Every year around this time I am invited to screenings with Qs and As from famous directors actors, cinematographers, casting directors, and production designers. The films and television shows are brilliant and the performances are usually divine. I also get screeners from the movie studios and production houses and distributors.
In other words, I watch a lot of movies this time of year. I do it because I love movies. I also think it’s cool to receive this cinematic horn of plenty. I get all these lovely goodies because I am a voting member of SAG-AFTRA.
I also love Christmas time for all the usual trappings; food, prezzies, and family time. So, as much as I am devoted to edifying myself with great art and taking time for the family, there is one film that I watch every year, without fail since 1974, is It’s a Wonderful Life.
This amazing film from 1946, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, holds a special place in my heart. We all know the basic story and how badly it did in the box office during its original run. We also all know that the reviews were mixed at best. But, that was all before television took it on and now it is a holiday classic. So, I won’t repeat what others have written about this movie. What I am going to do, is tell you why this film is so personal to me.
The simplest way I can describe it is, that I am George Bailey. I don’t work for a buildings and loan company and I didn’t have an arch nemesis like Henry Potter. But, I had (and still do) have a dream of having the life of a successful and in demand working actor. George wanted to travel the world and build bridges and skyscrapers. I am living my dream. Some years are better than others and yet I still remain. George discovered that his dream still lives inside him, but he also made lots of his friends and neighbours, live their dream of owning a home.
What I am talking about is when George goes into despair and his importance of life. He reckons that perhaps every one he knows would be better off without him being around. It is this self doubt that I connect with George Bailey. As an actor it can get pretty bleak at times.
One day I was on a primetime show produced by, at the time, one of the most powerful woman in television telling me this was my big break and within two years, that dream did not materialise and back to the bottom I went. Not having the “right” agent. Not knowing the “right” people. Not being able to read for parts that are credited as “guest star” or “lead,” can all get to you enough to think about packing it all in and leaving town. Then at my lowest point, my version of Clarence, in the form of a casting director, agent, producer, or fellow actor, and jumped into the water, so I could discover the importance of what I do and why I must still hold on to this dream as long as I am still around.
What successes I have had in the business came along because of perseverance along with someone taking a chance on me and believing I was right for a part.
All of Bedford falls came to the aid of George Bailey at his must dire time. My small town of Hollywood has always stepped up with one more submission. A casting director that remembered me from years past. A USC student director who cast me in his first short, trans me down and casts me in his first feature. Great actors I have worked with and have held me up when I have fallen.
All of these characters in my life have all one time or another saved me from quitting. And if you listen very carefully, you’ll hear a bell ring that someone just got a part.
Happy Holidays and a Peaceful New Year!