The Hotel Clarence In The News
'It's a Wonderful Life' still reels in tourists
By Laura Bly, USA TODAY
Many residents of Seneca Falls, N.Y. believe that Frank Capra based his fictional town of Bedford Falls in the movie
A box-office disappointment when it opened, the Frank Capra holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life has proved its critics wrong by sparking sniffles for the past 65 years.
And although the film's cozy setting was actually an RKO soundstage in Encino, Calif., the real-life mill town of Seneca Falls, N.Y. happily milks its resemblance to fictional Bedford Falls with an annual December celebration.
This weekend's shindig kicks off Friday with appearances by former child actress Karolyn Grimes, who played George Bailey's daughter Zuzu, and Carol Coombs-Mueller, her older sister Janie. Also on tap: An Uncle Billy's scavenger hunt, a Ma Bailey's Hot & Hearty Cook-Off, and a Dance by the Light of the Moon dance contest. (Alas, the recently renovated Hotel Clarence, named after Bailey's guardian angel, is already booked.)
Bedford Falls came to life on massive sets built at Southern California's RKO Ranch. "Bedford Falls is another character in the movie," visual-effects supervisor Craig Barron told the Los Angeles Times. "It is now a housing development, which is ironic that the fantasy housing development of Bedford Falls is now a real-life house development in Encino."
Meanwhile, boosters in Bedford Falls' wannabe stand-in, a town of 9,000 located about 300 miles northwest of New York City, are quick to point out similarities to Bailey's stomping grounds. For example, both are on a train line in western New York and both have an old steel truss bridge; Bailey jumps off the one in the movie to rescue Clarence, and Seneca Falls has a plaque dedicated to a man who died in 1917 while trying to save a drowning woman.
"Capra didn't make Bedford Falls 'Shangri-la,' " Fran Caraccilo, Seneca Falls' former village planner, told the Associated Press. "It's not a utopia. It's a real, working, everyday small town, and Seneca Falls is just that. We're not a perfect community. But in a crunch, we pull together, we help each other out, and I think we kind of embody that spirit as he portrayed it in the film.
"The idea that one person's life touches so many others is, I don't think, just a movie thing for Capra. It's think it's something he actually believed."