Maybe it’s where I grew up in Michigan, a rock’s throw from the Presidential Library that bears his name, but I always thought of Gerald Ford as much as a University of Michigan football player as an ex-president.
So much for those “can’t walk and chew gum at the same time” jokes: he was an MVP, more of a real life “Gipper”. (After a year where Michigan football also lost its winningest coach, Bo Schembechler, it’d be extra nice if the Rose Bowl was a Michigan win again, and honored these two guys. Not that I’m biased, being from Michigan and all.)
Most obituaries – but not all – chiefly remember Ford for his pardon of Nixon, rather than any of the other things he did while in the White House or afterward. Ford’s previous life as a football player, a respected lawyer, and as someone who fought in WWII should be remembered. Man, the guy was a park ranger… and was assigned to the bear feeding truck? Wow.
One of the best things about this treasure is that you can enjoy this film a few days after Christmas, or later in the year – a drab day in March, a hot day in June – and it resonates just the same.
Let’s start our collection of IAWL news with the ugly, and then get to the good – kinda like the movie – which someone at the FBI was silly enough in 1947 to classify as pro-communist. Oh, yes. I didn’t believe it until I read it either. Of course, this was during the period where having your name listed in “Red Channels” – a publication with no real “vetting” process – meant your career was over – and people actually lost their jobs for being “premature anti-fascists,” which sounds today like the beginning of a dirty punchline. (A “premature anti-fascist” was someone who disliked Mussolini or Hitler before 1939, and that encompassed a lot of people – some of them Communist, but many of them not.)
Speaking of the presumed guilty… Have you ever imagined what it would be like to inherit George Bailey’s money mess in real life? LA media circles have been abuzz about a former PR executive, John Stodder, who has been blogging steadily despite being embroiled in a city scandal. In May, Stodder and another exec from Fleishman-Hilliard, a major PR firm, were convicted of overbilling the Department of Water and Power. (He has maintained his innocence throughout.) It’s intriguing to read his view on IAWL, considering his real life involvement in a money mixup. He admits, “At 19, I thought it was pretty corny, and couldn’t figure out what this sentimental mish-mosh of angels, Charles Dickens and Horatio Alger had to do with us, a couple of Berkeleyites in the mid-1970s.”
Stodder isn’t the only person to revise his opinion of It’s A Wonderful Life after getting a few more miles on him. There are many interesting articles regarding “Zuzu” Bailey – Karolyn Grimes. She, like the Bailey family, has had some major challenges to overcome, but notes that her appreciation for the film and its fandom has grown with time: “You have a choice,” she says. “You can drown in your sorrows, be the grumpy old Mr. Potter and be hurt and be in pain … but I think you need to put that behind you because, my gosh, life is a wonderful gift.”
Zuzu was always the most surprising of the Bailey family, wasn’t she? In the 1990s, she was honored by a power pop trio from Minnesota named…what else? Zuzu’s Petals. As an all female rock band, they were usually compared to bands like the Breeders or Babes in Toyland, though more in the tradition of Husker Du or The Replacements (Laurie_Lindeen of Zuzu’s Petals went on to marry the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg, and is writing a tell-all, “Pedal Pushers”). Two-Tone Records is now making their music available again. Surprise, though – there’s another Zuzu’s Petals, an all-male band from Turlock, CA. If you like “alternative” rock music and IAWL, take a second for a listen.
LA Observed has an interesting piece on how Encino, today an upscale Valley community near LA, was turned into Bedford Falls.
And if you haven’t already caught Dimitra Giannakoulias’ great article on It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s not too late!