55: It’s a Wonderful Movie—Mary Owen and Karolyn Grimes

55: It’s a Wonderful Movie—Mary Owen and Karolyn Grimes

This is episode is my first to feature two guests on the same topic, although Episode 34  included Jordan Peterson and Senator Don Plett at the same time in separate cities.
This week’s show topic is the enduring cultural impact of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) through the eyes of two women close to its creation.
I say “Frank Capra’s” because that’s how the movie was marketed (it’s now called the vanity credit) and may help explain why the film got only a so-so reception when it was first released. Most of Mr. Capra’s pre-World War II movies were so sweet-hearted that they later earned the not-quite-complimentary moniker “Capra-corn.”
It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made. Nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, and placed number 11 on its initial 1998 greatest movie list, it also ranked number one on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time.
Think about that, in light of the hundreds of thousands of movies ever made.
By the end of the War, though, the mood of the movie-going public had shifted, as I wrote about the making of the movie in National Review a few years ago here
The next day after it was published, an appreciative email from a woman named Mary Owen arrived in my inbox. Turns out, Mary is the daughter of actress Donna Reed, who played Mary Bailey, the wife of James Stewart’s George Bailey.
I thanked her for the lovely email and we had a few back-and-forths. After my podcast was up on two feet and spreading around the world (11o countries and counting), I thought it would be fun to have her on the show to talk about her mother’s role in this now-international favorite Christmas movie and to learn some back story to her mother’s career and her commitment to writing back to the G.I’s who wrote to her from the trenches and the gun turrets of World War II.
(Oh, by the way, she was not named for the character her mother played in the Capra movie.) The interview segues nicely into the next one, a rich conversation with actress Karolyn Grimes who played Zuzu, one of the four Bailey kids. Remember Zuzu’s petals? This was a real treat for me who loves the movie so well, and I know it will be for you as well.
I learned, among other things, how much Mrs. Grimes suffered as a teen when her mother died and then the next year her father was killed and she became a ward of the state—then “rescued” by an aunt and uncle in Missouri. An unhappy home situation after an abrupt end to her budding acting career (she also played Debbie, the daughter of David Niven and Loretta Young in another Christmas favorite, The Bishop’s Wife).
For those of us who can’t gobble up enough trivia and true stories about It’s a Wonderful Life, Mrs. Grimes is a treasure trove of first hand memories and insights!

In this episode you will learn

  • How Donna Reed’s work represents the best of the Golden Age of television and movies
  • Why she made sure she was “just a regular mom” with Mary and her other real-life children
  • The story of how Reed’s children found a shoebox full of correspondence with American soldiers from the War in her Bel Air home 65 years later
  • Why Owens thinks the movie that made her mother a household name has such enduring appeal
  • Who is the oldest living cast member (hint: it’s not one of the child actors)
  • What it was like to be on set with Frank Capra and to appear with Jimmy Stewart
  • The ways in which It’s a Wonderful Life touched the lives of the cast and crew forever.


Resources mentioned in this episode

Blu-Ray of It’s a Wonderful Life 
Blu-Ray of The Bishop’s Wife
It’s a Wonderful Life Book  edited by Jeanine Basinger

Additional resources

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book by Stephen Cox.
The Essential It’s a Wonderful Life: A Scene-by-Scene Guide to the Classic Film by Michael Willian
The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography by Frank Capra

Join the Conversation

Question of the week: Which scene grabs you the most emotionally and why?
Comment below.
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Top 11 Manly Christmas Gifts

As Christmas time draws near, wives and sons, brothers and sisters do flips and twists trying to figure out what to get the man in their life.

Fear not. Uncle Patrick is here with avuncular advice on what to get that special husband/dad/uncle/nephew in your life. Here are some great last-minute wish list nuggets to share:

1. Vintage business card holder

This is actually a 1940s era cigarette case, but it does marvelous double-duty as a business card holder. Two slots inside: to give, and to receive. Gone are the days when you a) fumble awkwardly for which pocket you kept your card this time, and b) forgetting altogether where the cards went that you got at last week’s conference. I own this exact case, and it always elicits compliments and inquiries. High manly quotient, and the price is right.

