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Consider the Cast

Frank Capra never used stock characters. He did not employ stereotypes to 

get his message across. Instead by careful collaboration with his scriptwriters

and, in many cases by extensively editing and re-writing the script himself,

he populated his films with scores of 'real' people. People you would meet

any day in the local store; people like those you worked with, like those you

passed on the street; people who had a real purpose in their imagined lives.

In that way he drew you in to the reality of their existence, making you feel a

real and lasting connection with them and their lives.

This was the genius of Capra. Remember the man who asks 'Why don't you

kiss her instead of talking her to death?'  Recall the owner of 'The Oldest Tree

in Bedford Falls' who, on smelling George's breath suggests '

You must mean two other trees' and the dapper chap, distracted by Violet Bick

(as are Bert, Ernie and George) who leaps out of the way of the car as he

crosses the road. All typical examples of the art of Frank Capra, The Story Teller.

Capra knew from the very first moment he came across the story which was to become IAWL that his leading man had to be Jimmy Stewart. He had worked with him twice previously, in 1938 in 'You Can't Take it With You' and in the 1939 classic 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'.

This was to be Stewart's first film after his return from active service in the US Air Force, and he was likely suffering from what we would now call PTSD, having seen many of his comrades killed in action.

Despite his reservations that 'people might not want to see me in films any more' Stewart accepted the role and, in a tour de force,

created one of the all-time great cinematic characters.

But, what about the rest of this so-familiar cast of characters from the drunken, doddery Mr Gower to the brash and bouncy Violet Bick? How different it could all have been if Capra had chosen some of his other options.

We are fortunate that someone managed to preserve, among Capra's documents a page on which are listed all the possible actors for many of the parts. Close your eyes and try to imagine, just for a moment what bewildered Uncle Billy would have been like had he been portrayed by Cecil Kellaway It's difficult, isn't it? Now read on and have your mind blown by some of the other weird and wonderful possibilities which, had they come about, would have made this treasured film a very different proposition.

Click on any name below to go to that character. Click on any underlined name to find out more abut that person.

 

MARY BAILEY     HERBERT F. POTTER     UNCLE BILLY     OLD MAN GOWER     PETER BAILEY     MA BAILEY

VIOLET BICK     ERNIE THE TAXI DRIVER     BERT THE COP     GIUSEPPE MARTINI     SAM WAINWRIGHT

ANNIE THE COOK      HEAVENLY JOSEPH    JIMMY THE CROW     MISS SACKLEY     INGIE

                                                                                                    

FRANK CAPRA'S LISTS     REMAINING CHARACTERS

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Mary Bailey

Very early on in his planning process Capra had approached Jean Arthur to play the part of Mary Bailey but she had just signed a deal to act in a play and turned him down. Arthur and Stewart had already worked together successfully in Mr Smith Goes to Washington.

It was only then that he compiled a list of alternatives, a list that did not include Donna Reed.

It has also been hinted that Capra considered Ginger Rogers although no formal approach was ever made, and her name does not appears on these cast lists .

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Herbert Potter (Henry F Potter)

Lionel Barrymore

 

 

 

TOP ROW             MIDDLE ROW       BOTTOM ROW

Dan Duryea          Raymond Massey  Gene Lockhart

Stanley Ridges     Ray Collins             Charles Halton

Henry Hull            Richard Gaines       Edgar Brennan

Victor Jory            Louis Calhern         Albert Dekker

Charles Bickford   Edgar Barrier          Otto Kruger

Walter Abel          George Coulouris    Joseph Gomez

Lee Tracy             Edward Arnold         Claude Rains 

Leon Ames          Charles Dingle         Vincent Price

Thomas Mitchell  George Bancroft      Charles Coburn

'A warped twisted old man'

Who do you get to play such a part? Well, Capra had no shortage of options, with no fewer than twenty seven of Hollywood's finest.

Many of the names will be familiar and those who aren't may well be recognised from their faces. Would any of them have been better than Barrymore at portraying 'The richest and meanest man in the country?'

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Gene Lockhart will be well remembered as the judge who decreed that Kris Kringle was Santa Claus in 'Miracle on 34th Street' - hardly a role model for potter you'd think. Raymond Massey found fame as the grumpy but considerate Dr Gillespie in the TV Dr Kildare series, again, too nice to be potter, surely. Vincent Price might have hacked it, but with that Crow flying about you would have been waiting for  Dracula to put in an appearance - too distracting. On a good 'bad' day, Charles Coburn or Claude Raines would have been acceptable but it's doubtful if any of these fine actors could have matched Barrymore's techy, impatient, gloating, supercilious, grasping egocentric portrayal. Certainly not Uncle Billy, that's for sure.

