Jimmy Stewart and the Real Bedford Falls

Seneca Falls, NY - angel

By Judy Berman

The actors packed up long ago. The cameras and props are no doubt in storage. But I believe the setting for “It’s a Wonderful Life” remains intact.

Many believe that Seneca Falls, New York, is the inspirational backdrop for Bedford Falls. That iconic movie is now celebrating its 68th anniversary. As I walked the streets of Seneca Falls with my family one Christmas evening, I was convinced it was as well.

Amid a gentle snowfall, angels playing trumpets light up the village’s main street. Streets named “Bedford Falls Blvd.” and “George Bailey Lane” reinforce the connection to the movie.

Another indicator that George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (played by Henry Travers), might be just around the corner is the village’s steel truss bridge over the canal.

We took this road trip – about an hour from our home – to stroll along the streets that we believe Jimmy Stewart (George) ran down in the movie. We stopped on that bridge and looked over the icy-cold water below. There, it’s easy to feel Stewart’s/Bailey’s anguish about wanting to end his pain. George, who had always put everyone else first, now feels the world would be better off without him.

It’s Christmas Eve, and it’s up to Clarence to change George’s mind. If he succeeds, Clarence will earn his wings. Clarence’s plan is to show George what life would be like if he’d never been born.

As Clarence tells Stewart, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

George comes to realize that, despite some bad turns in life, there really is much to enjoy. The movie’s message – since it first came out in 1946 – is that we just need to stop and consider what we really value. For George, it was his family and friends.

What a wonderful legacy for a community to have. While some dispute that Frank Capra had Seneca Falls on his mind when he made this movie, there are some amazing coincidences.

The script mentions Rochester, Buffalo and Elmira. They are close to this village which was – like Bedford Falls – a mill town back in 1945 when this movie was shot.

There’s one other intriguing note. On that bridge that I stood on, there “was a plaque honoring Seneca Falls resident Antonio Varacalli, who had leaped into the icy waters of the canal in April 1917 to rescue a girl who had just attempted suicide by jumping off the bridge. Varacalli saved her but was overcome by fatigue from the rescue and drowned,” according to The Real Bedford Falls website.

That’s not a huge leap for a director to make from one heroic gesture to George jumping in to save Clarence, who pretends to be drowning.

Whether or not Capra did, we felt like we were part of movie history when we were in Seneca Falls. That night, we felt that Jimmy Stewart and Clarence were there with us. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but I’m sure it was him who shouted “Merry Christmas” as he ran by.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: Movie Trailer of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJfZaT8ncYk  

Thank you to Marian Beaman for nominating me for the Lovely Blog Award earlier this month. Marian writes about growing up in a Mennonite family in Pennsylvania, her experiences as an English professor, community activist and writer. Plus she shares many wonderful recipes. Please check out her blog at: http://plainandfancygirl.com/

This story is an encore from December 17, 2011 because “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite Christmas movie. What is your favorite holiday movie?

Main Photo credit: Seneca Falls, New York, Margaret McCormick (2011)

For more information on The Real Bedford Falls “Too Many Coincidences to Ignore,” click on the link below: http://therealbedfordfalls.com/therealbedfordfalls.php

  1. I believe it was our Seneca Falls that inspired Capra’s Bedford Falls, too, Judy. What a wonderful post about “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That must have been a tingling Christmas Eve for you and Dave and the children, thinking about George Bailey and Clarence and Capra, too. Thanks for this holiday post. Karen and I watch this every year.

    1. Thank you, Mark. That night, walking thru Seneca Falls, it was easy to visualize this beautiful community as the inspiration for Frank Capra’s movie. Our friend, Margaret McCormick, took the photo of the angel street lights and gave me her blessing to use it. 😉

  2. Though you tag this as a re-blog, I didn’t know you back when you posted it first in 2011 – thank you. The message of the story/film is always fresh this season.

    And thanks for the link to my blog today.

  3. i love this movie too, and i do believe you may have dropped into the right place. how lucky and what a wonderful feeling that must have been.

  4. I am about 10 blocks south of the huge Aventura Mall but with traffic takes 20 minutes to get there and nowhere to park. It has 11 million movie theaters and the place is packed with movie goers every Christmas Day. I never understood that. Why would people go to the movies on Christmas Day ?

