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Mary Hatch (Donna Reed)
Mary Hatch is the prettiest girl in town. And she lo-o-o-ves George Bailey.
Smart as a whip, with a sassy personality and a great sense of humor, Mary is the realist to George's romantic. She raises his family and keeps his feet on the ground. She doesn't need to travel the world; all she wants is her home with George.
Mary had it bad for George even as a kid. While visiting him at the drugstore, she whispers in his bad ear:
MARY: Is this the ear you can't hear on? George Bailey, I'll love you till the day I die!
But, Mary never dreams of far-off places. She doesn't even like coconuts. George can't believe it. To him, they represent everything exotic. Anyway, she's just a kid to him, and he doesn't give her much notice until he's older and Mary's brother pesters George at a school dance about dancing with Mary. She happily ditches her date to be with him. After the dance, George starts falling for Mary like she fell for him long ago. The budding romance is interrupted by news of George's father's death.
Mary goes off to college and works in New York for a while, but the next time we meet her, she's come back to Bedford Falls and lives with her family. She's still got a thing for George, and his mother knows it:
MA BAILEY: Well, I've got eyes, haven't I? Why, she lights up like a firefly whenever you're around.
To stop his mother from bugging him about it, he wanders hesitantly over to Mary's house. He hasn't seen her in a while. Besides, she's been dating budding plastics entrepreneur Sam Wainwright. George just can't understand what brought her back to Bedford Falls:
GEORGE: [...] I thought you'd go back to New York like Sam and Ingie, and the rest of them.
MARY: Oh, I worked there for a couple of vacations, but I don't know ... I guess I was homesick.
GEORGE: Homesick? For Bedford Falls?
MARY: Yes, and my family and ... oh, everything. Would you like to sit down?
We're guessing George is part of that "everything." Mary tries to rekindle old memories by playing "Buffalo Gals" on the record player. That's the song they were singing four years earlier on that romantic night. (And, FYI, a record player was how young people listened to music in the days before Spotify. Or with CD players or tape players. You probably don't know anyone who owns one.)
George is oblivious to Mary's romantic hints. Mary wants George, and she goes for it just like she did four years ago. He just won't admit his feelings to her, and she eventually throws him out and smashes the "Buffalo Gals" record. Seems she waited four years for nothing.
But, wait—George forgets his hat and comes back into the house just as Mary gets a call from her beau, Sam. After a scene right out of the screwball comedy playbook, they fall into a passionate embrace, and everything's alright with the world.
George once promised Mary the moon, and he plans to make good on that promise with a swell honeymoon trip to Bermuda. On their way to the train, they pass by the Building and Loan, which is swarmed with people trying to get in the door. George jumps out to see what the problem is—it's a run on the bank. Potter has called back their loans, and the folks want to withdraw their money.
Mary begs him not to go, but once she finds out what's happened, she takes out their honeymoon cash and helps distribute it to the panicked customers. George Bailey has met his match; he married a woman as decent as he is.
It just gets better from there. Knowing how bad he must feel about not being able to take her on a honeymoon, she's on a one-woman mission to show him that a fancy life is not what she's about. Mary has secretly bought the house she and George wished on the night of their first date. She hangs up some French travel posters, throws a checkered tablecloth on some boxes, and voilà—instant European honeymoon. George walks in:
MARY: (tears in her eyes) Welcome home, Mr. Bailey.
GEORGE: (overcome) Well, I'll be ... Mary, Mary, where did you ... Oh, Mary ...
MARY: Remember the night we broke the windows in this old house? This is what I wished for.
Mary supports her guy every step of the way. When Sam Wainwright shows up in his fancy car with his wife dripping in furs and jewels, she just says, "Oh, who cares?" George can't believe she married him:
GEORGE: Mary Hatch, why in the world did you ever marry a guy like me?
MARY: To keep from being an old maid.
GEORGE: You could have married Sam Wainwright or anybody else in town.
MARY: I didn't want to marry anybody else in town. I want my baby to look like you.
That's how she breaks the news to George that they're expecting. Angel Joseph tells Clarence that more babies arrived:
JOSEPH'S VOICE: Mary had her baby, a boy. Then, she had another one—a girl. Day after day, she worked away remaking the old Granville house into a home.
This is what Mary's about—making a home for George and the family, and being a loving mother and wife. It's all she's ever wanted. She doesn't care about not being rich or living in an old, dilapidated house. She's too busy serving her family and her community. But, her biggest challenge is still ahead.
Mary knows something's up when George comes home irritable and upset that fateful Christmas Eve. She tries to find out what's bugging him, but he's too agitated. She's not having much luck calming him down; meanwhile, she's trying to manage four kids and a Christmas tree. When George trashes part of the living room and storms out, she tells the kids to pray hard for their daddy.
She doesn't just rely on God to fix things, though. She's too practical. She telephones Uncle Billy right away to find out what happened. While George is having his spiritual suicidal crisis and getting his life review from Clarence, Mary works behind the scenes. By the time George returns home, she's canvassed the neighborhood asking people to pitch in to save the Building and Loan from bankruptcy and rescue George from Potter's evil clutches. After a lot of relieved and happy expressions of "oh, Mary!" and "oh, George!", Uncle Billy tells George:
UNCLE BILLY: (emotionally) Mary did it, George! Mary did it! She told a few people you were in trouble, and they scattered all over town collecting money. They didn't ask any questions—just said, "If George is in trouble—count on me." You never saw anything like it.
Mary's calm practicality comes through for George in his time of need.
Mary has been the realist to George's idealist; she represents home and rootedness versus his romantic dreams of escape. Mary always knew what she wanted: a family and a home in Bedford Falls with George Bailey. It took George a while to get there.
When the crisis comes, she handles it differently from George. She doesn't lose her faith, run away from her family and friends, or lose hope. She's always known that her happiness lies with her family and her community, and she turns to them for help when things get scary. She's never doubted that it's a wonderful life.
Perfect wife and perfect mother. Is Mary too good to be true? Maybe. But that last scene, when the family is in a giant group hug after George is brought back from the brink—well, that's pure joy … made possible by Mary's devotion to the guy she's loved since second grade.
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