2. Classic fedora

The fedora epitomizes the moral and cultural sense of my new media platform, incorporated right in my logo. The fedora represents valor, elegance, and manly style. Think Gary Cooper or any Frank Capra movie. Let’s bring back fedora values as we bring back the fedora!

3. Book of Catholic Poems

Editor (and esteemed Patrick Coffin Show guest) Joseph Pearce has edited this elegant volume of the poetic masters with which every Catholic gentleman should be familiar: Dante, Chaucer, Milton, Spencer, Herbert, Donne, Hopkins, Newman, Wilde, Thompson. And I’m just getting rolling. I’m not opposed to the Man Cave concept, as long as it doesn’t become a “magic chair” place of escape from family into the emptiness of professional sports viewership. Men, you need to be the hero in your life, not the observer from the stands of faux heroes.

4. Wooden Shoe Caddy With Accoutrements

When you meet someone for the first time, the eyes first meet that person’s eyes, and then down at his shoes. Right or wrong, it’s a fact. It’s rarely a conscious thing, but men are judged by their footwear. Fake leather shoes that are ratty, floppy, or scuffed (or, God forbid, flip flops with socks) send the message, “I really don’t care about my appearance!”

You can fix that, starting with this manly shoe caddy and high-end (and non-pricey) wax and brush set. You’re welcome.

5. Clubman Pinaud Cologne

We’re talking an old timey, vintage smell, redolent of a 1950s barbershop. Is that an original Norman Rockwell on the wall? Do I hear Gracie and Allen on the radio? Turn up the Perry Como!

6. Stainless Steel Whisky Hip Flask

Perfect for that Southern Baptist wedding party, camping trip with the guys, or long-lasting night sporting event. I own this bad boy, and it’s ideal for personalized engraving. Discrete; non-bulky; does the job, especially if filled with Laphroaig single malt.

7. Daily Roman Missal

Tired of everything valuable slap-dashed into an app on a glass screen device? Want the solidity of a well-crafted volume that contains spiritual depth? This Roman Missal has it all in one place: the daily Mass readings, traditional prayers, saint bios, illuminated manuscripts, and relevant references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And too much more for this list. One more bonus: having it provides one more incentive to get to Mass through the week.

8. Pipe Starter Kit

Men who enjoy an occasional pipe tell the same tale: people come up to them not to gripe and complain about “that awful smoke” but to express how much it reminds them of their grandfather or doting uncle. Pipe smoking is very much attuned to the philosophical mind, and to reading before a cracking fire. This set will get you pleasurably puffing without popping the purse strings.

Can Einstein, MacArthur, Tolkien, Lewis, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati—and Gandalf—all be wrong?

9. Eat Bacon, Don’t Jog book

Grant Peterson is the CEO of Rivendell Bikes and this book is a terrific all-round introduction to the keto lifestyle and overall fitness advice (aka, some fat is your friend, sugar kills, and exercise is the smaller part of health valor). Forget fancy workout gear or expensive outfits, $150 sneakers, and over-priced gym memberships. Get this book (the title should win some kind of award), get some kettlebells, and start doing burpees today, thou sluggard!

10. Burlwood Valet

What is it with men and the contents of their pockets? All those random receipts, coins, keys, watch, cufflinks, receipts, smart phone, extra ring, bracelet, and stamps. Where to keep them? This assorted flotsam and jetsam has no true home. Well, this beautiful valet is that home: Neat, elegant, and long lasting. Stop fishing around for the things you use each day. They’re in your new heirloom quality valet.

Plus a bonus, and based on a joke from This Is Spinal Tap.

11. Military Grade Knife

Cops and Marines and real men everywhere rely on the Gerber. Do you know what people are asking for when they ask if anyone has a knife? They’re looking for a man. This deceptively lightweight retractible will slide through price-tag cords of any thickness, heavy gauge string, tough-to-open packages, even, God forbid, car seats if it comes to that. I feel naked and unprepared for life whenever I forget mine in my valet bureau.

Happy last-minute shopping and a very Merry Christmas!

– Patrick “your personal Elf” Coffin

Two Cheers for Commercialized Christmas

Every year around two minutes past midnight November 1, when Halloween ends and the malls begin spewing out “Xmas Muzak,” Christians trundle out their well-worn complaints about the tinselly squalor of today’s commercialized Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, bemoan the ever-expanding catalogue of banality known as “holiday carols” which are little more than neutered jumbles of Christmass-ish chords. On Dasher, on Frosty, on Rudolph, and Santa; on Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Dean Martin. What does any of the schmaltz have to do with the real reason for the season?