 

 

Uncle Billy

Thomas Mitchell

TOP ROW

Walter Brennan

Porter Hall

Eddie Horton

Frank Morgan

Donald Morgan

Henry Travers

W.C. Fields

Barry Fitzgerald

Roland Young

Donald Meek

Hugh Herbert

BOTTOM ROW

Cecil Kellaway

Charles Ruggles

Roman Bohnen

Tom Tully

Vic Moore

Leon Errol

James Bell

Grant Mitchell

Ernest Truex

Dudley Digges

Adolphe Menjou

 

Capra's list shows no fewer than 22 names against the character of Uncle Billy, and Thomas Mitchell was the second to last on that list, written in as an afterthought. He even wrote Thomas Fitzgerald before crossing it out and putting Mitchell instead. Even then, it's possible he was thinking of Barry Fitzgerald, as a search for Tommy brings up no results. Barry Fitzgerald was, at least a recognisable face of a similar age and appearance to Mitchell. Barry Fitzgerald's name is also squeezed in above the typed listt.

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It takes some effort to imaging some of these actors playing Uncle Billy. Frank Morgan will forever b e connected to the role of The Great Oz. Surely, Porter Hall can't escape being recognised as Mr Sawyer, the obsessed, self-titled psychologist in Miracle on 34th Street.

W.C. Fields feels like a real stretch and, if Henry Travers had been Uncle Billy just who could possibly have played the part of Clarence? What is fascinating is that against the character of Clarence there is not a single name, so we can only wonder when it was that Capra realised he had his angel.

On the subject of Uncle Billy, There are 12 names under the character of Aunt Laura. Laura is only mentioned once in the film, when Billy, distraught at his house after losing the $8,000 says to George, 'I even looked in rooms that have been locked up ever since I lost Laura' signifying that his wife has died sometime earlier. Perhaps a part was planned for Laura but, in one of the re-writes, she disappeared.

There is no mention of the cousins Tilly and Eustace anywhere in the cast list.

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Old Man Gower

E. L. Warner

 

TOP ROW

Donald Meek

Harry Davenport

Charles Grapewin

Irving Bacon

John Qualen

Erskine Sanford

Samuel Hinds

Percy Kilbride

Henry Travers

BOTTOM ROW

Harry Cheshire

Phillip Merivale

E.J.Ballantyne

Charles Halton

Jimmy Conlin

Jean Herscholt

Guy Kibbee

Reggie Owen

Michael Chekhov

It's a far cry from Jesus Christ to Old Man Gower. From the King of Kings to the drunken druggist who nearly poisons a child. but such was the acting ability of H. B. Warner that he could embody both these characters as well as a host of others in his career.

Following his role in the 1927 Cecil B. De Mille's King of Kings Warner had been typecast as a 'good' person. He says it lost him hundreds of jobs. 'C.B. will die when he sees me playing a bum in Capra's new film, but I'm delighted. I'm playing the damndest, dirtiest bum you ever saw, a proper drunk Thanks to Capra, who used a little imagination.'

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Peter Bailey

Samuel S. Hinds

 

Henry Travers

Russell Hicks

Thurston Hall

Tom Tully

Moroni Olsen

Samuel Hinds was the last in a fairly short list of six actors considered for the pivotal role of Peter Bailey, the founder of Bailey Bros. Building and Loan.

Interestingly, Henry Travers was, again in the frame for this role before being selected to play Clarence.

Frank Capra once said of Hinds 'He looks like a father. He's so perfect he looks like two fathers'.

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Several of these actors found parts elsewhere in the cast, notably the angelic Henry Travers, as Clarence, and Samuel Hinds as the urbane Peter Bailey, who bore the weight of the world on his shoulders with quiet dignity. Also tucked in here is Charles Halton, who excelled as the brusque, dismissive Bank Examiner, Mr Carter. When George shows him the newspaper and announces 'My brother just got the Congressional Medal of Honour' his straighfaced reply is ''Well, I guess they do those things.'

