Fascinating facts about ‘Miracle on 34th Street’

Those of us of good cheer are enjoying holiday classics like  “It’ A Wonderful Life,” “Going My Way,” “White Christmas” and, of course,  the beloved “My Heart Tells Me.”

What, you’ve never heard of “My Heart Tells Me?” Well, you’ve watched it. Read on.

On Oct. 8, 1946, 20th Century Fox announced it purchased the rights to a story by Valentine Davies that would star Maureen O’Hara, Dana Andrews and Edmund Gwenn.

Fox was going to have to change the title of “My Heart Tells Me” because another film was in production with that name — and “The Big Heart” would be new the title.  Then just before filming was ready to start on Thanksgiving Day 1946, Dana Andrews was replaced by John Payne and the cast was set.  Interestingly, according to the legal files,  Davies sold the idea to Fox in late 1944 under the title of “Mr. Kringle.”  But the name they eventually settled on? You’ve probably figured it out by now  —  “Miracle On 34th Street.”

Here are some fun facts about the classic film that helped the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade become more than the New York Christmas Parade, as the event had been portrayed in newsreels for years.

    • Macy’s granted Fox permission to take photographs of the inside and outside of their flagship store as well of the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving for “This Is The Time” (yet another proposed title for the film) in a letter dated Aug. 30, 1946.
    • Valentine Davies sold the story to the film’s director, George Seaton, for $7,500, Seaton sold the property to Fox for $100,000 and went on to direct the film.
    • Fox positioned 14 cameras along the parade route, filming more than 15,000 feet of film to be used in the movie.  Fox has spent years trying to find this footage and deleted footage. So far, no luck, although we spotted some unused footage taken on 34th Street that morning in an episode of the old tv show “Voyage To The Bottom Of the Sea.”
    • When filming scenes in the stores’ employee locker rooms, the heat from the filming lights often set off the water sprinkles, soaking the actors and the crew.
    • 50,000 letters to Santa were needed for the ending of the courtroom scenes which were very important to the story of the film. Three men spent nearly a week addressing the letters, which were then taken to the New York City Post Office for cancellation. Only about 5,000 of these letters had screen time as they fell out of the sacks into camera range.
    • Star Maureen O’Hara had just gotten home to Ireland to visit family. On the 18th day of what was supposed to be a six-week vacation, she got the cable to head to NYC to start on a film. She arrived in New York City on Nov. 19, 1946.
    • Filming was held up for two days while a special corps of dressmakers rushed to make her dresses for the film after no suitable clothes could be found in stores in New York for the 5-foot-8-inch O’Hara.
    • Actor John Payne and his wife actress Gloria DeHaven spent down time by taking in sightseeing tours of Little Italy, Chinatown and the Lower Side.
    • Macy’s rival Gimbel’s gave Fox permission to use locations of their flagship store on Nov. 27, 1946.
    • Filming ended in the early winter of 1947 at Fox Studios in California. Some of the sets representing Macy’s Santa Land had to recreated to the smallest detail. Macy’s John Straus, of the owner family, had to ship all their stuffed toy animals to Fox so they could match the New York shots. John was thrilled he sold out all his inventory for his first year as head of Macy’s Toy Department.
    • The film was given its official classic title “Miracle On 34th Street” by March 1947.
    • “It’s Groovey!”  The film was released off season, in June 1947. Legend has it that studio head Darryl Zanuck was unsure of of its appeal and he really couldn’t nail its advertising angle, which was unusual for him, so the trailer portrays this in what can be seen as an inside joke. (See video below.) Yes, they claimed the film was “Groovey.” Well we agree it is that and more — it is a genuine film classic and a treat any time of the year.

Robert Grippo is a historian, author of the books “The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” and “Macy’s The Star The Store The Story”, and curator of The Big Parade History Project Facebook page.