50connect with Karolyn Grimes

Posted on: 09 November 2011 by Alexander Hay

To mark the 65th Anniversary release of Frank Capra's classic 'It's A Wonderful Life', we chatted to actress Karolyn Grimes.

Karolyn Grimes played ZuZu Bailey (right), alongside Donna Reed and one James Stewart (plus a Christmas tree)Hello Karolyn, hope all is well. To start, please do introduce yourself.

I'm a child actress from the 40's and 50's. I am especially known for playing the part of Zuzu in the movie It's a Wonderful Life.

How did you become an actress at such an early age, and get cast in the film?

When I was four years old my mother thought that my father was going to be drafted into the war. She was worried we wouldn’t be able to live on the Army pay so she put me to work. She found me an agent, I got some parts and as they say, 'the rest is history...'

What was it like making the film? Obviously, you were very young at the time, but what impressions did you have of the cast and crew?

It was great fun doing the film. I loved the snow, the big Christmas tree and the other kids to play with on the set. And of course there was this VERY tall man that held me a lot. He was just a wonderful fellow. Mr. Barrymore was scary but everyone else was very friendly.

How did the film impact on your life thereafter? Was it a blessing, a curse or both?

The film wasn’t a success when it first came out and so it really was just another job, a film credit I could put in my portfolio. But in 1980 it started to become something of a cult film and I began travelling and living this film. Now it is my alter ego you might say. I am Zuzu year around and I love being the little girl that celebrates the holidays with people all over the world.

It's A Wonderful Life was initially unsuccessful (critically and commercially) but became ever more respected as time went on. How did this happen?

The movie got noticed because the copyright on the film wasn’t renewed, and so it essentially became part of the public domain. It began to be shown regularly on TV and that’s how it got the exposure.

I have the impression that the film has become one of the founding myths of post-war America. Has it become a part of the national psyche, in a way, and if so, why?

The film is about so many things and it is a part of our lives because people identify with George Bailey and all the adversities he encounters. His dreams never come true for himself and he is afraid he can't support his family. Today that is a huge issue and yet in the end he finds that he has much more than he realises. He discovers what really is important in life and he develops a great gratitude for what he has experienced after all.

Given the sub-prime crisis, recession, mass unemployment and Occupy Wall Street protests, does the film have a renewed relevance right now?

Yes, the film definitely does have renewed relevance today. There are a lot of Mr. Potters in the world and it seems that there are more of them then we thought who are going to have to change. Our world financial situation needs to change in order for the world not to go into complete chaos. The film demonstrates how the little fellow is the worker bee and the corporations get all the financial rewards. George Bailey is the champion that each of us can relate to.  He just helped people and made a difference.

It's sometimes seen, perhaps unfairly, as an 'archetypical Christmas film' - does this get in the way of the film's message in some ways?

In some ways perhaps it can get in the way, but for the most part, judging from the many emails I receive from people, they see beyond that and can see the messages of hope that are prevalent. So many families enjoy watching the film together at Christmas and this can only be a good thing.

I found the film to be very dark, the 'uplifting ending' more like a brief reprieve than a resolution. Is it really a simple Christmas tale, or something more ambivalent?

Of course the film is dark, that is one of the reasons I think that it was not a success. It is about a man who is going to commit suicide. But as each page unfolds Frank Capra shows us how much can be accomplished by coming together as a community and how powerful people are when they have like minded goals.

And after all that, many thanks for taking your time to answer these questions!


Out now!


It's A Wonderful Life 65th Anniversay edition is out now on DVD & Blu-Ray.

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Alexander Hay

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