Jimmy Stewart was one of the most popular movie stars of his time, but that doesn't mean he didn't take it personally if one of his movies didn't do well. In fact, after one film wasn't as successful as he had hoped, he apparently swore off of working with his co-star ever again. And the movie isn't some forgotten Stewart project, either—it's since become a classic watched by countless fans every year. Despite the blame game, in the end, Stewart, his co-star, and the movie fared just fine. Read on to find out more.
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A now-classic started out as a flop.
Today, It's a Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic that airs on TV every holiday season. But, when it hit theaters in 1946, it wasn't an immediate box office success. According to the Mirror, the film lost its production company more than $500,000 after it came out, which was a considerable failure at the time. That said, It's a Wonderful Life was still nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Stewart, and Best Director for Frank Capra.
In the 1980s, the film gained popularity because it began being shown on TV every year at Christmastime after it entered the public domain in 1974. It became a classic decades after its initial release.
Stewart is said to have blamed his co-star for the movie's failure.
Because It's a Wonderful Life wasn't successful at first, it has been said that Stewart blamed co-star Donna Reed, who played his wife in the movie. The drama was Stewart's first movie after serving in the military during World War II. Reed's daughter, Mary Anne Owen told Closer Weekly in 2020 that Stewart wasn't sure if he wanted to continue acting after the war because it was "too frivolous" of a career, which impacted the production.
Owen continued, "So, there was this insecurity on the set and mom was really not that well known. I mean, she was only 25 and I think she signed her MGM contract at 21. But she still didn't understand why there was so much insecurity and then Jimmy Stewart couldn't understand why the movie didn't do well, but that's why they never did another movie together. He blamed her, because she wasn't as well known."
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Reed was happy with the movie, however.
Reed's daughter also shared what her mother thought of It's a Wonderful Life. "She was quite happy when it came out," Owen said. "I mean, she passed away in '86, but by the early '80s it was on constantly, but we always watched at Christmas and she was so happy that it was so popular."
Reed spoke out herself during an American Film Institute tribute to Capra in 1982. "When I finished making that film, I thought perhaps I might not make any more movies," the Donna Reed Show star said. "I suppose I knew on some deep level that I would never have another experience in a film to equal it. We all worked hard. I never worked harder in my whole life. It was never a let up, never a let down, but I certainly never dreamed that people would be looking at It's a Wonderful Life every Christmas Eve for the next 35 years."
Stewart later praised Reed's performance.
After Reed died in 1986, Stewart said of the actor, according to the Associated Press, "I'll always remember her as a wonderful woman and as my wife in It's a Wonderful Life. I don't know of anybody who could have played the role better. She was absolutely marvelous."
Speaking to Guideposts in 1987, Stewart, who died in 19997, also said of the movie, "Out of all the 80 films I've made, it's my favorite."