“You see George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?” – Clarence
Strange, isn’t it? Each person’s life touches so many other lives.
What is your favorite holiday movie? Each year, at our house, we celebrate the countdown to Christmas with a selection of some of our favorite movies: Home Alone, The Santa Clause, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Christmas Story, Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and many more. Whatever your list may be, I suspect many of us would also list “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a holiday classic. You might be surprised to know it was a spectacular flop and very well might have vanished from history, if it hadn’t been for a mistake. That’s right, a mistake. Let me tell you about it…
Philip Van Doren Stern was unable to find a publisher for his 4,100 word short story, “The Greatest Gift.” He eventually privately published the story in the form of a Christmas Card booklet that he mailed to friends and family. Producer David Hepstead happened to receive one of these and decided to purchase the rights to make it into a film. Frank Capra was selected to direct the film starring James Stewart. It opened in 1947 to extremely poor performance. It resulted in a bankrupting loss of $525k for RKO Radio Pictures. Paramount Pictures purchased rights to the film temporarily and through a sequence of other sales, it landed a new home with Republic Pictures. This is where the crucial mistake happened.
The U.S. copyright protection law act of 1909 required that copyright holders file renewal notices with the Copyright office after 28 years from publication. Republic Pictures failed to file for this renewal. The film lapsed into the public domain in 1974, meaning anyone could show the film without permission or royalties. As a result, television stations, networks and distribution groups looking for low cost ways to program holiday content, picked up the movie and begin airing it at all hours and in all markets, often times even in back-to-back showings. Over the next 20 years, this beloved story found its way into the hearts and minds of so many who would have never seen it. It surged to become one of the greatest “holiday classics” of all time, all because of a clerical error not to renew the copyright.
It’s a Wonderful Life tells a great tale of how we all make a difference. In the story, Clarence gives George Bailey a gift to see what the world would be like without him. In that revelation, George and the audience discover the incredible impact that one person has on others and on history. Every person matters. We are all of infinite worth and are irreplaceable parts of our human story. We imperceptibly touch lives around us, profoundly affecting the performance of our human symphony. We may never know all the lives we touch or events we change, but it is there. Every encounter, each friendship, every word, each choice and every actions radiate from our lives as a force of change. They are like ripples of gravity invisibly pushing and pulling us together and weaving the sparks of life into the beautiful tapestry of our human story.
I know I say this often, but I can’t emphasize this enough. You matter! As the protagonist of your own story, you are part of a much bigger epic and you make a difference. Every role, every part is significant. As we go through this holiday season in the 2020 pandemic way, continue to play the part you were born to play. Be the best you, you can be! You have a wonderful life. Enjoy it, celebrate it and use it to continue to touch other lives.
I wish you all, a wonderful and blessed holiday season!
Reference: Library of Congress https://blogs.loc.gov/copyright/2017/12/its-a-wonderful-life/