It’s A Wonderful … History Lesson

Donna Reed, a Denison native, starred in the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Photo: RKO Radio Pictures

Writer: Jeff Morgan
Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

For many folks, the holidays just aren’t the holidays without “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The movie that stars Denison native Donna Reed is a Yuletide classic.

But now, 75 years after its premiere, it’s also a window into a bygone era.

Leo Landis from the State Historical Society of Iowa and Christopher Wilson from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will lead an online presentation called “Hollywood & Iowa: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘” at noon Dec. 9. They’ll examine some of the cultural themes and historical references that are hidden in the story of old George Bailey and his brush with Clarence the angel.

“The movie is set in 1945, just after World War II,” Wilson says. So “when Clarence is giving a history lesson to George, the audience is getting a history lesson, too, from 1919 to 1945.”

That includes the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, race relations, Prohibition, the Great Depression and other touchstones that modern-day viewers might miss.

The online presentation is part of the state historical society’s ongoing Iowa History 101 series, which explores various topics from Iowa’s past.

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