In the classic American film It’s a Wonderful Life, protagonist and newlywed George Bailey, portrayed by James Stewart, thwarts a Depression Era bank run with his own honeymoon money and force of moral character. Historians Odie Faulk and William Welge memorably recal, below, Oklahoma’s own George Bailey, Robert M. McFarlin, in their book Oklahoma: A Rich History.
“Economic distress led to the collapse of Oklahoma’s bank deposit guaranty system in 1920, and several banks failed, causing great anguish to depositors (and to bank directors, who were then faced with personal as well as business liability). In Tulsa the situation was especially critical, for bankers there had advanced capital to oil men who, with prices plummeting, could not repay their debts. Early in 1920 the American National Bank closed its doors, causing anxious depositors to mill about in the street and to begin to talk in ugly tones.
“Across the street at the Exchange National Bank, which had been conservative in its loans and thus was totally solvent, Robert M. McFarlin, a director, saw the mob in front of the American National Bank waving their passbooks and demanding their money. He quickly took action to prevent disaster, for he realized that the failure of one bank would strain the resources of other banks in the city and region. Emerging from the Exchange National Bank, he shouted until the mob quieted. He then calmly told the seething crowd that they could bring their passbooks into the Exchange National Bank and be paid the full amount of savings they had in the collapsing American National Bank.
“This was a desperate gamble, for if all depositors in the American National accepted his offer it would have bankrupted the Exchange National Bank. After a few minutes of discussion, however, only a few in the mob accepted McFarlin’s offer; the others went home, and the banking crisis was over in Tulsa.”