In the untranslated dialogue with the Dutch girl, Santa Claus asks the child what she wants for Christmas. She says she wants nothing, telling Santa she got her gift by being adopted by her new mother.
According to Natalie Wood's biographer, during the shoot the young actress was convinced that Edmund Gwenn was actually Santa Claus (by all accounts, Gwenn was a very good-natured man on the set). It wasn't until Wood saw him out of costume at the wrap party that she realized he wasn't Santa.
Unbeknownst to most parade watchers, Edmund Gwenn played Santa Claus in the actual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade held November 28, 1946. He fulfilled the duties of most parade Santas, including addressing the crowd from the marquee of Macy's after the parade was over. He was introduced to the crowd by Philip Tonge (who played Mr. Shellhammer in the movie) and later unveiled the mechanical Christmas display windows to the accompaniment of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite." This gesture symbolized the opening of the Christmas shopping season at the store.
Shot during a bitterly cold New York winter. On several occasions, the cameras literally froze. Maureen O'Hara remembered that a woman named Vaughn Mele lived across the street from where they were shooting exteriors and allowed the crew to warm up in her house. In gratitude, O'Hara took Mele and her husband to the famed "21" restaurant and Mele was so excited all she could drink was a glass of milk.
Both the actual Macy's and Gimbel's department stores were approached by the producers for permission to have them depicted in the film. Both stores wanted to see the finished film first before they gave approval. If either store had refused, the film would have had to been extensively edited and reshot to eliminate the references. Fortunately at the test viewing, both businesses were pleased with the film and gave their permission.
The house shown at the end of the film is a 1703 square foot single family home built in 1943 at 24 Derby Road, Port Washington, New York. The home looks practically the same as it did in 1947, except that the roof line has been altered by the addition of a window.
The cast and crew were unanimous in their opinion of Edmund Gwenn: they loved him. Alvin Greenman who played soft-spoken janitor Alfred called Gwenn "a dear, dear man," and Robert Hyatt, who played the judge's son Tommy, Jr., said in a 2001 interview, "He was a really nice guy, always happy, always smiling. He had this little twinkle in his eye." Added Maureen O'Hara: "...by the time we were halfway through the shoot, we all believed Edmund really was Santa Claus. I've never seen an actor more naturally suited for a role."
According to Hedda Hopper's "Looking at Hollywood" newspaper column of May 3, 1947 "when the picture opens at the Roxy, Macy's will close for half a day so its 12,000 employees can see the first showing."
Maureen O'Hara's time with Natalie Wood was something she always treasured. "I have been the mother to almost forty children in movies, but I have always had a special place in my heart for little Natalie," said O'Hara. "She always called me Mamma Maureen and I called her Natasha, the name her parents had given her."
The song that the little Dutch girl sings is "Sinterklaas Kapoentje, Leg wat in mijn schoentje, Leg wat in mijn laarsje, Dank je Sinterklaasje!" One translation is "Saint Nicolas Little Rascal, Put something in my little shoe, Put something in my little boot, Thank you little Saint Nicolas!"
In her autobiography, Maureen O'Hara nicely summed up what the film had come to mean to her over the years. "Everyone felt the magic on the set and we all knew we were creating something special," she said. "I am very proud to have been part of a film that has been continually shown and loved all over the world for nearly sixty years. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) has endured all this time because of the special relationship of the cast and crew, the uplifting story and its message of hope and love, which steals hearts all over the world every year. I don't think I will ever tire of children asking me, 'Are you the lady who knows Santa Claus?' I always answer, 'Yes, I am. What would you like me to tell him?'"
The scenes at Macy's were shot on location at the main New York store on 34th Street itself. Shooting was complicated by the fact that the crew's power needs exceeded the store's electricity capacity and required additional power sources arranged in the store's basement.
John Payne, who had starred in many films at 20th Century-Fox, had been unhappy about the quality of roles he was being given, and when he read the story, he bought the film rights as a starring vehicle for himself.
Valentine Davies got the idea for the script while struggling through the Christmas shopping crowds, trying to find a present for his wife. The commercialism he saw made him wonder what the real Santa Claus would make of it all.
Despite the fact that the film is set during Christmas, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that it be released in May because he argued that more people went to the movies during the summer. So the studio began scrambling to promote it while keeping the fact that it was a Christmas movie a secret.
The scenes of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade are of the actual parade held in 1946. As such, careful preparation was necessary for the shots as retakes were obviously out of the question. 20th Century-Fox had cameras positioned along the parade route at the starting line at 77th Street, on Central Park West, on the 3rd floor of an apartment building at 253 West 58th Street, in Herald Square and on 34th Street at 7th Avenue. "It was a mad scramble to get all the shots we needed, and we got to do each scene only once," said Maureen O'Hara in her 2004 autobiography 'Tis Herself. "It was bitterly cold that day, and Edmund and I envied Natalie and John Payne, who were watching the parade from a window."
Maureen O'Hara was ultimately forced into her role against her will, as she had just returned to Ireland before being called back to America for the film. However, she immediately changed her sentiments upon reading the script.
In the 1970s, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner were approached about doing a TV remake of the film with Natalie's daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner as Susan. Wood turned it down because she'd been a child star herself and didn't want her very young daughter to start acting at such an early age.