The correct answer is, of course: very little.

But as depressing as the tsunami of schmaltz may sound, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning. As America (and with her, the rest of the west) becomes less and less as a Christian nation, we do well to ponder the future of public recognition of Christmas and to be grateful for the commercialization thereof.

Hear me out. The data on the religious landscape are not exactly encouraging. For example, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that 3.1% of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity, up from 1.6% in a similarly large survey in 2007. An additional 4.0% of Americans call themselves agnostics, up from 2.4% in 2007.

These still look like small percentages but they represent a doubling of the numbers in a very few years, and should sound some kind of alarm. It’s old news that the culture has made a slow and steady (?) shift away from the Christian faith since the late Sixties. Signs of this shift are ubiquitous and come in many vestments. Start the list by asking how many priests, nuns, and ministers are the good guys in today’s Hollywood?

Sunday shopping is another metric. Once a bastion of what Protestant America called the Sabbath Rest, since the 1970s, Sunday has been the target of governments around the world bent on eliminating the idea of one day of rest from commercial exchange and labor.

People who favor a Sunday shopping ban are looked upon as quaint, and not in the complimentary sense. Poland is filled with millions of “those people.” Catholic Poland is a rare exceptions to the European rule. Earlier this month, Poland’s Sejm (lower house of Poland’s parliament) voted to phase on Sunday shopping altogether by 2010. And praise the Lord.

But back in America, where the pursuit of mammon dominates all seven days of the week, the season of Christmas has become more and more dependent upon, and identified with, the commercialized angle than the What’s His Name From Bethlehem angle. And I say, deo gratias. Why? Well, what would become of Christmas if it weren’t for the wall-to-wall mall tinsel and the omnipresent musical offerings such as “Dean Martin’s Baby It’s Cold Outside, with its date rape subtext, Eartha Kitt’s creepy Santa Baby, along with the latest pablum churned out by pop stars? Their name is legion.

Still, without them, ask yourself how long Christmas Day will remain a federal holiday? In what sense are we a Christian country in the sense that India is Hindu, Saudi Arabia is Muslim, and Poland is Catholic?

American culture was once fully Christian, or at least robustly Deist, when presidents made regular mention of Almighty God, calling for prayer and fasting, and clergy were portrayed respectfully in movies and on television. If it fell to us practicing Christians alone to prop up Christmas as the remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ, it would take no time before Caesar knocked the thing down and sweep it away. The courts banned prayer in public schools in the early 1960s faster than you can say “disestablishment.”

Is it even remotely possible for a writer today to walk into the tony CBS offices in Los Angeles and pitch A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with the climax of Linus reciting Luke’s Gospel about the real meaning of Christmas? Producer Bill Melendez pulled it off in 1965. How many light years have we come since then?

How about celebrity covers of Christmas carols? This is another metric of the cultural shift away from on-the-nose references to Christianity. Back in the day, A-list singers like Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Perry Como, Dion, the Carpenters, John Denver, Elvis Presley—so many of them recorded explicitly Christian or traditional carols. Apart from the country music realm (which remains the last bastion of faith-friendly artists and songs), the last thing today’s pop singers want is Baby Jesus subtracting from their “holiday album” bottom line.

They suppose, perhaps rightly, that the real money lies in songs not about angels, a Virgin, holy nights and shepherds, but about marshmallow worlds, winter wonderlands, Rudolph, Santa, Frosty, rockin’ around the Christmas tree, and mistletoe.

Christians have the mammon-hungry secularists to thank for keeping Christmas before us each year, even if they can’t help themselves from piping in the very merry Muzak two minutes after Halloween is over.

Merry Christmas!

