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141. MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, 1947

A heartwarming, feel good family holiday classic

Edmund Gwenn stars as Santa Claus riding in the 46th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in a sled in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

There’s nothing like a great holiday movie to usher in the joy of the season, and I can't think of a better film to do just that than “Miracle on 34th Street”, for this touching family film has all the humor, magic, and warmth needed to spark that joyous holiday cheer. A highly entertaining treat which earned three Academy Awards (and a fourth nomination for Best Picture), its timeless enchantment has turned it into a perennial Christmas favorite. New York Magazine's Vulture List called it the 2nd Best Christmas movie of All-Time, and the American Film Institute (AFI) named it the 5th Greatest Fantasy Film and the 9th Most Inspiring Movie of All-Time. If you’re looking to be swept up by the spirit and goodness that only the holidays can offer, look no further than “Miracle on 34th Street”.


Edmund Gwenn and Robert Gist arrange reindeer in a story window display in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

A man with a cane is walking around New York City and comes upon tiny reindeer being arranged in a Christmas store window display. He tells the man in the window, "You're making a rather serious mistake – with the reindeer I mean. You've got 'Cupid' where 'Blitzen' should be. And 'Dasher', oh, 'Dasher' should be on my right hand side... And another thing, 'Donner's' antlers have got four points instead of three, still I don't suppose anybody would notice that except myself”. The window dresser closes the door brushing him off as crazy. Unfazed, the jolly old man with the cane, who happens to have a white beard and look a lot like “Santa Claus”, hears the song "Jingle Bells" playing in the distance, which leads him to the nearby Macy’s Annual Thanksgiving Parade.


Maureen O'Hara, Percy Helton, Edmund Gwenn in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

At the parade, the man with the can finds the parade's “Santa Claus” fully intoxicated and complains to the woman in charge. Noticing how much the man with the cane looks like “Santa Claus”, she asks if he’ll take the drunk man’s place, to which he responds, “Madam, I am not in the habit of substituting for spurious ‘Santa Clauses’”. But when thinking about how many children will be disappointed if they don’t see “Santa” in the parade, he accepts the job. He’s so good at being “Santa”, the woman also hires him to be “Santa Claus” inside Macy’s department store, on whose lap children sit and tell him what they want for Christmas. The man’s name turns out to be “Kris Kringle”, and his geniality and generous nature make him a hit with both children and parents. It’s no wonder, for he claims he is the real “Santa Claus”. That's the opening set up for the delightful "Miracle on 34th Street".


Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, and Maureen O'Hara star in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

The woman who hires “Kris” is "Doris Walker”, a single mother with a very young daughter named “Susan”, neither of whom believe in “Santa Claus”. “Kris” tells “Doris”, “For the past 50 years or so I’ve been getting more and more worried about Christmas. Seems we’re all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less, that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle… Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind. And that’s what’s been changing. That's why I'm glad I'm here, maybe I can do something about it". He feels if he can convince “Doris” and “Susan” he really is “Santa Claus”, there’s hope for him and for Christmas.


Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood, and John Payne watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Also important to the story is "Doris'" neighbor, a lawyer named "Fred Gailey", who’s cultivated a friendship with “Susan" and falls in love with “Doris". The core of the film is about determining if “Kris” really is “Santa Claus” or just a delusional old man, which leads to all kinds of trouble (including a court case and trial), and the film is a rumination about generosity, commercialism versus the true spirit of giving, and believing in things when common sense tells you not to.


Edmund Gwenn, Dutch girl Marlene Lyden, and Mary Field in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

The seeds for this magical film were born on Christmas Eve 1944, when writer Valentine Davies was in a crowded department store buying a gift for his wife. Overwhelmed by the commercialism, he wondered what "Santa Claus" would think, and though that would make a great premise for a story. He wrote the story and showed it to his friend, screenwriter and film director George Seaton. The two worked together for a year or so, and what emerged was a finished screenplay by Seaton. Both men ended up winning Academy Awards – Davies for Best Story and Seaton for Best Screenplay. Seaton also directed the film.


Macy's New York City Department store during the 1946 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Real life department stores Macy’s and Gimbels were vital parts of the story and permission was needed from them to use their names in the film. Confident that if it was a hit the film would show both stores in a good light and bring them massive free publicity, 20th Century-Fox agreed not to release the film until store executives saw it and gave it the go-ahead. Quite risky, for the two stores were major rivals and any changes would cost the studio beaucoup bucks in reshoots. Luckily, both stores loved and approved the film as it was. Macy's even closed early the day the film opened so their 12,000 employees could watch the first showing, and decades later in 1999, they featured miniature recreations of key moments from the film as the theme of their famous New York Christmas window display.


