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Seneca Falls, NY Celebrates 75 Years as the (Self-Proclaimed?) Inspiration for "It's a Wonderful Life"

A holiday movie classic turns 75 this year and a town in New York State is holding a big party.

Seneca Falls will usher in an almost weeklong celebration in timing with the anniversary release of the film, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” From December 8 through December 12, 2021 at different venues, the festivities will welcome special guests connected to the 1947 film, including cast members or their relatives and cinema history experts.

Along with commemorating its diamond jubilee, the town has recognized the movie for many years. Since the 1990s, Seneca Falls has been the site of an “It’s A Wonderful Life Festival” held on the second week of December. It’s also the location of a permanent museum, which honors the film as well.

According to Anwei S. Law, one of the museum’s founders and interpreters, Seneca Falls could possibly have been an inspiration for the film’s setting for various reasons.

Apparently, a local barber named Tom Bellissima said the film’s director, Frank Capra, came to Seneca Falls in mid-1945. While cutting his hair, Bellissima recalled talking to him about different things.

“Capra had been in New York City promoting the production of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’ He apparently had an aunt in Auburn, [a city] about 20 minutes away,” explained Law. “He told the village planner and a journalist that Capra asked about people, factories and the bridge. Bellissima didn’t know who Capra was at the time – he only realized who he was years later but recalled their conversation.”

That particular bridge, which Bellissima is said to have mentioned, involves a real-life story in Seneca Falls. While “It’s A Wonderful Life” shows actor Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey jumping off a bridge to save his guardian angel, Clarence, from drowning, the true tale ended sadly.

“We feel it is likely that Capra saw the plaque on our bridge dedicated to Antonio Varacalli, who drowned while saving a woman who had jumped from the bridge in 1917,” explained Law.

Note: Historian Jeanine Basinger of the Frank Capra Archive at Wesleyan University has stated that, while there is no way to disprove Seneca Falls' claim to have inspired Bedford Falls, there is no positive evidence that that is true. 

Read entire article at Forbes