Article: 25 Festive Facts You Might Not Know About “Miracle on 34th Street”: HowStuffWorks
25 Festive Facts You Might Not Know About “Miracle on 34th Street”
Image: 20th Century Fox
About This Article
It seems like every single year around the holidays a few dozen new Christmas movies roll out on TV, and a few even manage to hit theaters. It's a tradition as old as film at this point. And as sure as you want to deck the halls and have a mug of eggnog, there are one or two movies you just can't miss every year. Maybe it's the classic "It's a Wonderful Life" or something a little goofier by way of "A Christmas Story." Maybe it's the mayhem of "Home Alone" or "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Or maybe it's arguably the greatest Christmas classic of them all — "Miracle on 34th Street."
There's something timeless about this movie, something you can relate to from childhood all the way to adulthood. It speaks to how Christmas makes us feel deep down on the inside. And it does this with a little magic that makes you want to believe in Santa all over again, even if you stopped doing so long ago. You can't ask for more than that from a movie. But you can learn some fun facts along the way! If you're a fan of the movie, we've pulled together 25 of the most festive facts you could ever hope to learn. Have a look and see!
It's beginning to look a lot like summer
The studio was dead set against releasing this as a Christmas movie, convinced movie fans were more likely to head out in the spring and summer. The result was that "Miracle on 34th Street" was released in May with promotional material that focused on it being a traditional romantic comedy that was suitable for any season. It looks like the gambit paid off, though, as it's still a classic we love to this day!
Miracle on 35th Street?
John Payne played the role of Fred Gailey in the movie. While word is that all the actors loved the movie and each other on set, Payne was especially taken with the film. In fact, he was so into the movie that he desperately wanted to make a sequel and apparently frequently spoke to Maureen O'Hara about it for years afterward, going so far as to write his own screenplay. Sadly, Payne died before it ever happened and O'Hara never got a chance to see what he wrote.
The parade stops for no one
When the movie opens, we're treated to the beloved Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and it isn't just a phony re-creation for the film. That was the real 1946 Thanksgiving parade as it took place with cameras set up along the route to capture the action. Edmund Gwenn, the movie's Santa, was actually the parade's Santa that year, as well. Everything had to be done in one take because there's no way anyone was re-running that parade.
Macy's and Gimbel's are both heavily featured in "Miracle on 34th Street" and both were very real stores in New York. Producers of the movie asked for permission from both to feature them in the film, but neither agreed at first. Their permission was conditional on them liking what they saw once the movie was finished. Luckily, it worked out and both companies enjoyed what they saw because otherwise, producers would have needed to do extensive edits.
"I believe ... I believe ... It's silly, but I believe"
Natalie Wood was only eight years old when the movie was made and not only did she still believe in Santa Claus, she was pretty sure she was working with him. Edmund Gwenn was so good at his job and so nice to people both on camera and off camera that Wood came to believe he was the real deal. It was only after the film wrapped when she finally saw him at an after-party in his everyday clothes that she realized he was just an actor like everyone else in the movie.
Keep it in the family
It's hard to imagine anyone but Edmund Gwenn playing Kris Kringle in the movie, since he's so absolutely perfect in the role and even the cast and crew agreed. But he wasn't the first choice. An actor by the name of Cecil Kellaway was offered the role first, but he turned it down. As it turns out, Kellaway was Gwenn's cousin in real life, so those convincing Kris Kringle genes must run in the family.
In living color
In 1985, "Miracle on 34th Street" got re-released with a twist. It was one of the first movies to be colorized from a black-and-white print. You could now see Kris Kringle in a red suit! Except most audiences didn't want that at all. The reaction was mixed, to say the least, with most people preferring the original black-and-white cut of the film as the colorization process was a bit weird, to say the least. Later DVD releases would offer up both versions so audiences could pick and choose which one they liked best.
Macy's day at the movies
Macy's was such a big part of the movie and was so happy with how it turned out that the store really got into it after the film was released to theaters. To celebrate the release of the movie, the store gave a gift to its employees in the form of a day off to check the film out for themselves. That might not seem like much at first until you realize just how many people got the day off. Macy's had roughly 12,000 employees at the time, all of whom got to go see the movie on opening day.
And the Oscar goes to ...
"Miracle on 34th Street" was nominated for four Academy Awards. Edmund Gwenn won Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his Kris Kringle, Valentine Davies won for Best Story and George Seaton won for Best Adapted Screenplay. The fourth nomination, the one it didn't win, was for Best Picture. That's not too huge of a loss overall, though, since it's almost impossible for a Christmas movie to even get nominated. In fact, only it and "It's a Wonderful Life" have been nominated for Best Picture.
Thelma Ritter's first movie
If you love classic movies, you've more than likely laughed at a quip delivered by Thelma Ritter, one of Old Hollywood's favorite supporting actresses. Though she's most remembered for Alfred Hitchock's "Rear Window" and Joseph L. Mankewicz's "All About Eve," her first movie was "Miracle on 34th Street." After her uncredited yet memorable turn in the holiday classic, she went on to receive six Academy Award nominations throughout her career.
No SFX needed
Sometimes in modern movies, they'll actually use computer effects to make it look cold, like adding in the breath of the actors or fake snow. But this was 1946, and as it turns out, it wasn't necessary at all. New York was brutally cold during filming and there were even times when the camera froze up and had to be thawed up before it would work again. At the end of the movie when Susan finds her home, Maureen O'Hara and others were invited into a neighbor's house to warm up while the crew got the equipment working.
