Tuesday, 6 December 2016

34th Street

Still haven't got around to watching this classic but perhaps this Christmas?

For nearly 70 years, George Seaton’s Miracle on 34th Street has been a go-to holiday classic. Starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood, the film follows a wise-beyond-her-years little girl, her nonbeliever mom, and their lawyer neighbor as they defend the existence of Santa Claus in a New York City courtroom. Suffice it to say, it’s the kind of spirited, burst-your-heart movie that makes you want to spread the Christmas cheer. Now, get to know more about the timeless classic with these 10 things you might not have known about Miracle on 34th Street.

1. THE MOVIE WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED THE BIG HEART.

According to Turner Classic Movies, it was director George Seaton who lobbied for the name The Big Heart. “I am crazy about the title The Big Heart. If we can clear it, it is a natural,” wrote Seaton in a memo to producer William Perlberg. “It is the kind of title like Sentimental Journey [1946] that made such a hit previously with [John Payne and Maureen O’Hara].” It didn’t stick with American audiences, but it was first released under that title in the U.K.

2. VALENTINE DAVIES WAS INSPIRED TO WRITE THE STORY WHILE STANDING IN A LONG LINE AT A DEPARTMENT STORE.

According to TCM, Davies got the idea for the film during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. The long lines and chaos left him to wonder what Santa would’ve thought about such commercialization. After writing the story, he gave the idea to Seaton to turn into a script. In 1947, when the film was released in theaters, Davies also released his novella version of the story.

3. THE STUDIO DIDN’T GET THE CONSENT OF MACY’S AND GIMBELS UNTIL AFTER FILMING HAD CONCLUDED.

Despite the fact that both Macy’s and Gimbels figure prominently in the story, the studio took a gamble by not getting the companies to sign off before using their names. According to TCM, the studio made the companies aware they were going into production, but refused to share footage until filming was completed. Luckily, both department stores were satisfied with the final product.

4. EDMUND GWENN ACTUALLY PLAYED SANTA IN THE 1946 MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE.

The parade scene was entirely real, and Maureen O’Hara’s autobiography proves it. “Those sequences, like the one with Edmund riding in the sleigh and waving to the cheering crowd, were real-life moments in the 1946 Macy’s parade,” she wrote. “It was a mad scramble to get all the shots we needed, and we got to do each scene only once. It was bitterly cold that day, and Edmund and I envied Natalie and John Payne, who were watching the parade from a window.”

5. NATALIE WOOD STILL BELIEVED IN SANTA.

Natalie Wood was eight years old while filming Miracle on 34th Street. “I still vaguely believed in Santa Claus,” said Wood, as recorded in her biography written by Suzanne Finstad. “I guess I had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t so, but I really did think that Edmund Gwenn was Santa. I had never seen him without his beard because he used to come in early in the morning and spend several hours putting on this wonderful beard and mustache. And at the end of the shoot, when we had a set party, I saw this strange man, without the beard, and I just couldn’t get it together.”

6. THE FILM WAS RELEASED IN THE SUMMER.

Despite being a Christmas movie, Fox’s studio head pushed for the film to be released in the summer. “[Darryl] Zanuck wasn’t sure it would be a success, so he had it released in June, when movie attendance is highest, rather than wait for Christmas,” wrote O’Hara in her autobiography ‘Tis Herself. “In fact, the publicity campaign barely talked about Christmas at all.” Clearly, the strategy worked.

7. THE SAYING KRIS KRINGLE LISTS UNDER DATE OF BIRTH ON HIS MACY’S JOB APPLICATION IS ACTUALLY A LINE BY JONATHAN SWIFT.

One of the memorable moments in the film is when Kris Kringle fills out his employment card. In addition to listing the North Pole as his birthplace and all of his reindeer as his next of kin, Kringle gets clever with his DOB. He writes: “I’m as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” The saying famously comes from Irish satirist Jonathan Swift.

8. IN THE SCENE WHERE NATALIE WOOD’S SUSAN WALKER SPOTS HER DREAM HOUSE, IT WAS SO COLD OUTSIDE THE CAMERAS ACTUALLY FROZE.

It seems the whole production was nothing short of a Miracle. While filming the final scene, when Susan spots her dream house, the weather was so cold that production had to stop to let the cameras thaw. In the meantime, as recalled by TCM, a nearby neighbor invited the cast inside for warmth. O’Hara took the woman and her husband to an exclusive New York restaurant that night as a thank you.

9. JOHN PAYNE WROTE A SEQUEL TO THE FILM THAT WAS NEVER PRODUCED. 

According to O’Hara, her co-star loved the film so much he wanted to make a follow-up. “John really believed in ... Miracle on 34th Street, and always wanted to do a sequel,” she wrote in ‘Tis Herself. “We talked about it for years, and he eventually even wrote a screenplay sequel. He was going to send it to me, but tragically died before he could get around to it. I never saw it and have often wondered what happened to it.”

10. GWENN, O’HARA, AND PAYNE WOULD HANG OUT TOGETHER ON NIGHTS THEY WEREN’T FILMING.

It seems the Christmas spirit was alive during production just as much as it is in the final film. In her autobiography, O’Hara recalled the magical evenings she spent with her co-stars. “Each evening, when we were not working, Edmund Gwenn, John, and I went for a walk up Fifth Avenue. Natalie had to go to bed, but we didn’t. We stopped and window-shopped at all the stores, which were beautifully decorated for the holidays,” wrote O’Hara. “Edmund especially loved those nights and acted more like the kid who might be getting the presents instead of the Santa who would be giving them. I got such a big kick out of seeing the expressions of windows dressers when they saw Edmund peering in at them—I knew then that he was going to make a big splash as Santa Claus ... Everyone felt the magic on the set and we all knew we were creating something special.”
MF

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