Why Doesn't Mary Bailey Get More Respect?
No matter what your feelings on It’s a Wonderful Life may be— you may love it or you may be wrong, you may find it the ultimate heartwarmer or you may have no heart— there is one element of this movie that needs to be addressed.
Mary Bailey is damn boss.
Now I don’t know how many people I actually need to convince of that point. I’m guessing there aren’t many people who don’t like Mary. It’s pretty hard to deny that she is a great wife and mother, and smart strong woman who throws rocks through windows and makes a promise to love George Bailey till the day she dies and then follows through on that promise with aplomb. She’s a fantastic human and a dream partner, the perfect blend of beautiful romantic and whip-smart practicality. But she’s also more than that. She is the actual savior of It’s a Wonderful Life. If there is a hero of the movie, it’s not George, and it’s not Clarence (ad it’s definitely not Mr. Potter if you’re going the Ayn Rand route of looking at things). It’s Mary Bailey.
The big event that Mary gets recognition for is bringing together all the money at the end of the movie. (Don’t you dare yell “spoilers” at me, you’ve had 69 years to catch up.) She runs all around town and gets their friends and coworkers and clients and neighbors to remember how important George is to them and she saves George from potentially going to prison. That was her idea and her execution of it.
But that wasn’t even close to the only time she saved the day. Or determined what the day was going to look like from the start. Remember, Mary was the one who saw what she wanted— a life with George Bailey— and made it happen. She gave up that sweet plastics money Sam Wainwright was offering her when she easily could have gone the more Casablanca route and gotten out of Bedford Falls. But she loves Bedford Falls, she loves George, and she knew that was all she needed. George may have offered her the moon, but she doesn’t want the moon. She just wants a life. Her husband may have spent his life thinking he could only be important if he did big, grand things and made big tall buildings. She knew they could be happy and that he could be the kind of man he was destined to be, even living in a big drafty house in their hometown.
Also, let’s not forget that Mary was the one to save George (and the town) the first time around, too. And not only did she save the Building & Loan during the run, she sacrificed her honeymoon to do so.
And then she still stepped up to give George the closest thing she could to the honeymoon of his dreams. Not her dreams. His.
And yet still, despite all of the ass she kicked and all the love she gave throughout the entire movie, she’s still the victim of the greatest injustice of the whole film, and maybe any film. Because in the alternate Georgeless reality, what becomes of Mary Hatch? Does she marry Sam Wainwright? She doesn’t, and even though I’d love to picture a tan, wealthy Mary cruising along in Sam’s convertible, I also understand that it’s romantic to say that if Mary’s soulmate were never born, she’d never be satisfied with anyone else. Bullcrap, but romantic.
But even if Mary did become an “old maid,” she’s still herself. She’s still that same brilliant, beautiful, funny, strong woman she was born to be. She may have had a Bailey-shaped hole in her heart, but she is not this woman:
She is not, and could never be, no matter how single, a screaming, fainting, punk ass book jockey.
Mary Bailey nee Hatch, you deserve better, in any reality.