22 October 2007 | bkoganbing
"You'd Better Watch Out, You'd Better Not Cry.................."
...............Santa Claus has come to town. Or at least that's what a gentlemen appropriately named Kristopher Kringle played by Edmund Gwenn complete with full white beard is claiming. He makes his appearance at the Thanksgiving Day Parade as sponsored by R.H. Macy's Department Store and finds the Santa hired for the occasion, Percy Helton, full of a little too much Christmas cheer already. In charge of the parade is one of Macy's middle level executives, Maureen O'Hara, who fires Helton and hires Gwenn right then and there.
Gwenn's obvious sincerity makes him an ideal Santa Claus for Macy's and for us. He spreads the real meaning of Christmas around even has Macy's declaring a holiday truce with its rival Gimbel's. That's a part of Miracle on 34th Street that might be lost to viewers today. Gimbel's was Macy's big department store rival and it's flagship store in New York stood across 34th Street at the time. Gives a meaning to the title that is lost on today's audience.
But wiser and more sophisticated folks like the majority of us know there ain't no such thing as Santa Claus. Even Maureen O'Hara knows that and imparts it to her daughter Natalie Wood. Gwenn's just a kind old man in a white beard. But when his sanity is questioned, Gwenn's belief becomes a matter for the courts where Gwenn is ably defended by O'Hara's boyfriend, lawyer John Payne.
Like that other holiday classic It's A Wonderful Life, Christmas is never complete without seeing Miracle on 34th Street. Though New York has changed considerably since 1947 the year I made my earthly debut, the film has lost absolutely none of its charm.
Edmund Gwenn won the Best Supporting Actor of 1947 and in doing so, beat out his best friend, Finlay Currie, who was up that year for playing Magwitch in Great Expectations. The two had met in stock companies in their native Scotland and were friends right up to when Gwenn passed away in 1959. The Oscar was the high point of his career.
Maureen O'Hara in her memoirs says that Miracle on 34th Street holds a special place in her affections. In fact until Gwenn died, she had hopes of doing some kind of sequel. She bonded on stage with young Natalie Wood who later played her daughter in Father Was A Fullback also and kept in contact with her right up to her death in 1981.
Maureen also had a deep affection for John Payne who she made four films with and says was one of the nicest men in the world. One story she related was on the set of another film they made, Payne was served with divorce papers right on the set from his then wife, Anne Shirley. She said he broke down and cried like a baby. If it weren't for the fact she was married, she said she definitely could have gotten something going with Payne.
In the supporting cast note the presence of one grinch in the person of Porter Hall who played one of his patented nasty little meanies. His meddling and general misanthropy cause Gwenn to have that trial in the first place. Look for a bit role from Jack Albertson as the postal employee who inadvertently saves the day. Also making her film debut is Thelma Ritter as the mother of a child looking to meet Santa Claus, the one official Santa Claus, courtesy of Macy's Department Store.
Although Miracle on 34th Street has been remade several times over the years, this one is the genuine article. As genuine as the fact that Macy's has the official Santa Claus as certified by a higher authority.
One thing has always puzzled me though. How long did it take Edmund Gwenn to grow that beard for the part?