    1. Better Christmas Day than the day after, Carl. Then all of Miami is jammed with folks trying to return gifts or cash in their gift certificates. 😉 (But I do agree with you. They should be home enjoying friends and family.)

  5. Hi .. I think it’s a favorite of too many to mention.. My best friend Harold ‘Ozzie’ Osborne has lived there for decades now! It was also a frequent place of my childhood and the former home of the Seneca Ruler company! Merry Christmas! Rick =)

  6. I watched one of my favorite movies, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles from a hospital bed last month. Christmas favorites are Christmas Vacation and It’s A Wonderful Life. I watched it a week ago on nbc and I watch it again tomorrow night on USA network. Seeing the bridge and anything I can from the movie has always been on my bucket list. Excellent post though, as always.

    1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is another holiday favorite. I hope you’re feeling much better. That movie with Steve Martin and John Candy can certainly provide the healing power of laugh therapy. Thank you for your comments. 😉

  7. It IS fun, walking in places we’ve seen in movies (or places that remind us of the movie places.)

    My sons and I were extras in the stadium crowd scene of the movie “Little Big League,” back in the early 1990’s. We scanned all the crowd scenes (the ones that made the final film) for a sign of ourselves. My sons were certain they saw themselves, but it was such a quick glimpse that it’s hard to say for sure.

    1. The movie “Charade” was one of the reasons we went to Paris and stayed in the hotel where a part of it was shot.

      My memory is foggy, but I believe I was in the hockey rink at the Syracuse War Memorial building when Paul Newman’s “Slap Shot” was filmed. If you have “Little Big League,” can you freeze frame that part to make sure? That’d be a real kick, Tracy. 😉

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, I am sure I didn’t read in the first time around either, Judy! When I recently reblogged a Jack Frost story, the comments came with the reblog. I sort of liked this, it made if fun to see who had been there from the ‘old days…’ (of early blogging.)
    I like the movie, particularly since I love Jimmy Stewart. I think going to this town, your seeing the signs and then the bridge, it would confirm my belief they were one and the same town. I appreciate this being realistic, have had a friend of a friend try to end her life, jumping off a bridge into icy cold water, she was ‘saved’ by someone who contacted the police and they got the brigade going to get her out of the water… I am glad Jimmy’s character, George, is able to realize how much impact he had on his family and town’s lives. We need to remember those feelings when after Christmas, the winter ‘blues’ may set in. Our lives DO make a difference. My favorite two movies are a little similar, “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas.” Both are beautiful and light hearted, which is the best way to celebrate the holidays, in my opinion, Judy! smiles, Robin

    1. When I reposted the story, I chose not to reblog it because I wanted to add photos and a clip from the movie. I didn’t realize that the comments from the ‘old days would come along if you reblogged a post.

      I haven’t seen “Holiday Inn” or “White Christmas” in ages. I do recall loving them when I was growing up. “It’s a Wonderful Life” has some dark moments, but I love the theme of how important friends and family are. You’re right, Robin, this movie is a terrific winter “blues” chaser. 😉

      1. I am glad you added the photos, Judy! They really add to the writing and post. The set for ‘Holiday Inn’ and ‘White Christmas’ is the same one, also I liked Danny Kaye in ‘Holiday Inn’ as an additional character. The plots are different but as I age, they get glommed together.
        Judy, I will always love “It’s a Wonderful Life,” due to the great cast and story line. It was exciting to see that you were able to take your family to the possible (I believe real) site of the movie where it took place.
        Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays and the best of new years, too! xo

  9. I love these details, Judy! IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is my favorite Christmas movie. From it, we borrowed the “blessing” of giving wine, bread and salt to a family who moved into their new home, and for the longest time I rang the big bells on the wreath at the front door, announcing that an angel just got wings!
    The power of some movies. 🙂

  10. Judy one of my all time favourite movies at christmas. Thanks for the reminder to watch it again real soon. Must have been fun to walk the streets and imagine the story unwinding there.