The 1946 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Seaton insisted on filming on location in New York City, particularly to capture the actual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (the world's largest parade), which takes place on Thanksgiving Day and ends at the Macy’s store at 34th Street and Herald Square. The film's shots of the parade are all of the actual 1946 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and to get them everything was preplanned to a T, including camera angles, actors' lines and movements. Fourteen cameras were set up along the parade route for key shots since there'd only be one chance to capture the passing parade. Additionally, many scenes were filmed inside the actual Macy’s store and its offices at Herald Square (the company's flagship store which remains the largest department store in the US).


John Payne, Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Fox saw “Miracle on 34th Street” as a low budget B movie with little profit expectation, so to help it make money, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck decided to release it in the spring, just in time for high season summer moviegoers. All references to the film being a holiday movie were hidden from all marketing materials and advertising (including the trailer and movie poster), focusing instead on “Doris” and “Fred” as if it were purely a light romantic comedy. The film opened in May and was such a smash hit, it ran all the way through Christmas.


Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

The solidly cheerful tone and wonderful script are enormous reasons why “Miracle on 34th Street” is so sensational, and both are thanks to Seaton. He manages to keep everything refreshingly light, from the drama to the acting to the romance. It’s as if the film was made with a smile. In Seaton’s hands, the film becomes perfect family fare.


Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Hollywood film director, screenwriter portrait photo of younger George Seaton
George Seaton

Indiana-born George Seaton (of Swedish descent) began as a theater and radio actor, most notably playing the title role of "The Lone Ranger" on the 1933 radio show (he invented the famous "Hi-Yo, Silver!" catchphrase – which he came up with because he couldn't whistle). In 1934, he became a screenwriter, writing, cowriting, or contributing to over forty screenplays including "A Day at the Races", "Stage Door", and "The Wizard of Oz", earned Best Screenplay Oscar nominations for 1944's "The Song of Bernadette" and 1971's "Airport", and won Best Screenplay Oscars for "The Country Girl" and "Miracle on 34th Street". He made his directorial debut with 1945's "Diamond Horseshoe", and directed two dozen films over nearly thirty years, including "Apartment for Peggy", "The Big Lift", "Teacher's Pet", "Airport", and "The Country Girl" (which earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination). He served as president of the Writers Guild of America, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (three times), and in 1961, was awarded the Academy's prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. In 1936, he married Phyllis Loughton (who later became the first woman to serve as mayor of Beverly Hills), and they remained married until his death. George Seaton died in 1979 at the age of 68.


Maureen O'Hara stars in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Hollywood Irish film actress movie star young portrait of Maureen O'Hara
Maureen O'Hara

Maureen O’Hara stars in “Miracle on 34th Street” as “Doris Walker”, the single mother who believes “we should be realistic and completely truthful with our children and not have them growing up believing in a lot of legends and myths like 'Santa Claus'”. O’Hara adds her special brand of strong willed, feisty energy to this high-powered business woman and single mother, while keeping things lightly comedic. She didn’t originally want to make this film, for O'Hara had just returned to her native Ireland for the first time since coming to the US in 1939 for her Hollywood debut in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Not allowed to return home during WWII, after her debut she continued working in Hollywood and soon found herself a star. As soon as the war ended, she eagerly rushed back to Ireland to see her family, and just after arriving, got the call from Fox (with whom she was signed) to return to the studio to film "Miracle on 34th Street". Following orders, she returned to California mad as hell, but upon reading the script realized "This is a wonderful, sentimental, warm, gorgeous story", and was thrilled to be in it.


Natalie Wood and Maureen O"Hara as mother and daughter in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"


portrait glamor photo of Hollywood Irish film actress movie star Maureen O Hara in tight weater
Maureen O'Hara

Though O’Hara appeared in many classics in her fifty plus year movie career, because of the film’s popularity, “Miracle on 34th Street” remains her most famous role. In her 2005 autobiography, “'Tis Herself”, she spoke highly of the film and her experience making it: "Everyone felt the magic on the set and we all knew we were creating something special. I am very proud to have been part of a film that has been continually shown and loved all over the world for nearly sixty years. ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ has endured all this time because of the special relationship of the cast and crew, the uplifting story, and its message of hope and love, which steals hearts all over the world every year. I don't think I will ever tire of children asking me, 'Are you the lady who knows ‘Santa Claus’?' I always answer, 'Yes, I am. What would you like me to tell him?’”. You can read more about the life and career of Maureen O’Hara in my post on her 1941 classic, “How Green Was My Valley”. Just click on the film title to open that post.


