'It's A Wonderful Life': Seneca Falls, N.Y., Says It's Model For Holiday Movie Residents of Seneca Falls, N.Y., are celebrating 70 years of Frank Capra's classic Christmas film. The town claims architectural and geographic similarities, and a scouting trip by the director.
NPR logo

New York Village Says It's The Model For 'It's A Wonderful Life' Town

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504867322/504930275" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
New York Village Says It's The Model For 'It's A Wonderful Life' Town

New York Village Says It's The Model For 'It's A Wonderful Life' Town

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504867322/504930275" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You know, movie lines have a way of rattling around in your head. Movies like "Caddyshack" or "Airplane!" "Stop Calling Me Shirley..."

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Shirley (laughter). Sorry.

INSKEEP: From the Frank Capra film "It's A Wonderful Life," there are many such lines.

MARTIN: Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

INSKEEP: Or the Jimmy Stewart line, Mary, I want to live.

MARTIN: This is the 70th anniversary of the film about George Bailey and his guardian angel. This morning, we traveled to Seneca Falls in upstate New York.

INSKEEP: People there believe their town inspired the movie and a holiday festival begins there today. Here's North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Karolyn Grimes says the first time she came to Seneca Falls, she knew this was the place, the model for the fictional Bedford Falls.

KAROLYN GRIMES: I really believe this is what inspired Capra. It's got the canal. It's got names of the streets. It's got the Victorian houses. I mean, it's got it all.

MANN: When Grimes was 6 years old, director Frank Capra cast her in the role of Zuzu, George Bailey's little girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE")

GRIMES: (As Zuzu Bailey) Every time the bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

JIMMY STEWART: (As George Bailey) That's right. That's right. That a boy, Clarence.

MANN: Grimes says making the film was a joy. She loved the big Christmas tree and chasing around with the other kid actors, and she loved climbing on Jimmy Stewart.

GRIMES: He was 6 feet 4. I'm in his arms or on his back, and it was just really incredible to feel like you were in the sky kind of.

MANN: Grimes came back to Seneca Falls for this weekend's festival, and you can see why people here think the town is the model for the struggling mill town in the movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE")

STEWART: (As George Bailey) Merry Christmas, movie house. Merry Christmas, emporium.

MANN: When Jimmy Stewart runs down Bedford Falls' main street, it could be this main street - the little shops, the brick facades, the snow. Local historian Chris Podzuweit says it's no accident. Capra visited Seneca Falls in the 1940s.

CHRIS PODZUWEIT: We even know he had his haircut here. It was the barber's 15 minutes of fame.

MANN: Podzuweit says the barber talked about Frank Capra walking through town, checking out local landmarks. There are other clues. Capra's film includes mentions of geography that fits Seneca Falls perfectly, including the nearby cities of Rochester and Buffalo. There's also that famous bridge from the movie, the one where George Bailey goes on Christmas Eve where he thinks about taking his own life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE")

STEWART: (As George Bailey) Help me, Clarence, please. Please. I want to live again. I want to live again.

MANN: Seneca Falls has a nearly identical steel bridge downtown with big metal girders stretching across the canal. Standing here on a raw, blustery December day, it is the spitting image of the one George stands on. Fran Caraccilo is a local guy who got hooked on this idea that there's a real connection between his town and the town in the movie.

FRAN CARACCILO: It's still nothing but a circumstantial case, but I think it's a very good circumstantial case.

MANN: Caraccilo opened a museum devoted to the film, and he's one of the founders of this weekend's festival. The actress Karolyn Grimes says she thinks Capra had a reason for never naming Seneca Falls as his inspiration.

GRIMES: I don't think Capra wanted it mentioned. I think Capra wanted everyone to identify with their own community.

MANN: But for this weekend, Seneca Falls is Bedford Falls. As part of the festival, people here will recreate in loving detailed the gala dinner held at the film's premiere in Los Angeles 70 years ago. Back then, Karolyn Grimes and the other child actors from the film were too young to attend. Now, they're the guests of honor. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.