An NPR affiliate station in New York City interviewed WEOS’s Greg Cotterill about the opening of the “It’s a Wonderful Life” museum in Seneca Falls and the connection between Seneca Falls and the fictional “Bedford Falls” where the movie is set. Cotterill was present at the opening and is also a longtime resident of Seneca Falls.
The host of WNYC 93.9FM/820AM, Isaac-Davy Aronson, began by noting “Most people have seen at least part of the Frank Capra Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The 1946 drama starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey and Donna Reed as Mary Hatch was set in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, N.Y. But residents of Seneca Falls have long thought that their mill town-probably best known for America’s first women’s rights convention in 1848-was Capra’s inspiration.”
The Idea Center for the Voices of Humanity opened The Seneca Falls It’s a Wonderful Life Museum in early December, and Aronson asked Cotterill to explain what visitors might find in the museum. Cotterill noted it’s “more of an exhibit than a whole museum,” but contains memorabilia from the movie, quotes from Capra and features the movie itself continually running on a computer screen, as well as a large banner that invites visitors to leave their own comments behind. The first person to write on the banner was Karolyn Grimes, who played George Bailey’s daughter Zuzu in the film and cut the ribbon for the new museum.
Aronson noted Seneca Falls residents have long been convinced of the town’s connection to the film but said there was no real evidence of that and asked Cotterill why they believe so firmly.
“Well, there is evidence,” explains Cotterill, citing a barber in town who recalled meeting Capra when he was in town a year before the movie was produced, as well as the fact that Capra had an aunt living in Auburn, N.Y., who he’d visit regularly – passing through Seneca Falls to do so. Cotterill also cites references in the film to Rochester, Buffalo and Elmira, all short drives from Seneca Falls.
When asked what Seneca Falls residents make of the fact that, as holiday movies go, “It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t an entirely upbeat film – Aronson even points out that Bailey was trying to leave it for the better portion of the movie.
Cotterill says, “I think everybody likes the ending of the film, when the whole community rallies around the family and helps out. I think that’s what makes the film and I think that’s what makes Seneca Falls, too. People tend to rally together when things are tough and it’s just an uplifting movie even though it starts sad.”
The full interview can be heard online.