Maureen O'Hara and John Payne star in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
“Miracle on 34th Street”

Starring opposite O’Hara is John Payne who plays “Fred Gailey”, “Doris’” neighbor and a lawyer who ends up defending “Kris Kringle” in court. Payne has an immensely likable, easygoing charm which works especially well opposite “Doris” and her daughter “Susan”. Perhaps one reason for his smooth chemistry with O’Hara is that this was their third screen pairing (after 1942’s ”To the Shores of Tripoli” and 1946’s “Sentimental Journey”). They were great friends and made a fourth and final film together, 1950's "Tripoli". Though Payne was best known for musicals, Westerns, and film noir, the overwhelming popularity of this film has made it his most famous, and it was also his personal favorite of all his own films. According to O’Hara’s autobiography, Payne longed to do a sequel and even wrote a script for it, but died before he could make it happen.


John Payne stars a a lawyer in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Virginia-born John Payne came from a wealthy family, and at his mother's urging, took singing lessons to help overcome his shyness. He later studied drama and voice at Juilliard and began appearing in stage touring productions. His Broadway debut was in the 1935 musical "At Home Abroad", where he was seen and signed by Samuel Goldwyn Productions and given his first film role, a minor part in the 1936 classic "Dodsworth". Unhappy after appearing in just under a dozen films, he headed back to Broadway for 1938's "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" and returned to Hollywood signing with Fox, where he starred or was the second lead in different types of films, most notably musicals (often opposite Betty Grable and/or Alice Faye) such as "Tin Pan Alley", "Week-End in Havana”, and "Sun Valley Serenade”. After taking two years off to serve in the military during World War II, he returned and made several of the most popular films of his career, including the musical “The Dolly Sisters”, the 1946 drama “The Razor’s Edge”, and “Miracle on 34th Street” (his last film at Fox).


John Payne is a lawyer defending Santa Claus in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
“Miracle on 34th Street”

George Hurrell photo of Hollywood film actor movie star John Payne, shirtless bare chested as a boxer
John Payne

Wanting to change his screen image into more of a tough guy, Payne left Fox, went independent, and began starring in film noirs ("99 River Street", "Kansas City Confidential", "Slightly Scarlet"), adventure films ("Hell's Island", "The Blazing Forest", "Crosswinds"), and Westerns ("Silver Lode", "Tennessee's Partner", "Rebel in Town"), among many others. Payne negotiated that the rights to his films would revert to him after several years, which paid off big time financially when they were later shown on TV. He began working on television as early as 1953, most famously starring in the Western TV series "The Restless Gun" from 1957 until 1959, for which he also acted as executive producer, owned a stake in the series and wrote or co-wrote four episodes. His other TV work includes spots on "Gunsmoke", "Columbo", and his final appearance on a 1976 episode of "Hunter". In 1969, Payne was hit by a car when crossing a New York City street and suffered extensive injuries (he even required facial surgery), after which he only made a few TV appearances. He was married three times, including marriages to actresses Anne Shirley and Gloria DeHaven. John Payne died in 1989 at the age of 77.


John Payne and Edmund Gwenn at the court trial in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

It’s a beautiful thing when a role fits an actor like a glove, and such is the case with Edmund Gwenn who plays “Kris Kringle”, the man claiming to be "Santa Claus". With a twinkle in his eye and an endearingly happy-go-lucky spirit, Gwenn is superb at bringing merriment and conviction to the part, so much so, that one can’t help but hope he really is “Santa Claus”.


Phillip Tonge and Edmund Gwenn in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

While everyone else proficiently plays their parts with a tinge of comedy, Gwenn is quite serious in his jovial, kind and warm way. Watch how he handles scenes such as getting tips from his boss "Julian" on how to be a good "Santa Claus", or when “Doris” asks him, “Would you please tell [“Susan”] that you're not really 'Santa Claus’? That there actually is no such person?“. His emotions flow so quickly and naturally, it moves beyond acting into that sacred place when an actor inhabits a role. For his indelible portrayal, Gwenn won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award and a Golden Globe. And though he’s been in many classics, Gwenn will always be remembered as “Santa Claus”.


