10 Heartwarming Facts About Miracle on 34th Street

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

For more than 70 years, George Seaton’s Miracle on 34th Street has been a go-to holiday classic. Starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood, the film follows a wise-beyond-her-years little girl, her nonbeliever mom, and their lawyer neighbor as they defend the existence of Santa Claus in a New York City courtroom. Suffice it to say, it’s the kind of spirited, burst-your-heart movie that makes you want to spread the Christmas cheer. Now, get to know more about the timeless classic with these 10 things you might not have known about Miracle on 34th Street.

1. THE MOVIE WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED THE BIG HEART.

According to Turner Classic Movies, it was director George Seaton who lobbied for the name The Big Heart. “I am crazy about the title The Big Heart. If we can clear it, it is a natural,” wrote Seaton in a memo to producer William Perlberg. “It is the kind of title like Sentimental Journey [1946] that made such a hit previously with [John Payne and Maureen O’Hara].” It didn’t stick with American audiences, but it was first released under that title in the U.K.

2. VALENTINE DAVIES WAS INSPIRED TO WRITE THE STORY WHILE STANDING IN A LONG LINE AT A DEPARTMENT STORE.

According to TCM, Davies got the idea for the film during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. The long lines and chaos left him to wonder what Santa would’ve thought about such commercialization. After writing the story, he gave the idea to Seaton to turn into a script. In 1947, when the film was released in theaters, Davies also released his novella version of the story.

3. THE STUDIO DIDN’T GET THE CONSENT OF MACY’S AND GIMBELS UNTIL AFTER FILMING HAD CONCLUDED.

Despite the fact that both Macy’s and Gimbels figure prominently in the story, the studio took a gamble by not getting the companies to sign off before using their names. According to TCM, the studio made the companies aware they were going into production, but refused to share footage until filming was completed. Luckily, both department stores were satisfied with the final product.

4. EDMUND GWENN ACTUALLY PLAYED SANTA IN THE 1946 MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE.

The parade scene was entirely real, and Maureen O’Hara’s autobiography proves it. “Those sequences, like the one with Edmund riding in the sleigh and waving to the cheering crowd, were real-life moments in the 1946 Macy’s parade,” she wrote. “It was a mad scramble to get all the shots we needed, and we got to do each scene only once. It was bitterly cold that day, and Edmund and I envied Natalie and John Payne, who were watching the parade from a window.”

5. THE FILM WAS RELEASED IN THE SUMMER.

Despite being a Christmas movie, Fox’s studio head pushed for the film to be released in the summer. “[Darryl] Zanuck wasn’t sure it would be a success, so he had it released in June, when movie attendance is highest, rather than wait for Christmas,” wrote O’Hara in her autobiography ‘Tis Herself. “In fact, the publicity campaign barely talked about Christmas at all.” Clearly, the strategy worked.

6. NATALIE WOOD STILL BELIEVED IN SANTA.


20th Century Fox

Natalie Wood was eight years old while filming Miracle on 34th Street. “I still vaguely believed in Santa Claus,” said Wood, as recorded in her biography written by Suzanne Finstad. “I guess I had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t so, but I really did think that Edmund Gwenn was Santa. I had never seen him without his beard because he used to come in early in the morning and spend several hours putting on this wonderful beard and mustache. And at the end of the shoot, when we had a set party, I saw this strange man, without the beard, and I just couldn’t get it together.”

7. THE SAYING KRIS KRINGLE LISTS UNDER DATE OF BIRTH ON HIS MACY’S JOB APPLICATION IS ACTUALLY A LINE BY JONATHAN SWIFT.

One of the memorable moments in the film is when Kris Kringle fills out his employment card. In addition to listing the North Pole as his birthplace and all of his reindeer as his next of kin, Kringle gets clever with his DOB. He writes: “I’m as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” The saying famously comes from Irish satirist Jonathan Swift.

8. IN THE SCENE WHERE NATALIE WOOD’S SUSAN WALKER SPOTS HER DREAM HOUSE, IT WAS SO COLD OUTSIDE THE CAMERAS ACTUALLY FROZE.

It seems the whole production was nothing short of a Miracle. While filming the final scene, when Susan spots her dream house, the weather was so cold that production had to stop to let the cameras thaw. In the meantime, as recalled by TCM, a nearby neighbor invited the cast inside for warmth. O’Hara took the woman and her husband to an exclusive New York restaurant that night as a thank you.

9. JOHN PAYNE WROTE A SEQUEL TO THE FILM THAT WAS NEVER PRODUCED. 


20th Century Fox

According to O’Hara, her co-star loved the film so much he wanted to make a follow-up. “John really believed in ... Miracle on 34th Street, and always wanted to do a sequel,” she wrote in ‘Tis Herself. “We talked about it for years, and he eventually even wrote a screenplay sequel. He was going to send it to me, but tragically died before he could get around to it. I never saw it and have often wondered what happened to it.”

