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Seneca Falls gearing up for expanded It’s A Wonderful Life Festival

It was 75 years ago — Dec. 20, 1946, to be precise — when RKO Radio Pictures released what would turn into an iconic holiday movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Frank Capra’s film starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed was set in December 1945 in a small community called Bedford Falls. It carried the message that everyone can live a life of value and service.

Many in Seneca Falls believe that Bedford Falls was based on their community; Capra had stopped in Seneca Falls to get a haircut en route to Auburn in the 1930s. Believers point to a long list of characteristics between the fictitious Bedford Falls and the real Seneca Falls.

Seneca Falls will commemorate its annual connection to the film with an expanded, five-day It’s A Wonderful Life Festival scheduled for Dec. 8-12.
It's a Wonderful Life

Photo by Spencer Tulis, FL Times

“This is a very special anniversary, and we are putting together our most ambitious schedule of events yet,” said one of the festival organizers, Anwei Law. “The hotels in the area are booked, and most of the paid events and dinners are sold out. We expect a big crowd this year.”

Law explained that BonaDent Dental Laboratories on Routes 5&20 converts its lobby into Bedford Falls; that’s where a welcome reception and launch of the 75th anniversary celebration will take place at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 8.

Featured guests will be surviving cast members from the movie: Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey), Carol Combs (Janie Bailey), Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey), Michael Chapin (young George Bailey’s friend during the sledding scene), twins Donald and Ronald Collins (little Peter Bailey), and the actual 1919 Dodge touring car that George Bailey drove — and crashed — during a snowstorm. The car has been purchased and restored by Keith and Marilyn Smith of Colorado. It will be transported to Seneca Falls for display at the James Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership on Route 414 in Tyre.

According to Law, the oldest living cast member is Virginia Patton Moss, 96, who played Ruth Daykin Bailey, Harry’s wife. She is unable to make it but will be represented by her daughter, Carol Moss Loop.

Other special guests associated with the movie planning to attend are Mary Owen, Reed’s daughter; Monica Capra Hodges, Capra’s granddaughter; Brian Rohan, an actor who portrays Jimmy Stewart and George Bailey; Janie McKirgan, president and executive director of the Jimmy Stewart Museum; and Michael Willian, author of “The Essential It’s A Wonderful Life” scene-by-scene guide.

The festival will feature a wide variety of events at several different venues, including autograph signings by the actors; video and in-person presentations on the making and history of the film; tours and information at the It’s A Wonderful Life Museum, 32 Fall St.; talks by Grimes and other actors about the film and their roles; the It’s a Wonderful Life parade on Fall Street; the It’s A Wonderful Life 5K; a special screening of the “Wonderful Life” movie; and the presentation of the George Bailey Award.
The venues for the activities include the It’s A Wonderful Life Museum, Trinity Episcopal Church on lower Fall Street, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, the First Presbyterian Church on Cayuga Street, the Gould Hotel, the Seneca Falls Heritage and Tourism Center, and the Seneca Falls Community Center.
– This feature originally ran in the Finger Lakes Times on 12/2/21
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