Edmund Gwenn atop the Macy's marquee in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Gwenn gained thirty pounds for the role and grew a beard (yes, his beard is real). To capture shots of him during the parade, unbeknownst to the public, Gwenn rode as “Santa Claus” on the float in the 1946 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and then climbed atop the Macy’s marquee. The public only found out it was Gwenn when the New York Times mentioned it the next day. O’Hara said Gwenn was so convincing while making the film, that halfway through production everyone believed he really was “Santa Claus”.


Edmund Gwenn stas as Kris Kringle in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

British Hollywood stage and film actor movie star portrait photo of younger Edmund Gwenn
Edmund Gwenn

London-born Edmund Gwenn began acting on stage in London, Australian, and back to London, mostly in small and supporting parts. After serving in WWI, he appeared in lead roles on London's West End along with occasional Broadway appearances in New York. His film debut came starring as “Macbeth” in the 1916 British satirical silent film, "The Real Thing at Last”, and after two more silent films, Gwenn commenced a steady film career starting with the 1931 sound short, "How He Lied to Her Husband", followed by Alfred Hitchcock's 1931 British feature film "The Skin Game", alongside his stage appearances. He made his first Hollywood film appearance as Katharine Hepburn's father in 1935's "Sylvia Scarlett", which launched him as a popular character actor.


Natalie Wood pulls Edmond Gwenn's beard in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

portrait photo of British Hollywood film and stage actor movie star Edmund Gwenn
Edmund Gwenn

In 1940, Gwenn moved to Los Angeles to start a very successful Hollywood career that led to him being one of just a handful of character actors to achieve audience name recognition and stardom. He appeared in over eighty films and eight TV shows, others of which include "Pride and Prejudice", "Them!", "Life with Father", "Lassie Come Home", "The Keys of the Kingdom", "Green Dolphin Street", and two more by Hitchcock, "Foreign Correspondent" and "The Trouble with Harry". In addition to his Oscar win for "Miracle on 34th Street" (which turned him into a star), he earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 1950's "Mister 880". His final appearance was on a 1957 episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". He was married once, to actress Marguerite Terry for just over a decade, and later shared a home with his secretary Ernest Bach, and then with former Olympic athlete Rodney Soher. His brother was actor Arthur Chesney and his cousin was actor Cecil Kellaway. Edmund Gwenn died in 1959 at the age of 81.


Gene Lockhart stars as a supreme court judge in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Hollywood film character actor movie star portrait of Gene Lockhart
Gene Lockhart

Gene Lockhart plays New York State Supreme Court's "Honorable Judge Henry X. Harper", who tries "Kris Kringle" in court. As the befuddled judge caught between a rock and hard place trying to run an honest court yet overly concerned about being reelected, Lockhart adds humor such as when biting his tongue while hearing "Kris'" answers during the trial, or reacting to "Fred's" defense. Lockhart has a strong screen presence and authority which makes us believe he is a high-powered judge, even if he lacks a backbone. He is sure to be a familiar face to classic movie watchers, as well as to readers of this blog, for Lockhart has appeared in many classics, including two already on this site, “His Girl Friday" and "Leave Her to Heaven”, and you can read more about this prolific actor in my posts on both.


Eight year old Natalie Wood stars in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Child movie star Hollywood actress portrait photo of young girl Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood

Another of the most enjoyable performances in “Miracle on 34th Street” is that of eight year old Natalie Wood who plays “Susan Walker”, “Doris’” daughter. She’s adorable, whether showing her skepticism taking about giants with “Fred” while watching the parade, or cynically smirking when “Kris Kringle” tells her he’s actually “Santa Claus”. For such a young actress, Wood’s comic timing is impeccable. Just watch her in the beard pulling scene, or imitating a monkey – she’s spot on. And when “Kris” blows a bubble with a piece of her bubble gum, Seaton doesn’t show us “Kris” or the bubble, but keeps the shot on “Susan’s” face and reactions. It’s yet another scene Wood pulls off like a pro. During production, everyone was taken by Wood’s professionalism and how she'd get things right in one take. Wood hit it off with her costars, getting a crush on Payne and calling O’Hara “Mama Maureen”. O’Hara said of Wood in her autobiography, "I have been mother to almost forty children in movies, but I always had a special place in my heart for little Natalie”. Wood believed Gwenn really was “Santa Claus”, and was taken aback at the wrap party when he showed up clean shaven without a beard.


Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara as mother and daughter in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Hollywood movie star film actress portait photo of Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood had been appearing in films since 1943, and made a big splash in her third film, 1946's "Tomorrow is Forever", which according to Gavin Lambert's book "Natalie Wood: A Life", briefly earned her the moniker "Little Star Big Future". Two films later, Wood was playing Gene Tierney’s daughter in “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”, which she filmed simultaneously with “Miracle on 34th Street” (filming “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” in the mornings, then lunch, followed by three hours of school before coming to the set of “Miracle on 34th Street” in the afternoons). Wood appeared in just over 20 films and TV shows as a child star, with “Miracle on 34th Street” being her most famous from that period. As an adult, Wood went on to become a major movie star and three time Academy Award nominated actress, and you can read more about the life and career of Natalie Wood in three of my previous posts, "Rebel Without a Cause", "West Side Story", and "The Searchers”. Just click on the titles to open the posts.


William Frawley and Gene Lockhart in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

A face and voice that will definitely be familiar to TV watchers is that of William Frawley who plays “Charlie Halloran”, the shady and gruff political advisor trying to help get “Judge Harper” reelected. Just four years after this film, Frawley would land the role that would make him immortal – that of “Fred Mertz” in the classic 1950’s groundbreaking TV show “I Love Lucy”.


William Frawley as a gruff politician in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Hollywood TV and movie actor star portrait photo of William Frawley
William Frawley

Iowa-born William Frawley started his career singing and appearing in local theater productions before heading to vaudeville. He began a steady Broadway career mostly in musical comedies with 1925's "Merry, Merry", and ending with 1933's "The Ghost Writer", before pursing film work. He'd appeared in a handful of short films since 1914, and after the 1933 feature "Moonlight and Pretzels", he moved to Hollywood and commenced what would become a prolific career as a character actor in approximately 100 films and 20 TV shows through the mid 1960s. Some of his other films include "Ziegfeld Follies", "Going My Way", "The Bride Came C.O.D.", "Alibi Ike", "Monsieur Verdoux", and "Gentleman Jim". In addition to his seven years on "I Love Lucy” (which earned him five Emmy Award nominations), Frawley also played "'Bub' O'Casey" on the first five seasons of the hit TV series "My Three Sons". Frawley’s final role was on a 1965 episode of "The Lucy Show". He was married and divorced once. William Frawley died in 1966 at the age of 79.


Jack Albertson works at the post office in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Hollywood movie star film actor portrait photo of younger Jack Albertson
Jack Albertson

There are many wonderful actors in very brief uncredited roles in “Miracle on 34th Street”, but I’ll just point out three, the first being Jack Albertson who plays "Al", the man sorting mail at the post office. This Emmy, Tony, and Academy Award winning actor appeared in over 180 films and TV shows, with “Miracle on 34th Street” being just his third film. He is best remembered today for playing “Grandpa Joe” in the original 1971 “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, and as “Manny Rosen” in 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure”, and you can read a bit more about the life and career of Jack Albertson in my post on the latter.




Theresa Harris and Maureen O'Hara in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Another actor in a very quick role is Theresa Harris who plays “Cleo”, “Doris’” maid and housekeeper. She has one nice exchange with “Doris” and is later seen for a few seconds tucking “Susan” into bed. Though they might not realize it, most classic moviegoers have seen Harris, who’s appeared in about 100 films and half a dozen TV shows, since as with “Miracle on 34th Street”, her screen time is often very limited.


Theresa Harris as Cleo in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Portrait photo of Hollywood film actress Black movie star Theresa Harris
Theresa Harris

Planning on a career as a concert singer, Texas-born Theresa Harris moved to Los Angeles at the age of 11, and studied music at the UCLA Conservatory of Music and Zoellner's Conservatory of Music. After working in theaters, she made her screen debut in Josef Von Sternberg's 1929 film "Thunderbolt" singing the song "Daddy Won't You Please Come Home", after which she embarked on a prolific film career (albeit mostly as maids, singers, or in small uncredited roles), beginning with an uncredited role as a camp follower in Von Sternberg's 1930 film "Morocco" (a film already on this blog). Over the next nearly thirty years, Harris worked with Hollywood's top stars and directors. She refused to play the stereotypical Black mammy types seen in Hollywood films at the time and always portrayed her characters with dignity.