10. GWENN, O’HARA, AND PAYNE WOULD HANG OUT TOGETHER ON NIGHTS THEY WEREN’T FILMING.

It seems the Christmas spirit was alive during production just as much as it is in the final film. In her autobiography, O’Hara recalled the magical evenings she spent with her co-stars. “Each evening, when we were not working, Edmund Gwenn, John, and I went for a walk up Fifth Avenue. Natalie had to go to bed, but we didn’t. We stopped and window-shopped at all the stores, which were beautifully decorated for the holidays,” wrote O’Hara. “Edmund especially loved those nights and acted more like the kid who might be getting the presents instead of the Santa who would be giving them. I got such a big kick out of seeing the expressions of window dressers when they saw Edmund peering in at them—I knew then that he was going to make a big splash as Santa Claus ... Everyone felt the magic on the set and we all knew we were creating something special.”

Netflix Is Testing Commercials, and Subscribers Aren't Happy

iStock
iStock

Save the occasional "Are you still watching?" message popping up between episodes, it's possible to watch an entire Netflix series in one sitting with little to no distractions. Now, the streaming service is testing something that could upend that: As CNN reports, Netflix has quietly started sprinkling advertisements into its programming, something the subscription-based service has been able to avoid up to this point.

The promotional content Netflix is experimenting with differs from conventional cable commercials in some fundamental ways. The promos won't be advertising third-party brands, Netflix promises: Rather, they'll exclusively show off Netflix original content, like seriesGlow and Stranger Things (though one Reddit user did report seeing an ad for Better Call Saul, which Netflix licenses from AMC). And instead of inserting ads throughout the program, as some non-subscription streaming services do, Netflix will only include them at the end of some episodes with a "skip" button similar to the one that allows viewers to bypass a show's opening credits. And each promo subscribers see will be personalized based on their viewing habits, hopefully turning them on to new shows and not just annoying them in the middle of their binge-watching sessions.

Despite these assurances from Netflix, viewers aren't happy. Many customers have taken to social media threatening to cancel their service if the promos become the norm, which likely may not happen: They've only been shown to a select number of test viewers so far, and based on user response, Netflix may decide to pull the plug on the experiment.

The good news is that as long as the ads are still in the test phase, you can choose to opt out of them. Just go to Netflix.com/DoNotTest and toggle off the switch next to the words "Include me in tests and previews." Now you're ready to resume your binge-watching marathon without interruption.

[h/t CNN]

10 Things You Might Not Know About Columbo

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

For more than 40 years, Peter Falk entered living rooms around the world as Lieutenant Columbo, an unconventional L.A. homicide detective known for his ruffled raincoat and trademark cigar. The actor would go on to win four Emmys for the role, while the series itself remains a benchmark for television crime dramas. But if series creators William Link and Richard Levinson went with their initial choice, the iconic role of Columbo would have gone to a syrupy-smooth crooner rather than the inelegant Falk. Get familiar with one of TV's most unique heroes with facts about Columbo.

1. BING CROSBY WAS ORIGINALLY EYED FOR THE ROLE.

Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link's first choice to play their low-key detective was crooner Bing Crosby. Der Bingle loved the script and the character, but he feared that a TV series commitment would interfere with his true passion—golf. It was probably providential that Crosby turned the role down, since his death in 1977 occurred while the series was still a solid hit on NBC. 

2. PETER FALK WAS AN UNEXPECTED SEX SYMBOL.

Peter Falk in 'Columbo'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Character actor Lee J. Cobb was also considered for the role, until Peter Falk phoned co-creator William Link. Falk had gotten a copy of the script from his agents at William Morris and told Link that he’d “kill to play that cop.” Link and Levinson knew the actor back from their days of working in New York, and even though he was the opposite of everything they’d originally pictured for Lt. Columbo, they had to admit that Falk had a certain likeability that translated to both men and women. Falk was described by a certain female demographic as “sexy,” and males liked him because he was an unthreatening, humble, blue-collar underdog who was smarter than the wealthy perps he encountered.

3. FALK WAS A GOVERNMENT WORKER BEFORE BECOMING AN ACTOR.

Peter Falk wasn’t too far removed from the character he played. In real life he tended to be rumpled and disheveled and was forever misplacing things (he was famous for losing his car keys and having to be driven home from the studio by someone else). He was also intelligent, having earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University, which led to him working for the State of Connecticut’s Budget Bureau as an efficiency expert until the acting bug bit him. He was also used to being underestimated due to his appearance; he’d lost his right eye to cancer at age three, and many of his drama teachers in college warned him of his limited chances in film due to his cockeyed stare. Indeed, after a screen test at Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn dismissed him by saying, “For the same price I can get an actor with two eyes.”

4. COLUMBO'S DOG WASN'T A WELCOME SIGHT AT FIRST.

Columbo's dog
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

When Columbo was renewed for a second season, NBC brass had a request: they wanted the lieutenant to have a sidekick. Perhaps a young rookie detective just learning the ropes. Link and Levinson were resistant to the idea, but the network was pressuring them. They conferred with Steven Bochco, who was writing the script for the season opener, “Etude in Black,” and together they hatched the idea of giving Lt. Columbo a dog as a “partner.” Falk was against the idea at first; he felt that between the raincoat, cigar, and Peugeot his character had enough gimmicks. But when he met the lethargic, drooling Basset Hound that had been plucked from a pound, Falk knew it was perfect for Columbo's dog.

