Jimmy Stewart’s daughter shares memories as ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ turns 75

The daughter of Jimmy Stewart, the Hollywood star who played “George Bailey” in “It’s a Wonderful Life” says the classic film has lessons for today’s audiences.

DAVIS, Calif. — The classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” turns 75 this year, and yet its lessons feel as relevant and fresh as ever.

The star of the film – longtime Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart – died back in 1997, but one of his daughters lives just outside of Davis. ABC10 asked for an interview to talk about the legacy of her father and this beloved holiday classic.

“It is about decency and honesty, but it’s also about sacrifice,” said Kelly Stewart Harcourt, daughter of actor Jimmy Stewart, as she spoke with ABC10 at her Yolo County home, near Davis.

She said her father counted “It’s a Wonderful Life” among his most cherished films.

“I think he was proud of his performance,” Harcourt said. “And he loved working with Capra.”

Director Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart teamed up on a number of films, but “It’s a Wonderful Life” was Stewart’s return to acting after serving in the military during World War II. 

“Dad’s military service and his time in the military is the thing he’s most proud of in his life,” Harcourt said, but added that the service was difficult. “They didn’t call it PTSD then, but…he would sometimes have nightmares in the middle of the night where he’d wake up. And, you know, there were bombers coming at him, Mom said.”

Upon returning from war, Jimmy Stewart wasn’t sure he could pick his career back up – both logistically and in terms of the disconnect he felt between the darkness of the war he just fought and the light-hearted entertainment industry.

However, Harcourt said, “Capra came to him with this film, and it was the vehicle for him to get back into filmmaking…He couldn’t have made just a straightforward fun comedy, for instance.”

Stewart’s Hollywood career spanned some 60 years, but to Harcourt – he was always just “Dad.”

“Dad as a father was great, because he never lectured us on how to be good…He taught us by the way he lived,” Harcourt said. “And he never brought his work home. He came through the door and so Hollywood stayed out.”

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She said “It’s a Wonderful Life” has many lessons for audiences today. For instance, she pointed out that George Bailey dreams of traveling, something that has been restricted these last two years due to COVID-19.

“The major cloud of our lives today is the pandemic,” Harcourt said, adding that her father’s iconic movie is about “making the life that you have with the people you have around you mean something. And that’s what people have had to do during the pandemic.”

She is grateful to anybody who has made watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” a part of their family holiday traditions.

“The fact that he is still being embraced by people, that his legacy lives on is—see, this is when I get teary-eyed—a gift to our family,” she said. “I’m so proud that…he means something to different generations.”

Harcourt is an anthropologist by education and trade.

“My parents got into conservation, and my mom started reading books about anthropology. She gave me them when I was in high school, and that was it,” Harcourt said. “I think Dad breathed a sigh of relief that we did not want to get into the film industry.”

Still, she said, she sees “It’s a Wonderful Life” through her professional lens.

“What I love about the movie – being an anthropologist – is that it’s all about the essence of our humanity, which is sociality. We are a social animal, and nobody succeeds as an island,” Harcourt said. “George Bailey, in the end, is bailed out by the town, by all the people he helped.”

She and her husband Alexander “Sandy” Harcourt have lived in the Davis area since the 90s, Harcourt said, teaching and doing research at UC Davis.

People can watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with an Amazon Prime Video or Hulu + Live TV subscription. It’s also available for purchase on several platforms, including YouTube. Check out this full list of streaming services that carry the film by clicking HERE.

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