Study Guide

It's a Wonderful Life Screenwriter

Screenwriter

Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra

The Greeting Card That Keeps on Giving

Props to historian and writer Philip Van Doren Stern who, although not involved in the screenplay, wrote "The Greatest Gift," the story on which the film is based.

Inspired by an actual dream he had, he came up with the basic concept of a selfless guy laid low by life until he's rescued by God and the love of his friends and family. When he shopped it around but couldn't get it published, he made it into a Christmas card, which he then sent to 200 friends and acquaintances. That's how it found its way to RKO producer David Hempstead en route to the hearts of millions of people who watch TV at Christmas time.

Lots of screenwriters worked on this project, and lots of screenwriters got canned. Six years after Hempstead found the story, things finally got under way. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett penned the script with help from Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson, and Dorothy Parker (these last three uncredited). Hackett and Goodrich were a husband-and-wife screenwriting team who later won a Pulitzer Prize for adapting Anne Frank's diary into a play in 1956. They also wrote the scripts for the classic comedies The Thin Man and Father of the Bride as well as for the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

From Bedford Falls to Planet of the Apes

Swerling had a long career writing plays and screenplays, like one for the Lou Gehrig biopic The Pride of the Yankees. Wilson (who was later blacklisted in Hollywood for his Communist Party associations) co-wrote A Place in the Sun and Planet of the Apes.

Dorothy Parker was an unlikely candidate for writing a film like this. Known for her vicious wit and withering literary criticism, she was a famous writer and member of the Algonquin Round Table—a bunch of comedians and writers who used to hang out at the Algonquin Hotel and trade insults. She was a successful screenwriter, too, most notably for A Star Is Born. Like Wilson, she was actually blacklisted for a while.

With so many different writers contributing—writers with hugely different styles and preferred genres—there had to be a unifying vision. And you know whose. It's a Wonderful Life is Capra's movie: the tale of a noble, small-town hero who takes on malevolent, power-hungry forces and comes up a winner. Check out our "Director" section for more on that.

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