– Patrick

#54: Restoring Christian Culture—Dr. Anthony Esolen

#54: Restoring Christian Culture—Dr. Anthony Esolen

Tony Esolen is both a sage and a survivor of the culture war. He knows there’s a war over which camp gets to determine the default setting narrative, and he knows the cost of warfare. He also knows it’s not a military war (at least not yet) but a war of ideas and moral stances.
Esolen suffered a bumpy and very public exit from Providence College last year, where he taught English and classics since 1990 — their youngest full tenured professor ever. But the diversity demon took hold and Esolen fought back manfully. In the end, he stepped away from the salary, the tenure, the sabbatical, and the sundry perks and joined the faculty of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH.
Like Ferdinand the Bull at the end of the Munro Leaf story, Esolen is happy. Our interview covered the story behind his departure from Providence not in a literary gossip way but in a What Went Wrong With Catholic Colleges way.
We talk about the new Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture  and the importance of getting in the game of reclaiming our cultural heritage.

In this episode you will learn:

  • Why the need to rebuild culture now is so urgent
  • A sample of the books we ought to read to guide us
  • The importance of beautiful and reverent liturgy
  • The reasons why parents need to take back, as best they can, the education of their children from the education establishment bureaucrats
  • The difference literacy makes in the lives of children and family life

 Resources mentioned in this episode:

Join the Conversation:

Question of the week:
What small thing can I do as a family to restore the Christian culture?

Comment below.

Don’t forget to Subscribe to the show in YouTube, as well as the podcast so you can get the weekly show updates. Check the podcast in iTunes and other podcast directories, please leave an honest review.
Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated!


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#53: Christmas Classics & Clunkers—Steven Greydanus

#53: Christmas Classics & Clunkers—Steven Greydanus

It’s that time of year again when we review the notable “holiday” movies for their adherence to the real meaning of Christmas, production quality, and merits and demerits. Who better than the founder of Decent Films, Steven Greydanus?
Steve is not only the father of seven and a permanent deacon with the Archdiocese of Newark, he is a prolific movie critic and newly minted member of the elite New York Film Critics’ Circle.
Ever since the first A Christmas Carol silent film came out in 1901 (!), Christmas and movies have gone together like Bob Cracthit and Tiny Tim. Since then, there have been over 30 adaptations of the Dickens original to the big or small screen.
In this episode, here is a sample of the Christmas themed movies Steven and I talk about in this episode:

Elf, starring Will Farrell, produced by my friend Todd Komarnicki, who appeared in Episode 25  of the show
Die Hard  starring Bruce Willis. Is it really a Christmas movie? Discuss. And we do!
A Midnight Clear C starring Gary Sinese. Biblical allusion galore in this tragically little known war movie set at Christmas.
Joyeux Noel,  co-production about the true story of a Christmas Eve impromptu cease-fire between the Germans and the Allies.
It’s a Wonderful Life,  starring James Stewart. For my money the greatest film ever made. If you disagree, we can’t be friends. Want the story behind the story? Read this. It’s what got the attention of my upcoming guest Mary Owen, daughter of actress Donna Reed, the incandescent Mary Bailey, wife of George.
Meet John Doe starring Gary Cooper. The other Frank Capra movie about a good man tempted to suicide on Christmas Eve. Bizarrely forgotten classic, as I point out here.
We also talked about the bad ones, like Ron Howard’s super-lousy How the Grinch Stole Christmas and a few other rancid things disguised as movies. Since this is a respectable joint—I ain’t linking to ‘em.

Join the Conversation:

Question of the week: How can watching movies together at Christmastime bring your family closer together?

Comment below.

Don’t forget to Subscribe to the show in YouTube, as well as the podcast so you can get the weekly show updates. Check the podcast in iTunes and other podcast directories, please leave an honest review.
Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated!


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Pro Sports as Substitute Religion

Man was made to worship. It’s in his DNA, so to speak, to reach out towards and even to surrender to a Higher Power. The object of his worship will either be the one true God, or any of the myriad of false substitutes like pornography or alcohol (or other drugs) or even human esteem.

One example of a substitute religion is the world of professional sports. Don’t get me wrong. I am a certified sports fan. I grew up playing hockey in Nova Scotia competitive hockey (hating the Habs, and loving the Blackhawks), golfing with my dad, and I still love a robust game of racquetball. So I appreciate the prowess and hard work it takes to become an A-list athlete (which I am most assuredly not). Sports team membership is also an important rite of passage for many young people.

I’m talking about the broader structure of how professional sports are presented to the public, and how the sports business is conducted. It bears a close resemblance to civic religion, complete with the marks of secular liturgy.