When Dr. Pierce explains Kris' belief that he is Santa Claus, he offers for comparative purposes a Hollywood restaurant owner who believes himself to be a Russian prince despite evidence to the contrary, but rather conveniently fails to recall the man's name. This was a reference to Michael Romanoff, owner of Romanoff's in Hollywood, a popular hangout for movie stars at the time.
On Kris Kringle's employment card, he's listed the names of Santa's Reindeer as his next of kin. While Donner is used frequently, the correct name as it appears in a hand written manuscript by Clement Clarke Moore is actually Donder, and that's how it appears on Kris Kringle's employment card.
Unusually, there were two Christmas films nominated for Best Film at the 1947 Academy Awards--this and Henry Koster's The Bishop's Wife (1947). They join It's a Wonderful Life (1946) the year before as only three Christmas movies to be nominated for this coveted prize.
The entire cast enjoyed a special bond, according to Maureen O'Hara, and always got along beautifully throughout the production. "Each evening, when we were not working," recalled O'Hara, "Edmund Gwenn, John and I went for a walk up Fifth Avenue. Natalie had to go to bed, but we didn't. We stopped and window-shopped at all the stores, which were beautifully decorated for the holidays. Edmund especially loved those nights and acted more like the kid who might be getting the presents instead of the Santa who would be giving them. I got such a big kick out of seeing the expressions of window dressers when they saw Edmund peering in at them--I knew then that he was going to make a big splash as Santa Claus."
The Macy's Christmas window displays were sold to FAO Schwartz, which in turn sold them to Marshall & Ilsley Bank of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They are displayed in the bank's lobby every December in its main branch in North Water Street.
In 1999 Macy's Herald Square chose the film as the theme of its famed Christmas windows display. Its windows were adorned with miniature recreations of the film's most famous scenes with the old-fashioned mechanical style window displays that were phased out in the 1960s. Macy's Creative Design executive Sam Joseph said at the time, "I thought, wouldn't it be kind of cool to say goodbye to this century the way they said goodbye to the last century? What better vehicle to use than Miracle on 34th Street (1947)?" Maureen O'Hara was recruited as Macy's special guest who unveiled the windows to the public and signed autographs. "I know John Payne, Natalie Wood, and Kris Kringle are up in heaven looking down on us and smiling," she said.
20th Century-Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was very much against making this film because he thought it too corny to succeed. He finally agreed to a medium-sized budget provided writer/director George Seaton would accept his next three assignments unconditionally. Seaton, who desperately wanted to get the picture made, agreed. The three subsequent films Seaton went on to direct for 20th Century-Fox after "Miracle on 34th Street" were "Apartment for Peggy" (1948), "Chicken Every Sunday" (1949), and "The Big Lift" (1950).
Unusual for a major studio film, characters identified with a competing studio (Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny, Beaky Buzzard, et al) are prominently featured onscreen, on the walls of Macy's Santa Claus display.
John Payne hoped to do a sequel to his dying day, and even took matters into his own hands. "John really believed in and loved Miracle on 34th Street (1947)," said Maureen O'Hara, "and always wanted to do a sequel. We talked about it for years, and he eventually even wrote a screenplay sequel. He was going to send it to me, but tragically died before he could get around to it. I never saw it and have often wondered what happened to it."
The rivalry between department stores Macy's and Gimbels depicted in the film was very real. The two stores were just blocks from each other in New York and major competitors for the same business. The rhetorical question "Does Macy's tell Gimbels?" was a popular phrase used throughout the 1930s-1960s which meant that business competitors are not supposed to share trade secrets with one another.
The film's original title was "Christmas Miracle on 34th Street" but because the release date was moved to the summer, the Christmas from the title was dropped. Other working titles included "The Big Heart", "My Heart Tells Me" and "It's Only Human".
After District Attorney Thomas Mara's son, Thomas Mara Jr., finishes testifying he tells Kris Kringle, "Don't forget, a real official football helmet". Tim Mara was the owner of the New York Giants football team at that time.
The character of District Attorney Thomas Mara is clearly based on Thomas E. Dewey, a Manhattan District Attorney who went on to become the governor of New York and twice the (unsuccessful) Republican candidate for President (1944 and 1948). Jerome Cowan, the actor who played Mara, and Dewey bear a strong physical resemblance and both wore mustaches, highly unusual for professional men of the time. Also, the Judge mentions that the District Attorney is a Republican, also a rarity back then for elected officials in New York City.
This was the film debut of Alvin Greenman in the uncredited role of Alfred. He later played another Alfred in the remake Miracle on 34th Street (1994), which was his final film. Greenman is the only actor to appear in both films.
"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on December 20, 1948 with John Payne, Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwenn again reprising their film roles. The same studio broadcast another 60 minute adaptation, also with Gwenn, on December 21, 1954.
"Screen Director's Playhouse" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on December 23, 1949 with Edmund Gwenn reprising his film role. The same studio broadcast a 60-minute version, also with Gwenn, on December 21, 1950.
Kris Kringle makes a reference to the B-29, a World War II bomber aircraft. While enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces during that war, costar John Payne had recently starred in a training film as a B-29 co-pilot.