Each year since I was about eight years old I have watched the Frank Capra classic Its a Wonderful Life (1946). Now that I own it on DVD I watch it year round, for the only real element that makes the film a Christmas movie is that it takes place on Christmas. Its message of small town America, the triumph of the little man against the heartless and powerful, and its message that each individual makes up the greater good and when one individual is absent from that, it leaves a void that alters events dramatically, have appeal all year round and make it my favorite movie.
Anyway I was surprised to learn that Bobbie Anderson, who played the younger version of George Bailey (the main character who was played by Jimmy Stewart in the later years of Bailey’s life) died Friday of Melanoma at the age of 75. Its strange to after all those years learn who someone who played such a small part in one of your favorite movies, and was so unknown that you never even knew the actor’s name had suddenly died. His face was an annual part of my holiday cheer and festivities. I knew his young face in black and white, yet his real name was unknown to me and probably many.
The details of his life are still largely unknown to me, for he wasn’t a legendary Hollywood performer whose name was spelled out in lights on the movie house marquee, so I am not able to collect many details of his life and can really only write what is in the obituary, though I will write some of my own thoughts below (he doesn’t even have a wiki).
Robert J Anderson, a former child star best known for playing the young George Bailey in the 1946 Christmas film “Its a Wonderful Life” has died. He was 75.
Known as Bobbie when he was young and Bob as an adult, Anderson died Friday of Melanoma at his Palm Springs home, said Stephen Cox, a family friend and author of “Its a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book”.
Anderson was 12 when director Frank Capra cast him as Jimmy Stewart’s youthful counterpart in the heart warming tale set in Bedford Falls. As the adult George Bailey contemplates suicide, his life is told in flashback so his guardian angel Clarence can get to know him. Young George rescues his brother from drowning, dreams about being an explorer, and saves the town pharmacist, Mr Gower, from accidentally poisoning a customer.
Lengthy versions of his death notice, state that his father worked in production for Columbia pictures and his relatives had other ties in the motion picture business. He began acting at age 7 in movies when he appeared in his first film Maryland (1940). Later that year he advanced quickly to appear alongside the most well-known and successful Hollywood child starlet Shirley Temple in Young People (1940).
Many of his 20 or so films across the landscape of his acting career, he was uncredited for. In 1946 he got the role of Young George Bailey that would come to define him in the world of movies.
He often played minor parts in movies that included: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), The Bishop’s Wife (1948) alongside Hollywood legends Cary Grant and Loretta Young, and the Monty Clift Elizabeth Taylor picture A Place in the Sun (1951).
At one point in the early 1950s he left Hollywood, to serve as a photographer in the U.S Navy during the Korean War. When he returned, he re-entered show business, but increasingly took a more behind the scenes role in such low profile positions in the ensuing decades such as production manager on the sets of various television shows and movies.
MY TAKE: I looked and although many of those who played children in the film (including the ones who played the Bailey Children are still alive). Not surprisingly though only one who played an adult role in the movie is still alive according to imdb.com. That would be Virginia Patton who played George Bailey’s sister-in-law Ruth Dakien Bailey. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, and the rest have apparently all passed on. May they and Bobbie Anderson rest in peace.
Did you know that in the early years of the cold war the FBI felt that “Its a Wonderful Life” was a movie that they felt demonized capitalism and had communist sympathies? Here is the original FBI memo.
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