The original dog passed away in between the end of the original NBC run of the series and its renewal on ABC, so a replacement was necessary. The new pup was visibly younger than the original dog, and as a result spent more time in the makeup chair to make him look older.

5. FALK'S REAL-LIFE WIFE PLAYED A ROLE IN THE SERIES.

Falk first met Shera Danese, the woman who would become his second wife, on the set of his 1976 film Mikey & Nicky. The movie was being filmed in Danese’s hometown of Philadelphia, and the aspiring actress had landed work as an extra. They were married in 1977, and she was able to pad out her resume by appearing on several episodes of Columbo. Her first few appearances were limited to small walk-on parts—secretaries, sexy assistants, etc. By the time the series was resurrected on ABC in the early 1990s, she was awarded larger roles.

She originally auditioned for the role of the titular rock star in 1991’s “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” but her husband adamantly refused, since the role included a scene of her in bed making love to a much younger man. She instead played the role of a co-conspiring attorney, and was also allowed to sing the song that was the major hit for the murdered star.

6. THE CHARACTER'S TRADEMARK RAINCOAT CAME FROM FALK'S CLOSET.

The initial wardrobe proposed for Columbo struck Peter Falk as completely wrong for the character. To get closer to what he wanted for Columbo, the actor went into his closet and found a beat-up coat he had bought years earlier when caught in a rainstorm on 57th Street. And he ordered one of the blue suits chosen for him to be dyed brown. The drab outfit would become one of the trademarks of the character for decades.

7. STEVEN SPIELBERG GOT AN EARLY BREAK ON COLUMBO.

“Murder by the Book” was the second Columbo episode filmed, but it was the first one to air after the show was picked up as a series. Filming was delayed for a month, though, when Falk refused to sign off on this “kid”—a 25-year-old named Steven Spielberg—to direct the episode. Finally he watched a few of Spielberg’s previous credits (all of them TV episodes) and was impressed by his work on the short-lived NBC series called The Psychiatrist. Once filming was underway, Falk was impressed by many of the techniques employed by the young director, such as filming a street scene with a long lens from a building across the road. “That wasn’t common 20 years ago,” Falk said. He went on to tell producers Link and Levinson that “this guy is too good for Columbo."

8. COLUMBO'S FIRST NAME WOUND UP THE SUBJECT OF A LAWSUIT.

Fred L. Worth, author of several books of trivia facts, had a sneaking feeling that other folks were using his meticulously researched facts without crediting him. He set a “copyright trap” and mentioned in one of his books that Lt. Columbo’s first name was “Philip,” although he had completely fabricated that so-called fact. Sure enough, a 1984 edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game listed the “Philip” Columbo name as an answer on one of their cards, which led to a $300 million lawsuit filed by Mr. Worth.

The board game creators admitted in court that they’d garnered their Columbo fact from Worth’s book, but the judge ultimately determined that it was not an actionable offense. By the way, years later when Columbo was available in syndicated reruns and HD TV was an option, alert viewers were able to freeze-frame a scene where the rumpled lieutenant extended his badge for identification purposes in the season one episode “Dead Weight” and determine that his first name was, in fact, “Frank.”

9. THE SERIES DIDN'T FOLLOW A STANDARD MYSTERY FORMAT.

The premise of Columbo was the “inverted mystery,” or a “HowCatchEm” instead of a “WhoDunIt.” Every episode began with the actual crime being played out in full view of the audience, meaning viewers already knew “WhodunIt.” What they wanted to know is how Lt. Columbo would slowly zero in on the perpetrator. This sort of story was particularly challenging for the series’s writers, and they sometimes found inspiration in the most unlikely places. Like the Yellow Pages, for example. One of Peter Falk’s personal favorite episodes, “Now You See Him,” had its genesis when the writers were flipping through the telephone book looking for a possible profession for a Columbo murderer (keep in mind that all of Columbo’s victims and perps were of the Beverly Hills elite variety, not your typical Starsky and Hutch-type thug).

A page listing professional magicians caught their eye, and that led to a classic episode featuring the ever-suave Jack Cassidy playing the role of the former SS Nazi officer who worked as a nightclub magician. When the Jewish nightclub owner recognized him and threatened to expose him, well, you can guess what happened. But the challenge is to guess how Lt. Columbo ultimately caught him. 

10. THERE WAS A SPINOFF THAT KIND OF WAS BUT THEN WASN'T.

The 1979 TV series entitled Mrs. Columbo was not technically related to the original Peter Falk series. In fact, Levinson and Link opposed the entire concept of the series; it was NBC honcho Fred Silverman who gave the OK to use the Columbo name and imply that Kate Mulgrew was the widowed/divorced wife (the series changed names and backstories several times during its short run) of the famed homicide detective. The “real” Mrs. Columbo was never mentioned by her first name during the original series, but actor Peter Falk possibly slipped and revealed that her name was “Rose” when he appeared at this Dean Martin Roast saluting Frank Sinatra and asked for an autograph.

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