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This season, as always, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Frank Capra’s five-hankie tribute to small-town U.S.A., will dominate the small screen. Not every GC we spoke with was a fan of the film, but all of them identified with its themes. The events of recent months, it seems, have prompted many Jimmy Stewart-style revelations about the importance of family, friends and simple pleasures. On tap this year: fewer tropical vacations, and more big-ticket gifts replaced by charity checks. And don’t be surprised to find an American flag or two posted in the window next to the Christmas wreath. BENNETT GROSS Former senior vice president and general counsel for The Caldor Corp. On Oct. 1, he became of counsel at Philadelphia-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius’ New York office. The Legal Department: The Norwalk, Conn.-based Caldor fell on hard times in the mid-1990s, and the company made the decision to liquidate in 1999. Over the next two years, Gross oversaw the liquidation project. His Holiday Plan: Quiet will prevail in the Gross household this holiday season, thanks to a pair of headphones for the attorney’s new electronic drum set. Now, Gross can “bang away in the basement to my heart’s content without bringing the building down.” And since the family will be home this year — his wife is “a bit nervous to fly” — he will have ample time to hit the skins and pursue his other favorite hobby, reading. Books of choice? Anything by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. It’s a Wonderful Life? “It’s a decent movie,” Gross says. “But it’s been doomed [by] overexposure.” WILLIAM STEMPEL Vice president and general counsel, Geron Corp. The Legal Department: Stempel is the first general counsel of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based biopharmaceutical company. The department has two other in-house lawyers. His Holiday Plan: It’s still an uneasy time for Stempel and family, who moved from an old Connecticut farmhouse to the West Coast a couple of years ago. But even though the weather’s different, Stempel says, some things won’t change. “Being with family seems particularly important right now.” It’s a Wonderful Life? Stempel is so enamored of Capra’s classic that he has a bit of legal trivia for other devotees: The reason the movie’s played so often, Stempel says, is that the studio never renewed its copyright in the 1960s, “which means it’s in the public domain, and it doesn’t cost the networks a thing.” Therein lies the secret of a wonderful life: It’s free. W. GARRETT CROTTY General counsel, NASCAR (The National Association for Stock Car Racing) The Legal Department: Daytona Beach, Fla.-based NASCAR, founded in 1947, sanctions and organizes more than 2,200 races a year for stock cars and trucks. Second only to the American Football League in total American viewership, NASCAR has just negotiated a new national television contract, designed to reach an ever-growing fan base. Crotty and his eight-member legal team have been busy in recent months drafting sponsorship contracts with corporate titans like The Coca-Cola Company. His Holiday Plan: For Crotty, one of seven siblings, the holidays have always included big family gatherings. But he never has to travel far: Family from Boston and New York are usually more than happy to ditch their cold-weather domains for a sun-drenched Florida Christmas. This year’s reunion will be particularly sweet, Crotty says, since so many of his northeastern kin have been touched by the tragedy of Sept. 11. The events in New York will weigh on everyone’s minds, Crotty predicts, but “having my family together will be a welcome event.” Crotty also plans to spend time reading, but not the hard-hitting titles you might expect from a GC. After spending much of his day dealing with “lengthy legal documents,” Crotty says, he tends to gravitate towards less serious subject matter. “Right now I’m reading ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ by Spencer Johnson,” Crotty laughs, referring to the whimsically named, wildly popular motivational book that aims to teach readers how to tackle change. Crotty’s job will also influence his entertainment choices this season: As NASCAR’s top legal gun, he’ll get to take in a variety of hot-ticket stock car races while still on the clock. A GC’s work is never done …

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