  11. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without….
    Interesting to hear you’ve actually been to the place it was filmed. The newish schmaltzy film The Holiday was partly filmed in out little town which somehow makes it all the more real. Happy holidays, Judy!

    1. Jenny … Seneca Falls believes that it is the “inspiration” for Bedford Falls in the movie. If you go to the link above that I listed for the realbedfordfalls, you will see some of the coincidences that lead people to believe there is a strong connection.

      But, according to Wikipedia, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was shot at RKO Radio Pictures Studio in Culver City, California and at the 89-acre RKO movie ranch in Encino, California. The filming location of “Bedford Falls” was razed in 1954. Here is the link (go to the Filming section): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_a_Wonderful_Life

      In our imaginations, it was wonderful to envision scenes in the movie while we visited Seneca Falls. (So much for truth in advertising. Sorry to shatter any illusions.) 😉

  12. I love movies of that time . My daughters too they are in twenties of their age but they enjoy watching movies of thirtees and fourtees .

    Look to the real beauty of that time. Amazing .

    Thank u for sharing with us

    1. This movie, released in 1946, is from my parents’ generation and I grew up watching it many, many times. Nahed, I also enjoy movies from that era. It seems like a more innocent time even though the 30s were the time of the Great Depression which was a hardship for many families, and the 40s were a time of war. The films, however, did capture the real beauty of family and friends. Thank you for writing. 😉

  13. I never tire of the message in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” First of all, Jimmy Stewart. Over the years, he has become my favorite actor of that era, cemented when he read a poem he had written on the Tonight Show about the death of his dog. And then the magical, yet oh so human, story of the movie which leaves us all hoping that we’ve made an impact in this world and in our loved one’s lives. It wouldn’t be Christmas without this movie and thanks for posting, Judy.

    1. Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite actors whether he was the wheelchair bound photographer in “Rear Window” or the family man who is there for everyone in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He is a reminder that faith, family and friends are what are most important of all. Glad you enjoy this movie, too, Barbara. 😉

  14. I have never seen this movie , even though , it’s on every year . I think it’s because I am a bit of a coward and steer clear of sad films . My husband , who is more of a ‘telly watcher’ than i am, watched it for the first time last year and didn’t ‘get it ‘. I remember thinking , I must watch that film, because my husband an myself share many interests, but have totally different choices when it comes to films.
    My mum, who I lost ten years ago this year even though it feels like yesterday, taught me about movies and Hollywood movie stars . I was so ‘took’ with all the glamour I wanted to be a movie star myself…never made it lol
    Sorry I bit late reading your blog I really liked it .

    1. Cherry … Your husband is not alone. My brother told me that our Dad, who passed 3 years ago, never liked this film. I joked that the sentimentality probably put him over the edge. I love the film and hope you will, too. It is a reminder that what is most important in life is family, friends and faith. There are sad parts but the ending is heartwarming.

      Thank you for writing. Have a very Merry Christmas. 😉

  15. IAWL: just my favorite Christmas movie, and my favorite movie of all time, that’s all. And I’ve always been absurdly proud of the fact that I discovered it before it was, er, discovered. Talk about forgotten: it was the late, late show feature.

    I was about to stagger off to bed, then decided to just watch the beginning. Two-and-a-half hours later (allowing for commercials), tears were streamin’ down my handsome mug, and I was emotionally exhausted. Same basic result when I watch the film today… : )

    I’ve heard the Seneca Falls Theory before, and I’m a believer. I can still remember the pleasant shock at hearing “Buffalo” and “Elmira.” They’re the clincher. Hey, nobody ever refers to Elmira!! Of course, being an Upstate NY boy, I wanna believe… : )

    Great post, Judy! Merry Christmas!!– and remember: Every time a bell rings, a reporter gets her scoop! : )

    1. Mark … We watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” AGAIN on Christmas Eve. This time with our ‘grands’ – their first viewing – and I was pleased that they really enjoyed the movie. I wept again in the same parts. It never gets old. .;-)

      While the movie was shot in California, I believe those Upstate New York references are a huge tip off that the author had some place in Central New York in mind. Seneca Falls believes its the inspiration for the film. I agree.

      I like your take on the bell ringing theory. But I’ll give it up for Clarence. 😉

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