About Christmas TV History

Monday, July 4, 2022

Christmas in July 2022: Merry Christmas George Bailey (1997)


Merry Christmas in July! It is Day #4 in the month-long celebration of Christmas entertainment. As announced before, each day this month I will be sharing brief reminisces about Christmas TV episodes, specials, and movies with a IT'S A WONDERFUL SUMMER attitude. Yes--this month I'm sharing brief essays about TV adaptations of the 1946 movie "It's a Wonderful Life" along with TV programs with significant references to the movie. Just a little something different and a way for me to show off the diversity of holiday stories I've collected in the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV (the updated and expanded 2nd edition being released soon). 

Today's discussion is on the PBS special Merry Christmas, George Bailey. The program made its debut on Dec. 25, 1997 but aired in 1998 and 1999 as well. The hour-long program is a script reading of the 1947 “Lux Radio Theater” production of the 1946 holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The dramatic reading brings the radio script to life at the Pasadena Playhouse as a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

The stellar cast includes Bill Pullman as George Bailey, Penelope Ann Miller as Mary Bailey, Nathan Lane as the angel Clarence, Martin Landau as Mr. Potter/Pa Bailey, Sally Field as the narrator/Mrs. Bailey, Joe Mantegna as Joseph/Nick, Christian Slater as brother Harry Bailey, Jerry Van Dyke as Uncle Billy, Robert Guillaume as pharmacist Mr. Gower, Carol Kane as Cousin Tilly/Mrs. Hatch, Bronson Pinchot as Mr. Carter/Charlie, Dan Lauria as Bert, Craig Sheffer as Ernie/the bridgekeeper, Armelia McQueen as Mrs. Thompson, Ryan Slater as young George Bailey, Tina Majorino as Janie Bailey, Myles Jeffrey as Tommy Bailey, and Mae Whitman as Zuzu Bailey.

 Look how young Mae Whitman is!

The script reading in front of a live audience gives TV viewers a new experience of the familiar story and an insight into how dramatic radio productions were created, including sound effects. Merry Christmas in July!

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. She is currently updating and expanding the encyclopedia for an upcoming release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com


  1. I'm enjoying these readings so far. I remember when this aired mostly because not that long before I heard about it, my dad and I were talking about who might be cast in a remake (as some rumor was going of a "big budget new version"), and while I think we both were feeling Tom Hanks would be the primary one getting the push to be George, he suggested Bill Pullman for that role, I had thought Martin Landau for Potter, and we both had figured Nathan Lane would get the call for Clarence, and then this aired! I remember thinking they milked some of the laughs a bit hard, but that it was a decent special, and when I saw a production of the "radio play" that theater companies can license, I liked having seen this one ahead of that.
    I'm hoping you offer the TV-movie CLARENCE one day soon.

  2. Never knew this existed, but what a cast! Sounds like great fun.