Heartwarming Christmas Classic "Miracle on 34th Street" Endures
|"Miracle on 34th Street."|
|John Payne, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn on the set of "Miracle on 34th Street (all photos courtesy 20th Century Fox/Fox Entertainment Group).|
"Miracle on 34th Street" stars Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and a young Natalie Wood. There is an authentic feel to "Miracle on 34th Street" which is rarely equaled in a Hollywood studio film. There are very good reasons for this which we will get to below.
"Miracle on 34th Street" was made during a brief period of time when Hollywood was making a string of sentimental classics such as "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "The Bishop's Wife" (1947), and "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946). There are only a handful of live-action films that are the elite of seasonal classics. Others in this small group include "A Christmas Carol," "Babes in Toyland," and "A Christmas Story." It may seem easy to become a "holiday classic," but it actually is only a very small elite group of films that make the grade out of the hundreds that have been made and continue to be made.
George Seaton wrote and directed "Miracle on 34th Street." Seaton based his script on a story by Valentine Davies. "Miracle on 34th Street" is the story of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa and whose influence drastically affects the lives of those around him.
Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for Best Actor Actor in a Supporting Role for his role as Kris Kringle. George Seaton won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, while Valentine Davies won the Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story.
While "Miracle on 34th Street" is an obvious holiday movie, 20th Century Fox, which produced and distributed the film, decided to release it on June 4, 1947. June, obviously, is not the holiday season, so it was an odd time to release a Christmas-themed film. Very few people are thinking of the holiday season in June. Despite this, "Miracle on 34th Street" did fairly well at the box office, earning $2.7 million on a budget of $630,000.
So, "Miracle on 34th Street" definitely made money. One can think of releasing a holiday film in June as counter-programming of a sort, but it definitely was an odd decision that was based on the simple fact that more people go to movies during the summer than in the winter (which is still the case). The studio felt that the stars alone would sell "Miracle on 34th Street," as they were romantic leads, and the studio was right.
The initial box office of "Miracle on 34th Street," however, is dwarfed by its subsequent earnings as it became an undeniable holiday classic. There are enduring memories of "Miracle on 34th Street." for instance, "Miracle on 34th Street" concludes with the Johny Payne and Maureen O'Hara characters buying a house. The real house used for that scene is at 24 Derby Road, Port Washington, New York. It still looks pretty much the same.
The child star of "Miracle on 34th Street," Natalie Wood, was a well-known child actress at the time of its production. She first began acting in the 1943 film "Happy Land," and was named the Most Talented Young Actress of 1946 by Box Office Magazine. Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle in "Miracle on 34th Street," was an accomplished British actor who began acting in 1895 and became a silent film actor. Not particularly prominent in Hollywood at the time, Gwenn reached his height of fame with "Miracle on 34th Street."
|An original lobby card from "Miracle on 34th Street."|
One of the reasons that "Miracle on 34th Street" has an authentic feel is that Natalie Wood, who was eight years old, honestly thought that Edmund Gwenn was Santa Claus during the filming of "Miracle on 34th Street." Edmund Gwenn did not actually have a beard. He also gained 30 pounds for the role, though, and when she learned that after filming was over, young Natalie's illusions were shattered. There were good reasons why Natalie Wood might have thought that Edmund Gwenn was the real Santa. Besides his obvious resemblance to Santa Claus, Gwenn played Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on 28 November 1946. This was a real event, not done for the film, a very unique example of verisimilitude for a young girl. Gwenn did this for real, not as a stunt, though, of course, it tied in nicely with his role in "Miracle on 34th Street."
The crew for "Miracle on 34th Street" had motion-picture cameras placed at several points along the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade route. Every scene showing the parade in the background was shot in one and only one take.
According to Maureen O'Hara, the movie set of "Miracle on 34th Street" was extremely friendly. Everybody on the set loved Edmund Gwenn. William Frawley, a little-known actor at the time, plays a canny political operative in "Miracle on 34th Street." A few years later, Frawley got his friend Lucille Ball to cast him as Fred Mertz in "I Love Lucy," one of the most beloved television characters ever. Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gwenn, and John Payne routinely walked together along Fifth Avenue after each day's shooting, which was done essentially in real time during the 1946 holiday season depicted in the film. It was that kind of set, and that translated to the screen.
Another reason for the authentic feel of "Miracle on 34th Street" was that the film shot on location in New York City in the actual Macy's Department Store and nearby locations. Macy's, of course, is located on 34th Street in Manhattan, hence the title. This gave a unique opportunity to film a scene which shows the actual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade rolling by outside. In fact, in an early scene of "Miracle on 34th Street," Natalie Wood and John Payne are shown having a conversation in front of a window overlooking the parade. That was the very Thanksgiving Day parade in which Edmund Gwenn rode on a float portraying Santa Claus.
"Miracle on 34th Street" was phenomenal advertising for Macy's and its main competitor which is mentioned in the film, Gimbels. Macy's reportedly closed early one day in 1947 so that its 12,000 workers could see the first run of "Miracle on 34th Street." Gimbels is no longer around, but Macy's remains at the same location in New York City now that it was at in 1946.
Only three Christmas films have been nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. They were "Miracle on 34th Street," "It's a Wonderful Life," and "The Bishop's Wife" (1947). None of them won, and no Christmas films have been nominated since. It's not that none have been made since - in fact, Christmas films literally are made every year. Just turn on the Hallmark channel in December and you will see plenty of them.
The decision to release "Miracle on 34th Street" during the summer led the studio to disguise the fact that it was a holiday movie. So, the studio changed the film's original title, "Christmas Miracle on 34th Street," to drop the reference to Christmas. But, make no mistake, it is clear right from the beginning that "Miracle on 34th Street" is all about Christmas and Santa Claus and holiday feelings. The romantic angle between John Payne and Maureen O'Hara which was such a focus of the initial marketing of "Miracle on 34th Street" is only a subplot that occupies very little of the film.
There are few finer films to watch if you are in the holiday season. In fact, queue "Miracle on 34th Street" right after "It's a Wonderful Life" to continue a feel-good evening. There is a colorized version, but "Miracle on 34th Street" is better in the original version because there are stark contrasts drawn between doubt and trust that are best told in black and white.
"Miracle on 34th Street" also has a lot of positive things to say about things like redemption and adoption and treating other people well, though sometimes they may not be obvious at first glance. If it's the holiday season when you read this, look in your local theater listings - there's often a showing of "Miracle on 34th Street" in a theater near you!
|"Miracle on 34th Street."|