It's a Wonderful Life festival brings Calgary fan to the 'real' Bedford Falls

Even the actor who played little Zuzu Bailey will be in Seneca Falls, N.Y., this weekend to celebrated the 69th anniversary of the classic Christmas film. She will be joined by Calgary's Jeremy Thomas.

Zuzu Bailey and fans celebrated the Christmas classic this weekend in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

In this 1946 file photo, legendary actor James Stewart as George Bailey, center, is reunited with his family during the last scene of It's a Wonderful Life. (RKO Pictures Inc/Associated Press)

For the last two decades, Seneca Falls, N.Y. has been home to the It's a Wonderful Life festival — and marketing itself as the "real" Bedford Falls.

Bedford Falls is, of course, the fictional setting of the 1946 holiday film.

And while the Christmas cult classic wasn't filmed in Seneca Falls, many believe it was the inspiration for director Frank Capra.

For years, locals have been telling visitors that the year before the movie was released in theatres, Capra came through and got his hair trimmed.

Calgary's Jeremy Thomas stands in front of the bridge in Seneca Falls, N.Y. that resembles the one George Bailey jumps off in It's a Wonderful Life. (Submitted)

"The barber of Seneca Falls one time mentioned that he came through the town," said Calgary's Jeremy Thomas, who has attended the festival for the last four years in a row.

It's rumoured that the barber told Capra the story of a local hero, named Antonio Varcalli, who jumped off a bridge to save a woman from drowning.

In the film, George Bailey does the same to rescue Clarence — his guardian angel.

"So the idea that Frank Capra came through this town, heard that story, and suddenly that became part of the script," said Thomas.

3-day festival

This weekend, thousands will travel to Seneca Falls to celebrate the 69th anniversary of It's a Wonderful Life.

The festival features caroling, gingerbread houses and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. There is a screening of the movie (obviously) each day and locals walk the streets dressed as characters in the film.

But for Thomas, the most interesting part of the festival is meeting all the fans.

Carol Coombs-Mueller and Karolyn Grimes outside the It's a Wonderful Life Museum in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The pair played George Baily's daughters Carol and Zuzu in the 1946 film. (It's A Wonderful Life Museum/Facebook)

"There have been people with some pretty harrowing stories about lost loved ones who say that It's A Wonderful Life has helped guide them through their tragedy since the movie does go to some dark places."

Over the years, several members of the original cast have come to Seneca Falls to sign autographs.

Including Karolyn Grimes, who played ZuZu — George Bailey's daughter in the film.

Grimes, now 75, has an online store that sells memorabilia from the film.

A snippet of Jeremy Thomas's It's A Wonderful Life memorabilia collection. The Calgary man has been attending the annual celebration of the film in Seneca Falls, N.Y. for the last 4 years. (Submitted)

Thomas has been massing a collection of It's a Wonderful Life lunch boxes, board games, tapestries, train sets and mini-Christmas villages since he was a teenager.

He connected with Grimes after his cousin bought him a gift from her website.

"I told her that I had, what has to be the largest It's a Wonderful Life collection in Western Canada. Until I go challenged — I will say it's the largest."

Grimes invited Thomas to the festival and the rest is history.

"Now we've become friends and that's quite thrilling for me, being such a fan of the movie."


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