Edmund Gween and Theresa Harris tuck Natale Wood into bed in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Glamor portrait of Black Hollywood actress, singer, movie star Theresa Harris showing her legs
Theresa Harris

Some of Harris’ standout roles include a substantial part as "Chico", Barbara Stanwyck's friend in "Baby Face", Jean Harlow's fellow reformatory inmate "Lily Mae" in "Hold Your Man", and a pivotal role as Ginger Rogers' maid "Vera" in "Professional Sweetheart". Horror film producer Val Lewton (who often cast Black actors in non-stereotypical roles) cast Harris in the classics "Cat People" and "I Walked with a Zombie". Some of Harris' other films include "Horse Feathers", "Morning Glory", "Gold Diggers of 1933", "Jezebel", "Flying Down to Rio", "The Dolly Sisters", and "The Flame of New Orleans”. Along with "Morocco", Harris has appeared in four films already on this blog: as a chorus girl in "42nd Street"; handling dogs as "Olive" at the spa in the beginning of "The Women"; and as "Eunice Leonard" who is questioned by Robert Mitchum in a jazz club in a highly memorable scene in "Out of the Past". She also worked on radio and TV, including a 1956 episode of "Alfred Hitchcock's Presents" directed by Mr. Hitchcock himself. After appearing as "Dora" in 1958's "The Fit of Love", Harris decided to retire from acting. In 1974, she was inducted into the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame. She married once. It’s tragic that times were what they were with no real opportunities for minority actors during the hey day of Hollywood, for Harris' beauty, screen presence, and talent, surely would have made her a star.


Thelma Ritter as a mom in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

Hollywood movie star film character actress portrait photo of Thelma Ritter
Thelma Ritter

The last actor I’ll mention is one of my favorites, and that’s Thelma Ritter who plays the mother of a boy named “Peter” who asks “Santa Claus” for a fire engine. Ritter appears in two scenes, one with “Santa” and the other with “Julian”, and she adds such emotion and personality to the role that it beautifully demonstrates what a great actor can bring to a part and how they can make a scene come alive. And “Miracle on 34th Street” was Ritter's screen debut. After years of theater, radio, and being a housewife, Ritter landed "Miracle on 34th Street" because she was friends with Seaton (his wife was her high school friend), and he offered her what was originally supposed to be a mere walk-on. But once Zanuck saw the footage of Ritter, he had her part enlarged to give her more to do. Like Gwenn, Ritter went on to be one of the few character actors to become a star, even though she’s always seen in supporting roles. You can read more about the six-time Oscar nominated Thelma Ritter in three of my previous posts, "Pillow Talk", "The Misfits", and "All About Eve”.


Natalie Wood stars in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

"Miracle on 34th Street" was remade in 1994 (adapted from Seaton's script), though feeling the original couldn't be improved, Macy's refused permission to use their name ("Cole's" was the name of the department store in that version). To date, three TV movie versions have also been made, one in 1955 (with Thomas Mitchell, Macdonald Carey, and Teresa Wright), one in 1959 (with Ed Wynn, Peter Lind Hayes, and Mary Healy), and one in 1973 (with Sebastian Cabot, Jane Alexander, and David Hartman). There was even a Broadway musical version titled "Here's Love” in 1963. In 1985, during a short-lived, horrific (that's how I feel anyway) trend, the original version of "Miracle on 34th Street" was one of the first black and white films to be colorized (it pissed off Maureen O’Hara as well). Even so, I highly suggest watching this film in its original, intended black and white.


Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gween, Natalie Wood, and John Payne in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

In addition to being a feel-good movie for anytime of the year, this week’s classic is certified to generate all the wonder and magic of the holiday season no matter which holidays you celebrate. So get ready for a big dose of that joyful spirit and savor one of the best holiday movies ever made. Enjoy “Miracle on 34th Street”!



This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform through watching a recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and more. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications of every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!



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TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):



Jame Seay and Porter Hall in the classic movie Hollywood holiday Christmas Santa Claus film "Miracle on 34th Street"
"Miracle on 34th Street"

In case you’re curious, when “Dr. Pierce” talks about delusional people and says there's a man who’s “insisted he's a Russian prince. Now there's been all kinds of evidence to prove him wrong, but nothing has shaken his story... he owns a famous restaurant in Hollywood and is a highly respected citizen”, he was referring into an actual person, Michael Romanoff, who owned a very popular Beverly Hills restaurant and movie star hangout at the time called Romanoff’s.

2 Kommentare


Carmen Martínez Aniorte
Carmen Martínez Aniorte
12. Dez. 2023

Me ha encantado, Es una de mis películas favoritas de tema Navideño.

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
12. Dez. 2023
Antwort an

Gracias Carmen! It is one of the all-time great holiday films!

Thanks for the comment!

Jay

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