Miracle on 34th Street

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Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) has become one of America's best-loved Christmas movies. Based on a book of the same name, it tells the story of Susan Walker (a little girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus), her mother Doris Walker (an independent career woman), neighbor Fred Gailey (a lawyer who has fallen in love with Doris), and an elderly gentleman who calls himself Kris Kringle. Doris Walker works at Macy's in New York City. She hires Kris Kringle to play Santa Claus for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Seeing that he is a natural in the role, she convinces him also to work as a store Santa. Kringle's unconventional philosophy of sending customers to rival stores if Macy's does not carry the item they're looking for boosts Macy's sales. Nevertheless, his belief that he really is Santa Claus raises difficulties. Kringle remains unaware of these difficulties for quite a while, as he works on inspiring Susan's belief in Santa Claus and aiding Doris's handsome neighbor in his campaign to win her heart. By the end of the movie, the girl has found faith in Santa, her mother has fallen in love with the neighbor, and Kris Kringle has returned home.

The Author of the Book

Valentine Davies grew up in New York City. He attended the University of Michigan and Yale Drama School and went on to write plays, novels, and, eventually, screenplays. He and director George Seaton became pals and, during a vacation that the two of them took with their wives in Nevada, he shared with Seaton his idea for Miracle on34th Street. Seaton set to work on creating a screenplay and finished his first draft about a year and a half later. Davies's short novel was published in the same year that the film was released. For his part in the film, Davies won an Academy Award for best original story. Davies and Seaton worked together on other projects, including the films Chicken Every Sunday (1949) and The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955).

The Director and Screenwriter

George Seaton began his theatrical career as a stage actor and producer. In 1933 he began to write screenplays. He did double duty on Miracle on 34th Street, both writing the script and directing the film. His ability to translate Davies's novel into the more visual medium of a movie script garnered him an Academy Award for best screenplay. Though it did not win, the movie also received an Academy Award nomination for best picture of the year.

The Actors

Little Natalie Wood, who played Susan Walker, made her motion picture debut in 1943 at the age of five. She had appeared in three other movies before Miracle on 34th Street. Her naturalness on camera adds much appeal to the film and made her a child star. She continued her career on into adulthood and picked up three Academy Award nominations along the way for her roles in Rebel Withouta Cause (1955), Splendor in the Grass (1961), and Love With a ProperStranger (1963). She is also remembered for her tragic death in a drowning accident off the California coast in 1981.

Miracle on 34th Street charms audiences by pairing 8-year-old Natalie Wood with 72-year-old Edmund Gwen, who played Kris Kringle. While Wood was a relative newcomer, both to life and to the world of film, the elderly Gwen had achieved the status of veteran in the world of the dramatic arts. Born in Wales in 1875, he appeared in his first movie in 1916, after a successful London stage career. Miracle on34th Street won him the acclaim of his peers. He received an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Kris Kringle.

The film's romantic angle often takes a back seat to its comedic bits and its touching treatment of a mother and child's journey towards the capacity to imagine, hope, and trust. Maureen O'Hara, who plays Doris Walker, and John Payne, who plays her boyfriend Fred Gailey, were well paired as a subdued romantic couple. Just as she did in Miracle on 34th Street, O'Hara often played independent, strongwilled women who go it alone in a world where men have the upper hand. John Payne played many romantic leads in the 1940s. In the 1950s his career turned towards action and western films. He also starred in the western-themed television show, The Restless Gun.

Facts about the Film

Seaton had originally planned to use the false names "Tracy's" and "Trimballs" for the two famous New York stores that appear in the film. After both stores gave permission to use their proper names, however, he changed them back to Macy's and Gimbel's. A good portion of the movie was shot on location in New York City. Seaton was even permitted to range freely about the 34th Street store during the Christmas season, in order to film Macy's real holiday rush. During the movie's opening scenes, viewers are treated to actual shots of Macy's famous Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Although Miracle on 34th Street appears incredibly sweet to today's audiences, the Roman Catholic Church voiced moral objections to the film at the time of its debut. Church officials disapproved of the movie because the leading lady plays a divorced woman.

When the film first came out, publicity experts played up the romantic aspects of the film rather than its connection to Christmas. In fact, instead of opening during the holiday season the film premiered in June of 1947.

Remakes

The enduring popularity of the 1947 film inspired Twentieth-Century Fox to authorize a remake in 1994. The new, color version of the film stars child actress Mara Wilson as Susan Walker, and Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle. This time around, however, Macy's refused to let the filmmakers use its name. After shooting a few parade shots in New York City - not Macy's real parade but rather a movie version of the yearly event - production moved to Chicago. In this version of the story, Susan's mother works for a fictional department store called Cole's, which faces stiff competition from its arch-rival, Shopper's Express.

The story was also adapted as a made-for-television movie in 1973. Barely remembered television versions of the story aired in 1955, 1956, and 1959, the first two airing under the title Meet Mr. Kringle.

Further Reading

Danielson, Sarah Parker. Miracle on 34th Street: A Hollywood Classic. New York: Smithmark, 1993. Davies, Valentine. Miracle on 34th Street. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1947. Galbraith, Jane. "Now the Miracle Is Off 34th Street, Macy's Says 'No Thanks' to a Remake of the Classic, so the Film Moves to Chicago." Newsday (April 18, 1994): B13. Werts, Diane. "A 'Miracle' in the Making/Behind the Scenes of a Christmas Classic." Newsday (November 21, 2001): B27.

Miracle on 34th Street

film featuring benevolent old gentleman named Kris Kringle. [Am. Cinema: Halliwell, 493]

Miracle on 34th Street

Santa Claus comes to New York. [Am. Cinema: Halliwell, 493]
See: Miracle