It’s a wonderful life ‘James Stewart refused to work with the star again’

Jimmy Stewart has a reputation for being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood and 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life has become a timeless classic that is rewatched every year. However, the shoot was plagued with tension and “insecurity” from director Frank Capra to the writers and stars. When the film was released, Stewart was so angry and upset that he never worked with Oscar-winning co-star Donna Reed again.

The film is about a good but troubled man, George Bailey, who is contemplating taking his own life when an angel-in-training, Clarence, sets out to show him how much his life has helped others.

Filming was equally problematic. Capra worked on the script with writers such as Frances Goodrich and her husband Albert Hackett, but she was very demanding and also turned to other writers behind her back. Goodrich called the director “that horrible man”, while her husband referred to him as “a very arrogant son of a bitch”.

Meanwhile, Stewart may have been a perfect casting for George, but he wasn’t too sure about returning to acting after a distinguished career in the Army during World War II.

Added Mary Anne: “So, there was this insecurity on set and Mum really wasn’t that well known. I mean, she was only 25 and I think she signed her contract with MGM at 21.”

In fact, Reed had been a standard Hollywood contract actor, appearing in countless minor roles after signing on in 1941. Her wholesome, girl-next-door looks and personality had made her very popular with soldiers overseas during the war.

Stewart’s regular co-star Jean Arthur was first offered the role of Mary, but was battling health issues. Characters such as Olivia de Havilland and Ginger Rogers were also considered. The latter turned down the film because she thought the role was “too bland”.

Eventually, Capra asked MGM to loan him Donna Reed, standard practice among studios in those days. The actress found herself on a tension-filled set, according to her daughter, and then felt like a scapegoat when the film did poorly at the box office.

Despite its enduring popularity today, on release It’s A Wonderful Life only grossed $3.3 million on a budget of $3.2 million. Hollywood movies often double their budget with production and marketing costs, so you need to double your original budget to break even.

Mary Anne said her mother “didn’t understand why there was so much insecurity and then Jimmy Stewart couldn’t understand why the movie didn’t do well, but that’s why they never did another movie together. He blamed her, because she wasn’t so acquaintance.

Reed would win Best Supporting Actress for 1953’s From Here To Eternity and then go on to achieve new levels of fame and recognition starring in 1958’s The Donna Reed Show.

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