This past weekend, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life for the approximately 394th time. Along with A Charlie Brown Christmas, Love Actually, and Home Alone, this film is a must-watch every year for my husband and me for so many reasons. Of course, there’s the obvious: the message that all you need to have a happy and rewarding life is to surround yourself with friends and continually give to others. The beautiful backdrop that is Bedford Falls, giving us the warmest of feelings in the coldest of weather. And of course everyman George Bailey, who’s impossible not to love and see a little of all of ourselves in.
It’s a Wonderful Life is my (and my mother’s) favorite Christmas movie. Aside from the film’s message and charm, a lot of this is because of Mary Hatch Bailey, George’s love interest and biggest supporter throughout his lifetime. Although her role in the film is mostly based on how she affects George’s life, she brings so much of her own fire to the story that is completely due to how strong of a character she is individually. Truly, she’s an amazing role model both for women in the 1940s and today.
Here’s why Mary Hatch Bailey is one of my favorite movie characters of all time, and consequently why she’s the subject of #WCW this week!
She’d rather be single than settle for the wrong guy
One of the biggest indicators of Mary’s independent personality is the fact that, in the George-less alternate universe, she is unmarried – meaning she’d rather be single than settle down with someone just because of societal expectations. This is admirable, especially given the time period.
In the real timeline, Mary also goes off to college after spending an evening hanging out under the moon with George. She sees a glimpse of hope and probably knows there’s a chance George will meet someone else, but she refuses to put her education on hold to find out. Girl has her priorities on lock.
And as humble as Mary is, she also knows her worth and refuses to settle for less.
She loves George for all the right reasons
Mary loves George from the time she’s eight years old, at the very oldest. Who knows when she actually fell for him? Preschool, maybe? But she loves him not because he’s cute, or popular, or his family has money. She loves him because he wants to change the world, and he sees the good in everyone. She isn’t interested in Sam Wainwright’s money and the promise of a financially comfortable lifestyle.
She also doesn’t worship George, though. She sees herself as his equal and makes sure to keeps his ego in check, like when she jokes that she married him just to avoid becoming an old maid, and sticks up for their children near the end of the film when George has a breakdown. All the spouse/parent goals.
She’s incredibly selfless
Mary rarely isn’t thinking of how she can help other people. She volunteers during World War II, running the local branch of the USO while simultaneously raising four children of her own. On her wedding day, she is the one who volunteers the $2,000 she and George had saved for their honeymoon around the world to keep the Building and Loan open and help its loyal customers – and she does it with a smile on her face. She helps George christen new homes in Bailey Park. She genuinely loves giving to others who are less fortunate, even though she and George aren’t the most financially well-off themselves.
She strikes the perfect balance between class and sass
Mary may be a somewhat soft-spoken, sweet person, but she doesn’t let people take advantage of her or always choose being polite over saying what needs to be said/doing what needs to be done. As kids, Violet tells Mary she likes George, and Mary snaps back, “You like every boy” before sticking her tongue out at Violet behind her back. And adult Mary is no less sassy, yelling up the stairs to her mother to freak her out when she gets a little too nosy for her 22-year-old daughter’s taste.
Mary also isn’t afraid to resort to certain behavior to make a guy jealous which, let’s be real, we’ve all done at some point or another. She remains perfectly poised as she over-exaggerates how excited she is to speak to Sam Wainwright on the phone just to rile George up. And what do you know? In the next scene, she and George are getting married. Mary definitely knows what she’s doing.
Her wardrobe/hair/makeup is on point 24/7
Even in a robe after falling into a pool at her high-school gymnasium or after coming home in the middle of a snowstorm amidst tons of financial drama, Mary looks flawless. She has a glow about her that is only accentuated by her hair, makeup, and clothes game, which are also obviously to die for. She keeps a household running smoothly amidst holiday chaos and still somehow manages to look like a model in a Macy’s Christmas catalog. She even makes looking violently angry fashionable, poised, and elegant.
So actually, if I could just have replicas of everything Donna Reed wore in this movie that would be great, thanks. It’s too late for a Christmas-list addition but my birthday is coming up in March.
Two words: Donna Reed
Speaking of Donna Reed, she is such a legendary actress that an entire episode of Gilmore Girls was pretty much dedicated to her – and if Lorelai and Rory worship her, then we do too. Reed starred in her own television show (appropriately named The Donna Reed Show) from 1958-1966, and won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 1953’s From Here to Eternity – a much different one than that of Mary Bailey. Aside from her beauty and diverse talent, Reed was an activist for peace in the 1960s. It’s hard not to love a character who is not only inspiring, but was played by such an inspiring woman.
Thank you, Mary Hatch Bailey, for giving us everything we aspire to be – both individually and in relationships, as well as during and outside of the holidays.