A Miraculous Movie

It was originally called The Big Heart. Daryl Zanuck the shrewd head of Twentieth Century Fox couldn’t buy the image of Santa Claus in a court room. But like so many ventures Miracle On 34th Street (1947) came about because of passion, in this case that of Director George Seaton who had gone to New York on his own and made arrangements with the real Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel to film inside their department stores. Impressed by Seaton’s commitment Zanuck gave the show a green light.

Who would play the little girl who didn’t believe in Santa Claus? Seaton agonized over it, until the assistant director remembered an amazing child prodigy from Santa Rosa, California who could cry on cue. Her name was Natasha Nikolaevna Gurdin renamed Natalie Wood after director Sam Wood . The same Natalie Wood who would later go out on a hotel room ledge and threaten to jump when her boyfriend Elvis Presley ignored her to play poker with Memphis Mafia. The same girl who would infuriate fellow cast members of West Side Story (1961) with her tardiness, her refusal to learn simple dance steps and her insistence on long lunch breaks to visit with her analyst. But the seven-year-old Natalie had none of the typical child star precocious behaviour, she gained the respect of her co-stars on the Miracle set with her professional demeanour, earning the nickname One-Take-Natalie.

Like all filmed on location movies there were logistical problems. The sequence where Santa was taken to Bellevue was done without permission. The famous hospital would not cooperate with Hollywood because they had been portrayed badly in earlier films, they were not swayed by the sight of a sickly, freezing cold Santa Claus (Edmund Gwenn) bundled up under blankets in a car, waiting to shoot his scenes. The filmmakers were forced to shoot only the car approaching the building’s entrance and edit the rest later. Another difficulty was getting permission to shoot the Macy’s parade from the apartment dwellers on 34th street which had to be done right the first time, there could be no retakes. The film crew paid the ladies of the house to place the cameras in their windows. Then their husbands came home, complained about the inconvenience and demanded their own equal share. Most difficult to film was the sickly but determined Edmund Gwenn who would win an Oscar for playing Kris Kringle. He suffered from a bladder control problem but couldn’t stand the thought of someone taking his place in the parade. The children who stood on the sidewalk waving at Santa never saw the long tube under his cloak.

Overcoming his initial reluctance Daryl Zanuck who was famous for his memos, made suggestions to improve the film’s story. The mother Doris, played by Maureen O’Hara was too cold, she would scare a man like Fred (John Payne) off, she had to be made warmer to the audience by explaining that she had been burned by an earlier relationship and that’s why she didn’t want her daughter believing in Santa Claus. Zanuck also felt that they shouldn’t overdo the scenes where Macy’s employees recommend that their customers go shopping at Gimbels, just some simple dialogue was enough to get the point across. But despite the loud cheering by preview audiences when Santa Claus was declared sane in the courtroom scene, Zanuck never had full confidence in the film. He put it in theatres in July, the busiest time of year for moviegoers, and told his marketing staff to hide from the public that the film was about Christmas.

One reference in the Miracle script that’s now dated was when Kris Kringle’s psychiatrist mentioned a man in Hollywood who passed himself off as Russian Prince and owned a restaurant. It was a dig at Mike Romanoff, a colorful fraud whose Rodeo Drive eatery was a fun sanctuary for Hollywood’s most notorious figures. One night FBI head J. Edgar Hoover was dining at Romanoffs when he was approached by an actual jewel thief named Swifty Morgan. “Like to buy these gold cuff links?” Amused, Hoover offered $200. “Oh come on John the reward is more than that!”

Stephen Schochet is the author and narrator of the audiobooks Fascinating Walt Disney and Tales Of Hollywood. Hear real audio samples of these great, unique gifts at www.hollywoodstories.com.

Games of the Past Meet The Present

Recently, our family had the opportunity to care for sisters’ children for a couple days, when she and her husband travelled to a bed and breakfast for some much need rest and relaxation. They don’t have a chance to get away that often, so I was more than happy to help them out for this little getaway. And, well, I would hope that she would do the same thing for me.

Once I agreed to taking care of her children, reality set in. My sister has six children, and while the youngest wouldn’t be staying with me, all the others would be. Add those five children to my three, you have eight, and add that to my small apartment and you have enough to drive any mom up a wall! How would I keep eight children occupied in my small home, without spending a lot of money?

One of the first activities we played was Twister. Twister was a gift for Christmas, so it was a game the children were still learning. As I watched them play, my I started thinking about the games my siblings and I played as children — those easy games that usually required no extra supplies. There were six of us, and I can remember keeping ourselves occupied with old favourites such as “Mother May I?” and “Old Maid”. After reminiscing, I decided that I would take this opportunity to teach them these favorited games.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the biggest selling game franchises of all time.

I am not sure who had more fun with it, but I taught them several of the games I played as a young child, and everyone had the greatest time. I taught them “Red Light, Green Light” and “Red Rover”, among others. Even the older children had fun playing “London Bridge” for the sake of the little ones. Want to know the best part? It has been over a week since I taught the kids these games, and on several occasions, I have caught them playing them on their own. Now, what could be better than that?

I encourage you to think back to some of your favourites childhood games. Did you love to play “Simon Says”? When was the last time you built a hopscotch? Do your children even know that there is actually a way to play marbles? Think of your favourites, and start teaching them to your children. Not only do most of these games require very little supplies, if any, but they show your children that there are fun activities that don’t have to be plugged in.

If you need some inspiration, the following websites offer instructions on many popular childhood games:

“Games Kids Play” http://www.gameskidsplay.net/index.html “Parent Soup: Games” http://www.parentsoup.com/archive/0,9372,263145,00.html. The author Brandie is the editor of the Family First Newsletter, the HomeMade Living ezine, and other services for parents. To find out more about Brandie’s creations, visit: http://www.bmvcreations.com.

Top 10 Computer Games

  1. Need For Speed Underground (PlayStation 2)
  2. V8 Supercars 2 XB (XBOX)
  3. The Sims Deluxe (PC/MAC)
  4. The Sims Superstar (PC/MAC)
  5. The Sims Unleashed (PC/MAC)
  6. The Sims Collectors Edition 2 (PC/MAC)
  7. SOCOM 2 US Navy Seals (PlayStation 2)
  8. The Sims Collectors Edition (PC/MAC)
  9. Battlefield 1942 (PC/MAC)
  10. Battlefield Vietnam (PC/MAC)