  1. You have the opening processional hymn known as the national anthem.
  2. There are moments of reverential silence in which thousands bow their heads.
  3. Sometimes there is the recitation of the Creed known as the Pledge of Allegiance.
  4. The religion has holy cards or icons in the form of baseball cards, so fans can be inspired to imitate the virility of the athletes, much the same as the faithful are inspired to imitate the virtues of the saints.
  5. Instead of vocational directors, the religion has talent scouts.
  6. The big liturgical event that goes down once a year—known variously as the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Masters, the Stanley Cup, Wimbledon, and the World Cup—is the primordial clash on the field in which the fans in the stands vicariously participate in the battle between good (our team) and evil (their team).
  7. And what is the name of the heaven where the best athletes go? The Hall of Fame, or course, a tiny imitation of eternity.

Not surprisingly, today’s professional athletes are unquestionably celebrities, which is why we call them stars. What’s a star? Biblically, it’s a being of the heavens. The Latin root of the word celebrity is celebritas meaning famous, or thronged, which connotes something of a solemn rite.

Deep in our race, there is some inchoate to find the sacred in the profane.

Following the Big Game, with players as clergy, the laity are called to go out (ite, missa est) to bring the spirit of sportsmanship and excellence into the world.

Again, Christians have good reason to love the sporting life and the lessons it teaches. St. Paul employed athletically themed metaphors like running and boxing to communicate the gospel (2 Tim 4). Historically, the popes have been avid sports fans, and have communicated this to the universal Church.

The problem enters in when something inherently good is abused, when a relative good—subordinated to the good of spending time with family and with God in worship—is made an end in itself.

“Honey, kids, I want to say one last thing before I die…I wish I had watched more ESPN.” —Said by no man on his deathbed, ever.

If you want a full recent papal endorsement of sports in right proportion, look no farther than that mountain climbing, slalom skiing, hiking prone Polish saint who became Pope.

Remember him?




#52: Confessions of An Islamophobe—Robert Spencer

#52: Confessions of An Islamophobe—Robert Spencer

Is the threat of terrorism from the Islamic world a clear and present danger? Is there a way to broach this uncomfortable topic in a balanced and charitable way? Is it Islamophobic to even pose these questions? Author and founder of Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer has been writing and speaking about the foundational documents of Islam, the Qur’an and the Hadith, for over 15 years.
It doesn’t matter that his books, 17 in all so far, carefully distinguish between Muslims who do not follow the literal sense of the Qu’ran and those who do. He still gets repeatedly branded as a hate-monger and, the shame label du jour, “Islamophobe.”
Spencer has finally embraced that label, with key caveats, in the title of his new book, Confessions of An Islamophobe, which is part memoir, and part catalogue of real-world applications of Islamic texts and traditions.

There are few topics that are subject to more confusion and fuzzy thinking than Islam’s relationship to modern liberal democracies, the explicit teachings of its holy books, and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. For his troubles in writing about jihad-inspired attacks throughout the UK, Spencer is still banned in the UK (by then-Home Secretary now Prime Minister Theresa May) and remains a persona non grata in many circles.
One word very rarely used against him is wrong. (I believe he did make one error of fact in our interview, although of the benign variety, in saying that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians are increasing in number.)
There is an Advent tie-in here, straight from Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s 1951 classic The World’s First Love. The chapter, “Mary and the Moslems,” is worth the book price. Prophetic insights into how our Lady of Fatima has a role to play in the conversion of Muslims to Christ.
In his latest book, Spencer meticulously outlines the various groups who are under special threat today by the Sharia-minded ethos, from women and homosexuals, to Jews and Christians.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to respond when people claim that the Catholic Church officially teaches that Islam is a religion of peace
  • The rationale the jihadis give for their violence
  • How the far Left and militant Islam are strange bedfellows
  • How to talk about Islamic-inspired evil while respecting and speaking with ordinary Muslims who also abhor that evil
  • Why the West needs a serious, loud, and urgent wake-up call to what’s coming next

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Join the Conversation:

Question of the week: How much has political correctness undermined our willingness to talk candidly about Islamic terrorism?

Comment below.

Don’t forget to Subscribe to the show in YouTube, as well as the podcast so you can get the weekly show updates. Check the podcast in iTunes and other podcast directories, please leave an honest review.
Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated!


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