It’s a Wonderful Life – A Family Business Story and More

by Allen Esrock | Dec 21, 2023 | Lifestyle

It’s a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra. It is based on the short story and booklet The Greatest Gift self-published by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943. The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his personal dreams in order to help others in his community and whose thoughts of suicide on Christmas Eve bring about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence.  Clarence shows George all the lives he touched and what the world would be like if he did not exist.

Today, It’s a Wonderful Life is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time and among the best Christmas films. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made.  In 1990, It’s a Wonderful Life was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.  It’s also number one of NxtGen Nexus’ Top 10 Nepo Baby, Family Business Christmas Movies

The Story of a Family Business NxtGen

What most people don’t realize is that the movie is the quintessential family business story.  Bailey Brothers Building and Loan provided residential loans to its customers and was a very popular method to finance housing.  About half of all outstanding residential mortgages held by financial institutions in 1930 were from the estimated 12,000 Building & Loans in the United States. And they were growing fast, the number of people who were members of Building & Loans more than doubled from 1920 to 1930.

George Bailey is the oldest of two brothers and 2G in the family business.  He was an adventurer and dreamt of traveling the world and creating great buildings.  While fate played a hand in deterring his dreams, George suffered the same issues that many next generation family business members face with their family businesses.  These issues can be found in family businesses around the world regardless size, industry or location including:

Pressure from Family to go into Business — George wants to leave Bedford Falls; however, he is pressured to stay home to work in the business or else it will collapse.

No Clear Succession Planning – When George’s father dies, the Board stops Uncle Billy from becoming the President.

Promoting the Family Enterprise –Family enterprise is the collection of a family’s assets that identify, support and unite the family. While the family enterprise starts with the family business, it includes all other financial, philanthropic and other activiities to support the family’s legacy.  Sam Wainwright offered George an opportunity to get on the ground floor of the Wainwright’s family business, but George declines.

Relative Addiction Issues – Nobody actually states that Uncle Billy has an addiction issue; however, you didn’t say those things in 1940’s Hollywood Christmas movies. George does say to Uncle Billy, “Where’s the money, you silly stupid old fool?  Do you realize what this means?  It’s means bankruptcy and scandal and prison!”

Difficulty with the Board – When Peter Bailey added Mr. Potter to the board, he thought his problems with dissipate. Instead they became more intense.

Sibling Rivalry – George is very supportive of his brother who’s a football hero, war hero and was able to leave Bedford Falls to work in his wife’s family business. How much support is tinged with jealously?

Lack of Peers – When George is feeling really stressed who does he talk to about his issues: Mr. Potter – the meanest man in town; Drunk Uncle Billy; or Clarence, a Second Class Angel.

How did it become a holiday classic?

When It’s a Wonderful Life opened in 1947, it received mixed reviews.  The financial results were no better as the film cost $3.1 million to make and only grossed $3.6 million.  It was a terrible blow to director Frank Capra, one of the most famous directors in the world.  Like 100s of other unsuccessful films made by the studios, the film was destined to gain dust on a shelf.  It’s resurrection occurred when Republic Pictures, who owned the film’s copyright, had such little faith in it that they failed to renew the rights for a second term in 1974. American television channels such as Turner Broadcasting System, American television channels, were thrilled to find free content, started showing it on a regular basis.  Eventually Republic Pictures sued and successfully regained the rights in 1993.  Republic eventually sold the rights to NBC and the network show the film every Christmas Eve.

It’s a Wonderful Life and Saturday Night Live

NBC has continued to build It’s a Wonderful Life legacy by showing it on Christmas Eve (Saturday, December 24, from 8-11 p.m).  However, the true indication of the importance in its place in American pop culture is the number of paradies that Saturday Night Live has created over the years.  Because NBC shows a two-hour, 11 minute in a three-hour time period, there is plenty of time to enjoy the parodies the broadcast.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Lost Ending

William Shatner introduces the never-before-seen lost ending of It’s a Wonderful Life, where George Bailey (Dana Carvey) and the people of Bedford Falls take bloody revenge on Old Man Potter (Jon Lovitz).


This You Call a Wonderful Life

Ben Mankiewicz (Bill Hader) explains that It’s a Wonderful Life was originally a Hanukkah movie which has complaints about food, frugal townspeople and a lesson from a rabbi (Jeff Bridges). Featuring Jimmy Stewart (Jason Sudeikis).

A drunk workaholic (Austin Butler) has a change of heart about having a family.

It’s a Wonderful Trump

Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) gets his wish to have never been president granted and sees how the lives of Michael Cohen (Ben Stiller), Brett Kavanaugh (Matt Damon), Robert Mueller (Robert De Niro) and more have changed in an alternate reality.

 

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Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.