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Ma Bailey

Beulah Bondi

 

Ann Revere

Selena Royle

Kathleen Lockhart

Mary Nash

Mary Young

Beulah Bondi played Jimmy Stewarts on-screen mother no less than four times, in Vivacious LadyOf Human Hearts, It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith goes to Washington. It was almost destined that she would be Ma Bailey.

The change in her appearance between Bedford Falls and Pottersville is remarkable

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Violet Bick

Gloria Grahame

Ann Doran

Iris Adrian

Claire Carleton

Veda Ann Borg

Bernadine Hayes

Doris Merrick

Betty Lawford

Isabel Jewel

Jean Porter

Myrna Dell

Jimmy Stewart was visiting his friend Bill Grady at MGM studios. He found him in the projection room watching some screen tests. When Stewart went in, Gloria Grahame was on screen. Mindful of what Frank Capra had been looking for 'Sultry, but beautiful too, with a small-town goodness about her' Jimmy remarked to Grady ''That's a good bad girl if ever I saw one' One wonders how many more of the actresses on Capra's list would have qualified. It's noticeable that Capra seems to have simply drawn a line through them all, perhaps when Stewart took Gloria's screen test to show him.

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Ernie Bishop The Taxi Driver

Frank Faylen

TOP ROW

William Demarest

Frank Jenks

Walter Sande

Frank McHugh

Walter Catlett

John Ireland

BOTTOM ROW

Charles (Red) Marshall

Wally Ford

Don Barclay

Allan Carney

Eddie Brophy

Steve Burke

With several characters, despite Capra having extensive lists of possible actors for the role, the person who finally got the part isn't even listed. So it was with Ernie Bishop, the Cab Driver.

Together with Ward Bond as Bert the Cop (originally described as a Motorbike Cop) we see a wonderful double act develop during the film. So much so that they even get their own little cameo scene, when, after serenading George and Mary at their 'honeymoon suite' Ernie kisses Bert on the forehead and Bert slams down Ernie's hat on his head.

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Bert the Motorcycle Cop

Ward Bond

 

John Alexander

Walter Sande

Irving Bacon

James Burke

Wally Brown

Barton MacLane

Sam Levene

Bob Mitchum

Ward Bond played over 200 supporting roles in films and, for the last three years of his life he starred in the TV western series Wagon Train.

He was a popular supporting actor and this was one of many films he was well-known for although he rarely played the leading role.

Two other notable films in which he appeared were 'Gone With the Wind' and 'he Maltese Falcon'

Bond came seventh out of eight in Capra's cast list just above the last name, hand-written in tiny writing, almost as if it was a stretch to seriously consider it , Bob Mitchum.

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Giuseppe Martini

William Edmunds

 

Frank Puglie

Nestor Paiva

Chef Milani

Bob Vignola

Louis Albini

Fortunio Bononova

Ed Cianelli

Joe Calleria

Giuseppe Martini is a classic example of a character included in a Frank Capra film to give authenticity and depth. Martini struggles for years, with George's help, to make enough money to buy his own house. When his neighbour, Schultz asks 'Martini, you rent a new house?' he puffs out his chest and proclaims ''Me, Giuseppe Martini I own my own house. No more we live like pigs in thisa Potter's Field.

It is the small characters that make Capra's world so believable. Characters like Martini, Mr Welch, and dear Mrs Davis during the run on the bank who asks, meekly 'Could I have seventeen fifty?' It's no surprise, then, that Capra was as careful in selecting these actors as he was for the main parts.

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Sam Wainwright

Frank Albertson

 

Gordon Oliver

John Howard

Van Heflin

Dean Jagger

Gene Raymond

Kent Smith

Phil Warren

Allyn Joslyn

Bill Goodwyn

Here we have another relatively small part, he's only in a handful  of scenes, and yet there's a list of nine possible actors for the role.

Frank Capra would never just take the first option, he would always take the right option for him, for the part and, most importantly, for the film.

Perhaps the best-known face here is young Van Heflin.

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Annie the Cook

Lillian Randolph

Jane Darwell

Sara Allgood

Clara Blandioi

Una O'Connor

Hattie McDaniel

Helen Broderick

Irene Ryan

Ruth Donnelly

Connie Gilchrist

It was Ann(ie) the Cook's job to keep the junior Bailey brothers in order and out of their mother's hair. She did this admirably, as well as giving her counsel whether asked for or not; When George tells his father that he thinks he's a great guy and asks if Annie had heard him (through the closed kitchen door) she blithely comments 'It's about time one of you lunkheads said it'. and who could forget 'I've been saving for a divorce - if I ever get a husband'. Great lines from a small, but, Capra insisted, essential part of the film's 'family'.

