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OBITUARIES : Robert J. Anderson, 1933 - 2008

Child actor played early George Bailey

June 08, 2008|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Robert J. Anderson, a former child actor best known for playing the young George Bailey in the 1946 Christmas film classic "It's a Wonderful Life," has died. He was 75.

Known as Bobbie when he was young and Bob as an adult, Anderson died Friday of melanoma at his Palm Springs home, said Stephen Cox, a family friend and author of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book."

Anderson was 12 when director Frank Capra cast him as Jimmy Stewart's youthful counterpart in the heartwarming tale set in Bedford Falls. As the adult George Bailey contemplates suicide, his life is told in flashback so his guardian angel Clarence can get to know him. Young George rescues his brother from drowning, dreams about being an explorer and saves the town pharmacist, Mr. Gower, from accidentally poisoning a customer.

In 1996, on the 50th anniversary of the movie's release, Anderson recalled shooting scenes with H.B. Warner, who played Mr. Gower.

"He actually bloodied my ear," Anderson told Cox for a Times story. "My ear was beat up, and my face was red and I was in tears. . . . I didn't know what we were building for. H.B. was perfect. He reached the crescendo. At the end when it was all over, he was very lovable. He grabbed me and hugged me, and he meant it."

The film, which initially flopped, became a holiday favorite in recent decades after it started airing repeatedly on TV when the copyright lapsed in the 1970s.

Anderson was born March 6, 1933, to a Hollywood family. His father, Gene Anderson, was involved in production at Columbia Pictures, and his uncle, William Beaudine, was a prolific director. Bobbie Anderson first appeared on screen as a toddler and went on to roles in the 1940 Shirley Temple movie "Young People," "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945) and "The Bishop's Wife" (1947), among others. He also appeared on TV, including a supporting role to Disney's "Spin and Marty" characters in the 1950s.

After serving in the Navy as a photographer, Anderson became an assistant director, production manager and producer for various studios.

"Most people don't know what happened to him, mainly because he stayed behind the cameras," Cox said Saturday. "Not that he didn't like 'It's a Wonderful Life.' He was very proud of his work in it."

Anderson is survived by his wife, Victoria; three sons, John of Lake Arrowhead, Bob Jr. of Long Beach and Joe of San Bernardino; three daughters, Kathleen Inman of Nyack, N.Y., Deborah Gutierrez of Boise, Idaho, and Heidi Anderson-Robinson of Ventura; 11 grandchildren; a brother, Beau Anderson; and a sister, Virginia McAfee.

Services are pending. Instead of flowers, donations in Anderson's memory may be made to the American Cancer Society.

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claire.noland@latimes.com

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