Sunday, June 8, 2008

They Lived Wonderful Lives

When the Christmas season is upon us, one of the essential parts of the holiday for many people is spending a couple of hours watching "It's A Wonderful Life," the 1946 Frank Capra film starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.

It's been more than 60 years since that film was made, and it has achieved a level of popularity in recent decades that it never reached when it was showing in movie theaters.

It has developed such a devoted fan base that it will be a holiday classic for generations to come.

Nearly everyone who appeared in that film is dead now. I'm reminded of that fact after hearing the news that Bob Anderson, who played the young incarnation of Stewart's George Bailey character at the age of 13, died the other day at the age of 75.

He was nearly the last surviving cast member.

As far as I know, that leaves only Karolyn Grimes, who was about 5 or 6 years old when she played Stewart's youngest child, Zuzu, in the movie. She will be 68 on Independence Day.

Anderson tried to pursue an acting career after appearing in "It's A Wonderful Life" -- he even landed a role in "The Bishop's Wife" the following year and appeared on a few TV shows, like "I Love Lucy" -- but his acting career was over by the time he was in his mid-20s.

He managed to stay in the business, doing some directing and performing some stunts. He was also a production manager, a supervising animator and a grip.

The same day that Anderson died, former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Dwight White passed away at the age of 58, the apparent victim of a blood clot in his lung.

Most people probably don't remember White. He wasn't as well known as his more famous Steeler teammates -- and on the defensive side of the ball, that included the likes of Mean Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Mel Blount.

But he played a pivotal role in the Steelers' championship years of the 1970s.

When Pittsburgh went to its first-ever Super Bowl (in Super Bowl IX), the Steelers were matched up against a Minnesota Vikings team that had been frustrated in two earlier Super Bowl appearances in the previous five years. Oddsmakers felt the Steelers would add to the Vikings' woes and made them 3-point favorites in a game that matched two of the NFL's best defensive units.

The first half was nearly a scoreless draw, but White tackled Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton for a safety and Pittsburgh led, 2-0, at halftime. It was Pittsburgh's first-ever score in a Super Bowl, and the Steelers went on to win the game, 16-6.

Pittsburgh won three more Super Bowls in that decade, and White was on all those teams. He retired in 1980 and worked as a stock broker in his post-NFL career.

For Anderson and White, their lives may not have been ideal. Few are. But I don't know anyone who would argue that their lives weren't wonderful.

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