Guest Author - Amber Grey
While Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed continued to build upon their career after "It's A Wonderful Life" (1949), it is always fascinating to find out what happened to the actors and actresses who shared the screen with them. Particularly, the Bailey children that leave a lasting impression in the last half-hour of the film.
Actress Karolyn Grimes, who portrayed Zuzu Bailey in the classic Christmas film, "It's A Wonderful Life" (1949) was persuaded into the films at an early age by her mother. She shared the screen with a few icons in her young age before she was Jimmy Stewart's daughter. She was Fred MacMurray's daughter in "Pardon My Past" (1945) as well as Bing Crosby's daughter in "Blue Skies" (1946).
At just six years old, Grimes had her golden moment sharing the screen with Stewart as "Zuzu Bailey." But shortly after, in her teens, Grimes' mother passed away, followed by her father, in which she was left orphaned. She was sent to live with an aunt and uncle, who was not at all loving and supportive like her parents. However, Grimes persevered and was able to graduate from school and become a medical technologist. It was not until the 1980s, when her identity as "Zuzu" came into the public's eye again.
Now, Grimes accepts herself, as she describes on her website, "as the unofficial ambassador for the film." Grimes makes appearances at countless benefits, screenings, conventions and festivals wherever "It's A Wonderful Life" is known and loved. And has been making appearances for a number of festivals and conventions. In one appearance when she signed autographs with a cold, Grimes told the fans that she got sick from leaving her coat open, in reference to Zuzu.
In Seneca Falls, New York, the town that was Capra's inspiration for Bedford Falls, Grimes helped open a "It's A Wonderful Life" museum. A portion of the film's memorabilia belongs to the actress herself including an original press book and lobby cards. She also published her own cookbook inspired by the film, aptly titled "It's A Wonderful Life Cookbook." She also has her own website dedicated to the legacy of the film, zuzu.net.
As for the other Bailey children, Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey) co-wrote the "It's A Wonderful Life Trivia" book. Although Larry Simms (Peter Bailey) was a child star from the age of 2, Simms retired from movies in 1951 and joined the Navy. He then studied aeronautical engineering and found a career as an engineer. Actress Carol Coombs (Janie Bailey) continued her career in film until the 50s including "The Mating Season" (1951) and "Summer Love" (1958), when she quietly retired.
Throughout the years since the early 90s, the Bailey children have reunited across the United States to celebrate "It's A Wonderful Life" (1949). At the Beverly Hills High School, they commemorated the gymnasium with a plaque dedicated to the school dance scene that was shot in the exact spot. They also make a trip to Seneca Falls, New York, a town which was the inspiration for Capra's Bedford Falls. They will be reunited again for the 65th anniversary of the film, in the gymnasium for the film's screening.
Another point of interest: If you have ever wondered where Zuzu's unique name came from, it was of an old brand of ginger snaps that was very popular at the time the film was made.