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 REALLY 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 '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 A LINE BY JONATHAN SWIFT.

One of the most 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 SUSAN SPOTS HER DREAM HOUSE, IT WAS SO COLD OUTSIDE THE CAMERAS 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 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.”

Disney's Most Magical Destinations Have Been Reimagined as Vintage Travel Posters

UpgradedPoints.com
UpgradedPoints.com

Many of the iconic settings of animated Disney movies were modeled after real places around the world. Ussé Castle in France’s Loire Valley, for example, is widely rumored to have been the inspiration behind the original Sleeping Beauty story. (Although the castle in the movie more closely resembles Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.) Likewise, the fictional island in Moana was made to look like Samoa, and the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin shares some similarities with India's Taj Mahal.

If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring Agrabah or Neverland, then you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in these Disney-inspired travel posters from the designers at UpgradedPoints.com, an online resource that helps individuals maximize their credit card travel rewards. Only one of the posters features a real destination ("Beautiful France"), but these illustrations let you get one step closer to scaling Pride Rock or plumbing the depths of Atlantica.

All of the images are rendered in a vintage style with enticing slogans attached—much like the exotic travel posters that were prevalent in the 1930s.

“A few of our designers wanted to capture that longing to experience the true locations of these fantastic films, and the inner child in all of us couldn’t resist seeing how they interpreted the locations of their favorite films,” UpgradedPoints.com writes. “The results are breathtaking and make us wish we could fall into our favorite Disney movies.”

Keep scrolling to see the posters, and for more travel inspiration, read up on eight real-life locations that inspired Disney places (plus one that didn't).

A Disney-inspired poster of France
UpgradedPoints.com

An Atlantica travel poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Lion King travel poster
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A Neverland travel poster
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11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

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