This is episode is my first to feature two guests on the same topic, although Episode 34 included Jordan Peterson and Senator Don Plett at the same time in separate cities.
This week’s show topic is the enduring cultural impact of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) through the eyes of two women close to its creation.
I say “Frank Capra’s” because that’s how the movie was marketed (it’s now called the vanity credit) and may help explain why the film got only a so-so reception when it was first released. Most of Mr. Capra’s pre-World War II movies were so sweet-hearted that they later earned the not-quite-complimentary moniker “Capra-corn.”
It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made. Nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, and placed number 11 on its initial 1998 greatest movie list, it also ranked number one on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time.
Think about that, in light of the hundreds of thousands of movies ever made.
By the end of the War, though, the mood of the movie-going public had shifted, as I wrote about the making of the movie in National Review a few years ago here
The next day after it was published, an appreciative email from a woman named Mary Owen arrived in my inbox. Turns out, Mary is the daughter of actress Donna Reed, who played Mary Bailey, the wife of James Stewart’s George Bailey.
I thanked her for the lovely email and we had a few back-and-forths. After my podcast was up on two feet and spreading around the world (11o countries and counting), I thought it would be fun to have her on the show to talk about her mother’s role in this now-international favorite Christmas movie and to learn some back story to her mother’s career and her commitment to writing back to the G.I’s who wrote to her from the trenches and the gun turrets of World War II.
(Oh, by the way, she was not named for the character her mother played in the Capra movie.) The interview segues nicely into the next one, a rich conversation with actress Karolyn Grimes who played Zuzu, one of the four Bailey kids. Remember Zuzu’s petals? This was a real treat for me who loves the movie so well, and I know it will be for you as well.
I learned, among other things, how much Mrs. Grimes suffered as a teen when her mother died and then the next year her father was killed and she became a ward of the state—then “rescued” by an aunt and uncle in Missouri. An unhappy home situation after an abrupt end to her budding acting career (she also played Debbie, the daughter of David Niven and Loretta Young in another Christmas favorite, The Bishop’s Wife).
For those of us who can’t gobble up enough trivia and true stories about It’s a Wonderful Life, Mrs. Grimes is a treasure trove of first hand memories and insights!
Blu-Ray of It’s a Wonderful Life
Blu-Ray of The Bishop’s Wife
It’s a Wonderful Life Book edited by Jeanine Basinger
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book by Stephen Cox.
The Essential It’s a Wonderful Life: A Scene-by-Scene Guide to the Classic Film by Michael Willian
The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography by Frank Capra
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Tony Esolen is both a sage and a survivor of the culture war. He knows there’s a war over which camp gets to determine the default setting narrative, and he knows the cost of warfare. He also knows it’s not a military war (at least not yet) but a war of ideas and moral stances.
Esolen suffered a bumpy and very public exit from Providence College last year, where he taught English and classics since 1990 -- their youngest full tenured professor ever. But the diversity demon took hold and Esolen fought back manfully. In the end, he stepped away from the salary, the tenure, the sabbatical, and the sundry perks and joined the faculty of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH.
Like Ferdinand the Bull at the end of the Munro Leaf story, Esolen is happy. Our interview covered the story behind his departure from Providence not in a literary gossip way but in a What Went Wrong With Catholic Colleges way.
We talk about the new Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture and the importance of getting in the game of reclaiming our cultural heritage.
Question of the week:
What small thing can I do as a family to restore the Christian culture?
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It’s that time of year again when we review the notable “holiday” movies for their adherence to the real meaning of Christmas, production quality, and merits and demerits. Who better than the founder of Decent Films, Steven Greydanus?
Steve is not only the father of seven and a permanent deacon with the Archdiocese of Newark, he is a prolific movie critic and newly minted member of the elite New York Film Critics’ Circle.
Ever since the first A Christmas Carol silent film came out in 1901 (!), Christmas and movies have gone together like Bob Cracthit and Tiny Tim. Since then, there have been over 30 adaptations of the Dickens original to the big or small screen.
In this episode, here is a sample of the Christmas themed movies Steven and I talk about in this episode:
Elf, starring Will Farrell, produced by my friend Todd Komarnicki, who appeared in Episode 25 of the show
Die Hard starring Bruce Willis. Is it really a Christmas movie? Discuss. And we do!
A Midnight Clear C starring Gary Sinese. Biblical allusion galore in this tragically little known war movie set at Christmas.
Joyeux Noel, a multi-country co-production about the true story of a Christmas Eve impromptu cease-fire between the Germans and the Allies.
It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart. For my money the greatest film ever made. If you disagree, we can’t be friends. Want the story behind the story? Read this. It’s what got the attention of my upcoming guest Mary Owen, daughter of actress Donna Reed, the incandescent Mary Bailey, wife of George.
Meet John Doe starring Gary Cooper. The other Frank Capra movie about a good man tempted to suicide on Christmas Eve. Bizarrely forgotten classic, as I point out here.
We also talked about the bad ones, like Ron Howard’s super-lousy How the Grinch Stole Christmas and a few other rancid things disguised as movies. Since this is a respectable joint—I ain’t linking to ‘em.
Is the threat of terrorism from the Islamic world a clear and present danger? Is there a way to broach this uncomfortable topic in a balanced and charitable way? Is it Islamophobic to even pose these questions? Author and founder of Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer has been writing and speaking about the foundational documents of Islam, the Qur’an and the Hadith, for over 15 years.
It doesn’t matter that his books, 17 in all so far, carefully distinguish between Muslims who do not follow the literal sense of the Qu’ran and those who do. He still gets repeatedly branded as a hate-monger and, the shame label du jour, “Islamophobe.”
Spencer has finally embraced that label, with key caveats, in the title of his new book, Confessions of An Islamophobe. which is part memoir, and part catalogue of real-world applications of Islamic texts and traditions.
There are few topics that are subject to more confusion and fuzzy thinking than Islam’s relationship to modern liberal democracies, the explicit teachings of its holy books, and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. For his troubles in writing about jihad-inspired attacks throughout the UK, Spencer is still banned in the UK (by then-Home Secretary now Prime Minister Theresa May) and remains a persona non grata in many circles.
One word very rarely used against him is wrong. (I believe he did make one error of fact in our interview, although of the benign variety, in saying that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians are increasing in number.)
There is an Advent tie-in here, straight from Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s 1951 classic The World’s First Love.The chapter, “Mary and the Moslems,” is worth the book price. Prophetic insights into how our Lady of Fatima has a role to play in the conversion of Muslims to Christ.
In his latest book, Spencer meticulously outlines the various groups who are under special threat today by the Sharia-minded ethos, from women and homosexuals, to Jews and Christians.
In this candid interview, you will discover:
Question of the Week: How much has political correctness undermined our willingness to talk candidly about Islamic terrorism?