In San Francisco’s Bay Area on 17th July 2010 Stephen Schochet, a professional Hollywood tour guide was interviewed on KRON 4 Morning News. He specializes in anecdotes about the film world, and this is what he said about Miracle on 34th Street…

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Natalie Wood

It was originally entitled The Big Heart. Darryl Zanuck, the shrewd head of Twentieth Century Fox, couldn’t buy the image of Santa Claus in a courtroom. But like so many ventures Miracle on 34th Street (1947) came about because of passion, in this case that of director George Seaton, who had gone to New York on his own and made arrangements with management from the real Macy’s and Gimbel’s to film in their department stores. Impressed by Seaton’s commitment, Zanuck gave the show a green light.

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The toughest casting choice for Miracle on 34th Street was who would play the little girl who didn’t believe in Santa Claus. Seaton agonised over it until the assistant director remembered an amazing child prodigy from Santa Rosa, California, who could cry on cue. Her name was Natasha Nikolaevna Gurdin, renamed Natalie Wood. At age seven Natalie possessed none of the typical child star precociousness. She earned the respect of her Miracle co-workers with her professional demeanour, earning the nick name One-take-Natalie.

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Like all filmed on location movies there were logistical problems. The sequence where Saint Nicholas was taken to Bellevue was done without permission. The hospital’s staff would not co-operate because they had been portrayed badly in earlier films; they were not swayed by the sight of a sickly, freezing cold Santa Claus, played by Edmund Gwenn, bundled up under blankets waiting. The film makers were forced to shoot only the car containing the white-whiskered mental patient approaching the building’s entrance; they recreated the fames psychiatric ward’s interiors back in Los Angeles.

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Another difficulty was getting permission to shoot the Macy’s parade from the apartment dwellers on 34th Street which had to be done right the first time, there could be no retakes. The film crew paid the ladies of the house to place the cameras in their windows. In some cases their husbands came home, complained about the inconvenience and demanded their own equal share. Edmund Gwen, who would win an Oscar for his Miracle performance suffered from a bladder control problem but couldn’t stand the thought of someone taking his place in the parade. The children who stood on the sidewalk waving at Santa never saw the long tube under his cloak.

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Edmund Gwenn

Overcoming his original reluctance, Darryl Zanuck who was famous for his memos, made suggestions to improve the movie’s story. The mother Doris, played by the twenty-seven-year-old Maureen O’Hara was too cold; she would scare off men like Fred (John Payne). It was explained that she had been burned by an earlier relationship and thus she didn’t want her daughter believing in fairy tales. Zanuck also warned the Miracle crew that they shouldn’t overplay the scenes where Macy’s employees send their customers off to go shopping at Gimbel’s; just some simple dialogue was enough to get the point across. The loud cheering by preview audiences when Santa Claus was declared sane in the courtroom scene did not convince Zanuck about Miracle’s commercial prospects. He released it in July, the busiest time of year for moviegoers, and told his marketing staff to hide from the public that the film was about Christmas.

One reference in Miracle that became dated was when Kris Kringle’s psychiatrist mentioned a man who had passed himself off as a Russian prince and owned a restaurant. It was a dig at Mike Romanoff, a colourful fraud whose Rodeo Drive eatery was a fun sanctuary for the famous on both sides of the law. One night, FBI head J Edgar Hoover was dining at Romanoff’s when he was approached by an actual jewel thief named Swifty Morgan. “Like to buy these gold cufflinks?”. Amused, Hoover offered $200. “Oh come on John, the reward is more than that!

A brief note on Macy’s — one of New York’s iconic buildings.

Still advertised as the world’s largest store, Macy’s has over two million square feet of floor space with 300 selling departments that stock over half a million different items. It’s founder Rowland Hussey Macy (1822–1877 right), a one-time whaling captain, started Macy’s in 1858 at Sixth Avenue and 14th Street.

Originally leasing the rights to the store’s glass, china and silver department, merchants Isidor and Nathan Strauss took controlling interest in Macy’s after the founder’s death and moved the store to its current location at 34th and Broadway in 1902; the architect was Robert D Kohn.

The store is actually two buildings, the Broadway side is the original building and the Seventh Avenue side was added in 1931. It has nine stories and is in red brick and limestone. The main selling floor was restored prior to 1993 to reveal the 1930’s Art Deco style. Before Macy’s was a successful department store chain (the first and largest in its time), the founder Rowland Macy, had to go through some rough patches in order to establish his business.
Long before the iconic Macy’s flagship department store he had had his share of bankruptcy, closed stores and pitifully slow business days.
Ed (From New York Landmarks, Charles Ziga,1991. Dorset Press)

The Macy’s red star logo was based on a tatoo that the store’s founder, Rowland Hussey Macy, had on his hand from his younger days as a Nantucket whaler. The five-pointed star is a common motif found among seafarers, probably referring to guidance and safe delivery.

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