Who could imagine Annie played by a youthful Grannie Clampett?

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Heavenly Voice - Joseph

Moroni Olsen

Wal Coxon? (unclear writing)

Maurice Evans

Fritz Leiber

John Carradine

Michael Chekhov

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It's unclear why the heavenly voice is called Joseph. An earlier version of the script had Benjamin Franklin considering George's fate! Neither is it clear who played joseph in the final cut. Five other actors were also listed, but the part went to Moroni Olsen, who could have been Peter Bailey.

The only clue we have to Joseph's assistant is the name 'Trowbridge', in Capra's handwriting. An internet search of actors at that time suggests his may have been Charles Trowbridge. Nothing else is known.

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Assistant

? ? ? ?

Trowbridge (Charles?)

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Jimmy the Crow

Jimmy the Raven

Jimmy the Raven (often mis-named Jimmy the Crow) shares the distinction, along with Jimmy Stewart, of being the only other cast member whose name was written in stone before the film even started.

After his first appearance in 'You Can't Take it With You' Jimmy appeared in every one of Frank Capra's films. Jimmy Stewart said he was the smartest actor on the set of IAWL 'When they call Jimmy, we both answer!'

Among his other credits was the opening scene of The Wizard of Oz, with him sitting on the scarecrow's shoulder and leading roles in 'The Raven' and 'The Black Raven'

Between 1930 and 1950 Jimmy the Raven appeared in over 1000 films.

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Miss Sackley

? ? ? ?

Anita Bolster

Constance Purdy

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Who was Miss Sackley?

This character's name appears on the cast list but she never made it into the film. Perhaps it was an early alternative to cousins Tilly and Eustace?

Whoever she was, there were two actresses slated to play the part. We will probably never know, but it's fun to imagine.

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Ingie (Town Girl)

? ? ? ?

Stock

Another mystery character is 'Ingie' (possibly a misspelling of Angie?)

She is described, simply, as 'Town Girl' suggesting she may have been part of the 'Pottersville' alternative during George's walk through town with Clarence. What she was intended to do and who was considered to play her, we will never know. It would have been any actress from the 'stock' pool who was available.

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Frank Capra's Cast Lists

 

Here are Capra's cast lists, with his own personal annotations.

POINTS TO NOTE.

There are no suggestions listed, as yet, for several characters; Maria Martini (who, in the final script, has no lines anyway) Ruth Dakin, Mrs Hatch, Marty Hatch.

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But Who's Missing?

The lists above are pretty comprehensive, but there are still many characters who are not included. Perhaps Capra was happy to start on the main body of the filming and allow the rest of the cast to be filled in later.
Whatever the reason, we must include them here, even if we can't play 'what if?' with alternative choices.

Harry Bailey                          Ruth Dakin Bailey                           Cousin Tilly                              Mrs Hatch  
Todd Karns                            Virginia Patton                                Mary Treen                              Sarah Edwards


                Mrs Martini                              Nick the Barman                           Potter's Goon
                Agentina Brunetti                      Sheldon Leonard                            Frank Hagney
 
 
Joe (Luggage)                     Reineman                             Mr Welch                                    Ms Davis 
Ray Walker                           Charles Lane                         Stanley Andrews                         Ellen Corby


            Dr Campbell                                Man on Porch                            Tollhouse Keeper
            Harry Cheshire                             Dick Elliott                                   Tom Fadden 

 
 
Mr Partridge                         Bill Poster                         Potter's Secretary                       Nick's Bouncer
Harry Holman                        Gary Owen                        Almira Sessions                            Max Wagner
 
 
         Man whose great grandfather planted the oldest tree in Bedford Falls/ Pottersville
         J Farrell-MacDonald

 
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Young Mary                          Young George                          Young Violet                                   Young Harry   
Jeanne Gail                           Bobby Anderson                       Jeanine Ann Roose                         Georgie Noakes


Young Sam                          Young Marty                             Janie                                               Pete
Ronnie Ralph                       Danny Mummert                        Carol Coombes                               Larry Simms


Zuzu                                              Pete, aged 18 months                                                             Tommy
Karolyn Grimes                                  Don and Ron Collins                                                            Jimmy Hawkins
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For a comprehensive list and full details of all cast members click here
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