Remember when everyone was impressed by how much weight Christian Bale lost for "The Mechanic" and then how much weight he gained to be in "Vice?" Well, he wasn't the originator of putting his body through the wringer for a role, not by a long shot. Edmund Gwenn was not in Santa Claus shape when he got cast for the part, so he took it upon himself to gain 30 pounds of Christmas spirit to get the job done the right way. Now that's commitment to a role.
One of the most famous scenes in the movie is when Susan, played by Natalie Wood, gives Kris Kringle's beard a tug to see if it's real or not. It's a relatable moment because any skeptical child would soon have their fears of a false Santa put to rest by checking the veracity of their beard. The scene works well, because Edmund Gwenn has an immediate reaction to the beard tug which Natalie Wood didn't see coming. His reaction was improvised, so her surprise is real, which makes the whole thing more genuine and fun to watch.
Add it to your holiday reading list
Writer Valentine Davies didn't just pen the story of the movie for a theatrical release, he also wrote a novelization of the film that was released at the same time. It was a 120-page novella that went on to become a best-seller and can still be picked up on sites like Amazon in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and even an audiobook if you're so inclined. Davies' writing career was so successful he spent some time as the president of the Screen Writer's Guild from 1949 until 1950.
Too many remakes to count
You probably know the 1994 remake, starring Mara Wilson and Richard Attenborough, but did you know that there were three remakes before that version? Three TV adaptations were made in 1955, 1959 and 1973. It was also adapted into a stage musical in 1963 called "Here's Love" by Meredith Wilson. It's a testament to how much the story resonates with audiences that studios and networks have tried to recapture the magic multiple times. No adaptation has reached the icon status of the original, though.
Most people today consider the movie a classic that's about as wholesome as it gets. But remember, the times they do a-change as years pass and not everyone was stoked to see this movie when it first came out. In fact, the movie got a bit of a negative reception from the Catholic League of Decency, which described the film as being "morally objectionable." Not sure what on Earth in the movie could have prompted such a reaction? It's because of Maureen O'Hara's character. In the movie, she's a divorced woman and they were not cool with that.
The line to inspiration
Ever been shopping during the holiday season and got stuck in a massive line? Maybe on Black Friday? And it takes so long you start to question your own sanity? That's sort of what happened to Valentine Davies, who came up with the story for the movie. He had been waiting in line to get a present for his wife and was just overcome with the commercialism of it all. He began to wonder what Santa Claus would think of all of it, and that's where the whole idea came from.
One big, happy family
Being just 8 years old, Natalie Wood obviously had earlier nights than the rest of the cast and crew. When she went to bed, the three adult leads didn't retire to trailers or hotels, they hung out together. Maureen O'Hara was quoted as saying that, after the day had wrapped, she would go for walks with Edmund Gwenn and John Payne to check out little shops and whatnot throughout the neighborhood where the movie was being shot.
What's in a name?
Choosing the right name for a movie doesn't seem like an easy process. The director, George Seaton, originally wanted to go with "The Big Heart" as the name for the movie. He was convinced audiences would love it and it was actually released in the UK under that title, so he had a partial victory there. But even the name we got, "Miracle on 34th Street," had to be tweaked. The original title was "Christmas Miracle on 34th Street," but they dropped the reference to Christmas so they could sneak it into theaters during the spring.
The power of Christmas
Filming a movie is no small task, and there's a reason studio lots are set up to handle it. Department stores in the mid-'40s really weren't. The demands of the film proved a bit too great for the power grid at Macy's, so in order to keep things going smoothly extra power was needed. They set up some additional power sources in the basement so they could keep filming while allowing the store to run properly at the same time.
A deal's a deal
Director George Seaton was convinced he had a winner on his hands and was desperate to make the movie. The studio was a little cool on the idea and wasn't interested at all. But Seaton was nothing if not persistent, and in the end, he managed to strike up a bargain to get the film made. He could do "Miracle on 34th Street" with a moderate budget if he agreed to do any three movies the studio wanted him to do with no conditions whatsoever.
Dreaming of a different Christmas movie
During your next Christmas movie marathon, keep an eye out for Percy Helton. Best known for noir films like "The Set-Up" and "Wicked Woman," he makes uncredited appearances in two of Old Hollywood's most beloved holiday classics — "Miracle on 34th Street" and "White Christmas." Catch him as the inebriated Santa who gets fired at the beginning of "Miracle of 34th Street" and as the train conductor who asks for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye's train tickets to Vermont in "White Christmas."
Keeping the tradition alive
Movie audiences who watch Christmas films know one thing about New York department stores — they put on elaborate displays. The impressive Christmas displays featured in the movie were real and they weren't destroyed after the movie. Macy's ended up selling them to FAO Schwartz, and then the store ended up selling them to Marshall and Ilsley Bank of Milwaukee. The bank still has them and apparently still puts them up on display every Christmas if you're interested in checking them out next time you're in Milwaukee.
Sometimes, modern movies have a problem when it comes to trailers that give away huge plot points and spoil the film. That was not an issue with "Miracle on 34th Street." Since the studio was intent on keeping it a secret that this was a Christmas movie, it filmed a trailer that spoiled less than nothing. In fact, it didn't even include the cast. The trailer was filmed on a studio lot and featured interviews with actors like Rex Harrison who weren't even in the movie as they talked about how great the film was.
Not quite Macy
The character of R. H. Macy appears in the film played by veteran actor Harry Antrim. Rowland Hussey Macy was a real man and the founder of the department store Macy's. The only problem is the real R.H. Macy was born in 1822 and he died in 1877, about 70 years before "Miracle on 34th Street" was even made. In fact, the store wasn't even in the Macy family anymore by the time the movie was made. So the history of the whole thing was a little sketchy, but hey, it's a Christmas miracle!
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