Saturday, December 12, 2009
It is, without a doubt, one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. "It's A Wonderful Life" was released in 1946 and it still continues to garner new fans year after year. I had the greatest pleasure to speak with Karolyn Grimes, who played ZuZu in the film, a few years back. She's as warm and friendly today as she was as a child in the classic film!
MICK: Where were you born?
KAROLYN: I was born in Hollywood on July 4th!
MICK: What did your parents do for a living?
KAROLYN: My mother was a housewife and my father was the manager of a Safeway Store.
MICK: I see that you only make 16 movies but you worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood!
KAROLYN: Yes, it was incredible! Cary Grant was my favorite. Bing Crosby was great. He had a really good sense of humor and he liked to play practical jokes. Him and Jerry Colonna on our set, they were buddies, lots of fun together. He never forgot who I was, even years later down the road, he recognized me. John Wayne had a big heart, a man's man! He did it all right. He knew how to treat women but he liked to drink and smoke and play cards. He loved kids.
MICK: Had did you get the part of Zuzu in "It's a Wonderful Life"?
KAROLYN: A lot of people ask me if I believe in God and I say "if you were a little girl and you tried out for the part of Zuzu with probably 100 other kids and were told you got the part, you would certainly believe God had a part in this!"
MICK: How do you remember director Frank Capra?
KAROLYN: He was a unique person in a sense that he was very meticulous about details. he encouraged us as kids to bring out what he wanted to see. Getting on his knees and talking to us at eye level rather than talking down to us. It was a great thing and he got what he wanted. He was able to communicate with people really well. Another practical joker, a family man, a fair man. Very fun to work with.
MICK: What was Jimmy Stewart like?
KAROLYN: For one thing, he was extremely tall to me! He was 6'4" tall, very thin. Even when I became an adult, I was still amazed at how tall he was! He seemed immense! Throughout the film, I was with him, one on one, everywhere. I'd be on his back, in his arms. He was very tender and had a lot of patience if I would fluff a line. In later years, when I got to know him as an adult, I was very impressed with his integrity and his sense of values. The fact that he was a mega-legend, it never went to his head. He was just normal, ordinary George Bailey.
MICK: Did you keep in touch with him?
KAROLYN: Actually not. I got in touch with him in 1990. People had started looking for Zuzu and we spent a day together in New York. It was quite nice. We got to get to know each other and from then on, he referred people to me when they were looking for Zuzu.
MICK: After your film career ended, what did you do?
KAROLYN: I was orphaned at the age of 15. I was more or less shipped out of Hollywood to the mid west. I ended up in a very bad home situation. Because of that, I learned a lot. I had gone to Los Angeles High School and there were 900 kids in my school. Now I was in a town with very few people. I thought I died! After a year, the whole town knew I ended up with a family that was horrible. My teachers, the merchants, everybody rallied around me. I really learned about people outside of the Hollywood scene so I never wanted to go back. In order to get out of the situation that I was in, I needed an education. I went to college and became a medical technologist. Ended up getting married and raised 7 kids. In 1980, the media found me. Each year, "It's A Wonderful Life" was getting more exposure and I did too! In 1993, when my kids were grown, I went on a tour with the Target Company. That's when it all started. My husband died of cancer in 1994. From then on, I've been doing It's a Wonderful Life stuff forever! I love being able to touch people's lives. God gave me the ability to reach people. I celebrate Christmas with all kinds of people who feel they know me. They write me stories about how their lives have been affected by the movie. They write to me about angels. I believe there's something out there that people need at Christmas time. The movie has become a tradition in many people's homes. It goes from generation to generation. It's a real privilege to have been a part of this movie. Margaret O'Brien was a huge star back then and she doesn't have any movies on DVD and I have four! She doesn't really have a signature film and this is a signature film for me. God granted me a real blessing allowing me to be in "A Bishop's Wife", "Rio Grande", "Hans Christian Anderson"...how many classics can you be in! A little bit of divine guidance there for sure!
MICK: How long were you married?
KAROLYN: The first time was six years and my husband was killed deer hunting. The second time was 25 years.
MICK: You've also written a few books?
KAROLYN: I've actually only written a cook book "ZuZu Bailey's It's A Wonderful Life Cook Book" but there have been several books written about me. I've had a very unusual and interesting life with a lot of things that weren't wonderful.
MICK: Do you keep in touch with anyone from your films?
KAROLYN: Oh yes! The Bailey kids are pretty tight! We haven't got our wings yet! I talk to Jimmy Hawkins every week. I was very fortunate to be reconnected with Jimmy Stewart as well as Catherine Craig and Loretta Young. Around 1990, I was able to correspond and be with these people before it got too late.
MICK: Do you still get fan mail?
KAROLYN: I sure do! I get fan mail year round, I have a website. It's incredible! I got my first fan letter in 1980 and I nearly fell out of the chair! I had not even thought about those past days. My kids would sometimes take my picture to show and tell at school. I had put those days behind me. The media caught up with me so I did a few interviews. It's just taken off since then!
MICK: Tell me something about yourself that people would be amazed to know!
KAROLYN: I'm a pretty open person and I'm not shy so there's not much that people don't know about me. Maybe one thing is that I do believe in angels. I believe we all have a great angel with us. That's not quite amazing because, after all, I am Zuzu!
Today, Karolyn serves as the unofficial ambassador for 'It's A Wonderful Life", traveling the world and speaking at screenings, benefits, conventions and other venues. You can learn more about her on her website: