Paul Greenberg

To many of us, the season wouldn't be complete without at least a few scenes from "It's a Wonderful Life." The movie wasn't much of a hit when it was first released just after the Second World War, but it's acquired quite a following since -- and even a certain critical acclaim.

But there are those who still give it a thumb's down. Years ago I read a (too) critical analysis of "It's a Wonderful Life" by a professor of American Studies at Boston University, bless his heart. His conclusion: While the movie shows that life can be "an enriching Norman Rockwell experience, it also can be smothering, where you end up marrying the girl you went to high school with, and you never get to go to Europe. ... It tells us George is one of the most sad and lonely and tragic characters ever imagined. I cry when I see it."

That's about the only similarity between the professor's take on the movie and mine -- because I've shed a few tears myself over "It's a Wonderful Life." But not for the professor's reasons. Nothing in the movie seems as sad to me as the professor's analysis of it. Take it from somebody who ended up marrying his high-school sweetheart: A tragedy it isn't. It can be a comedy, an education, a dance to the music of time ...l that and a lot more. But a tragedy? Please.

As for the idea that not getting to Europe is a tragedy, that notion would have much amused my immigrant mother. To her, the tragedy would have been not making it out of Europe.

I think about "It's A Wonderful Life" and small towns and happy marriages and lives well spent when I remember a banker I knew in Pine Bluff. His name was W.E. Ayres, and it's hard to think of any good work in town he -- and his wife, Diane -- didn't have something to do with, from Lakeside Methodist Church to the Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra.

Miss Diane and a couple of other ladies started that orchestra from scratch. Well, maybe from the strings program in the local school system. Anybody who was there at the creation of the orchestra will remember the brainstorming sessions, the scramble for financing, the mailings, and how improbable the whole business seemed at the time. But the improbable these women accomplished routinely; the impossible just took them a little longer.

How did they do it? Beats me. You just take one banker's wife (Mrs. Ayres), the local strings teacher (Ellen Nuckolls) and another lady whom it was my pleasure to know (Carolyn Greenberg) and before you know it, you're watching a conductor lift his baton at the premiere of a symphony orchestra.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.