Korea, he went back to the movie industry and worked behind the scenes as assistant director and over the years worked up to production manager.  He died at 75 years of age. 

But 62 years ago, at the age of 12, Bob Anderson became an American icon.  As young George Bailey, he personified the youth of a period in time when honoring ones parents and respect for adults was the norm.  I will always see him that way, gripping an ice cream scoop and talking to Mary Hatch, who declared she didn’t like coconuts.

“Say, brainless… don’t you know where coconuts come from?  Tahiti! the Fiji Islands! the Coral Sea!”

It was this George Bailey that was an Explorer and nominated as a member of the National Geographic Society.  He was going to travel the world exploring, have a couple of harems and a few wives to boot.

There are many things in this life we set out to do, like George Bailey did.  But there are curves thrown at us and life doesn’t always turn out the way we planned.  This movie was an excellent vehicle for Frank Capra to convey that in every man there is a story to tell.  Though it has become a staple for the holiday season, I could watch it anytime.  It is a classic story of one man’s struggle to find himself. 

Each of our lives touch so many others.  As Clarence the guardian angel says to the adult George Bailey after seeing what the world would have been like without him, “You really had a wonderful life, don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

We may not accomplish much while we are on this Earth, but true happiness comes from within.  When it is all said and done, the external things mean nothing.

Thank you, Bob Anderson, for the part you played in revealing this truth.  It is a wonderful life. 

It really is.




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One Response to “It Was/Is A Wonderful Life”

  1. Embraced » Blog Archive » It Was/Is A Wonderful Life Says:

    […] It Was/Is A Wonderful Life Life."  I never tire of seeing it.  I love the way it reflects small town America of the mid-40’s and embraced the ideals that seem to be… […]

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