It Happened One Christmas

It Happened One Christmas is a 1977 American made-for-television Christmas fantasy-comedy film starring Marlo Thomas, Wayne Rogers, Orson Welles and Cloris Leachman. It originally premiered as The ABC Sunday Night Movie on December 11, 1977.

It Happened One Christmas
Based onIt's a Wonderful Life
Written byLionel Chetwynd
Directed byDonald Wrye
StarringMarlo Thomas
Wayne Rogers
Orson Welles
Cloris Leachman
Barney Martin
Music byStephen Lawrence
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Marlo Thomas
Carole Hart
CinematographyConrad Hall
Editor(s)Robbe Roberts
Bill Martin
Running time110 minutes
Production company(s)Daisy Productions
Universal Television
Original networkABC
Original releaseDecember 11, 1977 (1977-12-11)


The film, a gender-reversed version of the film It's a Wonderful Life, centers on Mary Bailey Hatch, a young woman who dreams of seeing the world but is forced by circumstances to remain in her small hometown as head of the family's Building & Loan business. On a Christmas Eve, in a moment of financial crisis, a severely depressed Mary contemplates suicide, but is rescued by her guardian angel, Clara Oddbody (Cloris Leachman). Clara shows Mary the positive effect that she has had on everyone she has met throughout her life.



Lionel Chetwynd's teleplay, directed by Donald Wrye, varies little from the original screenplay, even using most of the original dialogue. Thomas served as executive producer for the project.

Revisions in the script include fleshing out and exploring some of the characters who are citizens of Bedford Falls to a greater extent than in the original. When George, Harry (Mary's brother), and the Hatchs' friends, Bert and Ernie, go off to fight in the World War II, each sends letters to Mary describing their experiences. All four characters are shown in uniform, interspersed with actual war footage. Another brief scene depicts George attempting to readjust to civilian life after the war has ended. The characters of Ma Bailey (played by Doris Roberts), Violet Bick (played by Karen Carlson), and Sam Wainwright (played by an uncredited Jim Lovelett) are practically reduced to bit parts, in contrast to the more full-bodied performances interpreted by Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame, and Frank Albertson, respectively, in the 1946 film.

The musical score is by Stephen Lawrence and the cinematography by Conrad Hall.

Promotion and releaseEdit

The film premiered on Sunday, December 11, 1977, and was a rare instance when The ABC Sunday Night Movie showcased a made-for-television film rather than one that had been shown in theatres. It was the fourth-most watched prime time television program for the week, with a Nielsen rating of 27.5, or 20 million homes.[1]


It Happened One Christmas was first broadcast at a time when It's a Wonderful Life was rarely aired on television and, as a result, many viewers were unfamiliar with its source. However, once the original 1946 film returned to the airwaves on an annual basis, the remake slipped into obscurity.


The reviews were mixed. After its initial airing a New York Times follow-up article revealed that Frank Capra, the director of the 1946 film It's A Wonderful Life, had denounced the remake as "plagiaristic." The ratings, however, were good enough that it was rebroadcast on ABC twice, in 1978 and 1979. But by that time the original It's A Wonderful Life had begun its resurgence on television and eventually eclipsed the remake.


It Happened One Christmas is rarely shown today, and has not, as of 2017, been issued on DVD. It can be viewed at the Paley Center for Media (formerly The Museum of Television & Radio) in New York City and Beverly Hills, California.

"It Happened One Christmas" is now available on VuDu and Amazon Prime for viewing.

Award nominationsEdit

Emmy Award nominations (1978):[2]


  1. ^ (14 December 1977). NBC Drops to Third in TV Ratings, Indiana Gazette (Associated Press content)
  2. ^ "It Happened One Christmas" (1977), Turner Classic Movies

External linksEdit