Ever since she was a little girl, Teresa Powers said a Christmas season doesn’t pass by without her watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“That is my favorite movie of all time,” Powers said of director Frank Capra’s 1946 classic. In the film, an angel helps a desperate, frustrated businessman, played by James Stewart, showing him what life would have been like if he hadn’t existed.
Little did Powers know one of the stars of the movie would turn out to be a regular customer on her husband Richard Powers’ Schwan’s route.
At age 6, Karolyn Grimes played the role of Zuzu Bailey, one of Stewart’s daughters, in the holiday film. She had one of the movie’s most memorable lines: “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
Grimes would later move to the Stilwell area in Johnson County, where she spent part of her adult life.
“My husband drove a Schwan’s truck, and he would sell her ice cream,” Powers said. “He said she was really nice, and he would take her ice cream inside and put it in the freezer for her.
“I just think it’s neat that she played a part in my favorite movie of all time, and my husband knew her,” Powers, who has coordinated the Franklin County Angel Tree project for the past 15 holiday seasons, said.
Like Powers, several other Ottawa residents tapped the movie as one of their favorite Christmas movies of all time. As part of The Herald’s “Twelve in 12/12” series, “It’s a Wonderful Life” leads a list of a dozen movies that local residents say are their Christmas favorites.
1. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) — “My wife and kids (when they were little) used to pop popcorn and make hot chocolate, and we would bundle up under blankets on the couch and watch the movie together,” Philip Dudley, Franklin County appraiser, said. “Then dress up and going to Christmas Eve church service.”
On Christmas Day, Dudley said his family would watch “A Christmas Story” after the gifts were opened.
2. “A Christmas Story” (1983) — Set in the 1940s, the movie’s main character, Ralphie — played by Peter Billingsley — tries to convince everyone that a Red Ryder BB gun would be the perfect Christmas gift.
“I would have to say that my favorite Christmas movie is ‘A Christmas Story,’” Steve Gillespie, Wellsville police chief, said. “You know the one where the main character, Ralphie, just wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. My family and I watch that show every time it is on, and I still laugh every time poor Ralphie is forced to put on that pink bunny costume, or his father unleashes a flurry of profanity. I also get tickled every time I think about Ralphie getting his mouth washed out with soap, and then his mom tastes the soap herself and makes that awful face.
“I know the movie was not released until 1983, and I was 16 years old then, but it seemed like it had been out for years and was one of the classics the first year it was out,” he said.
Ottawa resident Mark Cation also named “A Christmas Story” among his Christmas favorites.
“I had a Red Ryder BB gun when I was a kid,” Cation said.
Cation’s top Christmas favorites also included the Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye classic, “White Christmas.”
3. “White Christmas” (1954) — Successful song-and-dance team Crosby and Kaye become romantically entangled with a sister act and resolve to save their former commanding general’s failing Vermont inn.
“I have several favorite Christmas movies that have been special to me growing up with my parents, and Christmas movies that have been special to my kids as they grew up,” Cation said. “‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ with Jimmy Stewart, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ was and is always a favorite, and ‘White Christmas’ with Bing Crosby were favorites of my childhood with my parents.
“The birth of Jesus in multiple movies is what it’s all about,” Cation said. “What a beautiful time of the year that can be lived every day of your life. The birth of Christ, family, friends and the Christmas Spirit.”
Cation, like several other local residents, also said National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, starring Chevy Chase, is a modern Christmas classic that never fails to entertain.
4. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989) — The Griswolds’ plans for a big family Christmas are foiled by one disaster after another.
“It’s kind of silly, but I love ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,’” Leslie Quillen, executive assistant to the Ottawa city manager, said. “It’s such an honest look at how hard adults try to make things perfect, particularly during the holidays, and shows the world simply doesn’t work that way.
“If we would all just relax and enjoy what we have, everything goes much more smoothly, and everyone enjoys everything that much more,” she said. “It reminds me of my family growing up, and how we always tried to look at the world through humor. When my brother and I go home, we still try to watch this movie with our parents, and still laugh like it’s the first time we’ve seen it.”
Cation said the Chevy Chase classic has a dose of realism.
“The squirrel in the house and the tree is very real because we had a squirrel drop down the chimney, and it had a field day tearing through the house,” he said.
Linda Reed, Ottawa city commissioner, also said “Christmas Vacation” is one of her favorite holiday movies.
“It’s not real serious, I know,” Reed said, “but at that time of year, sometimes you need a little humor.”
Several Ottawa residents said they prefer the classics to contemporary holiday movies. A favorite among those classics was “Miracle on 34th Street,” starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara and John Payne.
5. “A Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) — When a kind old man, who claims to be Santa Claus, is institutionalized, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he really is Old St. Nick.
“My mom loved that movie, and we watched it every year,” JuLee Bowling, owner of floral shop Designs by J, 312 S. Main St., Ottawa, said. “I think I was four or five years old the first time I remember watching it with my younger brothers when we lived in Fremont, Calif. I don’t really like the contemporary Christmas movies. I prefer the old classics, and ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ is my favorite.”
Polar Express, an animated film with a cast topped by Tom Hanks, leads a list of modern holiday favorites for the kids.
6. “The Polar Express” (2004) — On Christmas Eve, a skeptical boy boards a magical train that’s headed for Santa Claus’ home at the North Pole.
“A couple weeks before Christmas, our [eight] grandchildren come over to the house to make Christmas cookies and watch Christmas movies,” Richard Smith, director of facilities and operations for the Ottawa school district, said. “We watched ‘The Polar Express,’ and all of our grandchildren sat there with their eyes glued to it like they had never seen it before. It was a lot of fun.”
“The Polar Express” was one of several movies that fly off the shelf at the Ottawa Library during the holiday season, Cyndi Brewer, with Ottawa Library children services, said.
7. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) — Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of the Muppet characters offer their version of the classic tale of an old miser’s redemption on Christmas Eve.
“‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ is really popular,” Brewer said. “It’s one of their favorites.”
Not to be outdone, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is another favorite among young library patrons, Brewer said.
8. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) — Dejected by the commercialism of Christmas, Charlie Brown sets out to find the true meaning of Christmas.
“A lot of popular characters now have their own Christmas movies, too,” Brewer said. “Sometimes kids don’t know the name of the movie, but they can describe it.”
The Herald’s Facebook fans had no trouble naming their favorite Christmas movies. Nine through 12 on our list are some of their recommendations:
9. “Elf” (2003) — Will Ferrell stars as a tall man who was raised as an elf and inadvertently wreaks havoc on the elf community at the North Pole. He sets out for the U.S. to learn his true identity.
10. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966) — This Dr. Seuss classic tells how the Grinch, a grumpy hermit, plans to steal Christmas from the Whos of Whoville.
11. “Die Hard” (1988) — The first in a series of Bruce Willis’ “Die Hard” movies opens with a hostage scene at a Christmas party in a high-rise building.
12. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) — In this Tim Burton classic, the king of Halloweentown discovers Christmas Town, but doesn’t understand the concept.
Other films Ottawa residents recommend included “A Christmas Carol,” “Home Alone” and the 1985 version of “Santa Claus” with Dudley Moore.
No matter which movie families select to watch this holiday season, county appraiser Dudley said, “The best part is just getting to spend time together as a family.”
Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org