The holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” plays at the Redford Theatre this weekend. There will also be a very special guest at all four screenings—Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey, George Bailey’s youngest daughter.
Frank Capra’s classic tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), whose life is first told in flashback form to Angel Second Class Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), who desperately wants to earn his wings.
George lives in Bedford Falls, New York and has given up all of his dreams in order to help those in his hometown. He marries his sweetheart Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) on the day the stock market crashes in 1929 and gives up his life savings during a bank run. He sets up an affordable housing project, but is repeatedly intimidated by wealthy Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore).
When George’s Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) misplaces $8,000 for the Building and Loan (which is kept by Potter), George tries to get a loan from Potter. Potter coldly tells George that his life insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive. When George tries to commit suicide on Christmas Eve, that’s when Clarence steps in to save him and show him what life would be like if he had never been born. Will Clarence help George see the light and realize that his life has touched so many people? And will Clarence get his wings?
Some consider “It’s A Wonderful Life” to be a film noir due to the darker scenes where George contemplates ending his life, and especially the scenes where George sees Bedford Falls turned into the seedy Pottersville full of vice and embittered townspeople. It was a box office failure when it was first released, and did not become a holiday classic until the 1970’s when it aired on television during the holidays.
Grimes’ life wasn’t always wonderful. Her mother pushed her into acting, but her acting career declined with her mother’s health. Her mother died when Grimes was 14, and she lost her father from a car crash a year later. She was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Osceola, Missouri. Her aunt and uncle were not kind to her, but she did receive plenty of support from neighbors and residents, and went on to become a medical technician. Her first marriage, which produced two daughters, ended in divorce, and her first husband died in a hunting accident. She had two more children with her second husband. Tragically, her youngest son committed suicide at age 18 in 1989, and her second husband died of lung cancer in 1994.
When the popularity of “It’s A Wonderful Life” began to pick up, Grimes began a new life focus. She has become an unofficial ambassador for the film, and embraced the spirit of Zuzu Bailey. “The letters I get are just incredible,” she told People in 2013. “They love the movie; they thank me for being in the movie. What a great gift I’ve been given. And I don’t take it for granted, I really don’t.”
Grimes will share anecdotes about working on the film with the audience before the film and during intermission. Show times are Friday, December 18 at 8 P.M., Saturday, December 19 at 2 and 8 P.M., and Sunday, December 20 at 2 P.M. Tickets are $7 and may be purchased at the box office or at the theater’s website.