What Does Zuzu Think of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’?
It’s that time of year when It’s a Wonderful Life is airing on just about every network day and night! (You can see exactly when and where here.) Even 77 years after its original release, this feel-good holiday classic starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore holds a special place in the cultural zeitgeist and within viewers’ hearts. Did you know there’s even an annual It’s a Wonderful Life festival held in Seneca Falls, NY? On the heels of her 21st year attending, Karolyn Grimes, who played the lovable child of Mary and George, Zuzu Bailey, talked to us about how she views this film so many decades later.
How many times have you watched It’s a Wonderful Life?
Maybe 200 times, something like that, because I do a lot of appearances where they show the film, and of course I watch it.
What would you say is your favorite scene?
The scene where George is on the bridge, and he says, “I want to live again. I want to live again.” And then he says, “Please, God, I want to live again.” The minute he says, “God,” it starts to snow, and you know he’s back. He’s discovered what really is important in life, and that is faith and family and friends, and maybe even the possibility of miracles.
What do you remember from the filming of it? Do you have any memories?
Oh, sure. I’d already done four movies, so it was just another job. But the fact that they had snow was so exciting for me because I was born and raised in Hollywood. It doesn’t snow there, so I’d never seen snow. This isn’t real snow, but it was something different, and I really was fascinated by it.
My parents, they didn’t make a lot of money, so we just had a little tree on a table. And so when I saw this magnificent tree, all the Christmas lights and everything, that was just fascinating to me. I really enjoyed watching that and learning that people have big Christmas trees.
Did you keep anything from set, like any memorabilia or props?
I might have an ornament from the tree. Let’s just say I might have it.
Did you stay in touch with your fellow Bailey children?
Oh yes. We’re very close. Unfortunately, several are getting their wings, so it’s kind of down to little Tommy, the kid who burped, and Janie, who played the piano, and me. The only other people that really come to the festival now are the babies that played Petey, the oldest boy. When he’s born, it shows Mary pulling the baby out of a playpen. Whenever you have a baby in a movie, you have to have twins. The twins from that are still with us, and they come to the festival every year.
Jimmy Hawkins, the little boy who played Tommy, and I are very, very close. We’re like real brother and sister.
Do you remember anything about how Frank Capra was to work with? Did you get a lot of direction?
He directed every movement, every single inch of everything you did. He paid a lot of attention to details. For instance, you know what’s on Mr. Potter’s desk when he offers George a job? A skull. And the skull faces Mr. Potter, and there’s a heavy chain on the back of it that faces is George. What Capra is saying is, if George takes the job, he’ll be chained to Potter for the rest of his life.
Oh, that’s interesting. There’s a lot of symbolism there.
All through the movie.
There are also quite a few resonating themes as well. What would you say is the biggest theme or takeaway from the movie?
That each man’s life matters. We all make a difference, and we have the opportunity to make our lives wonderful if we choose to do so. You can walk down the street and see somebody that’s snarly looking and you can smile at them. Maybe that changes their whole day around. Just little things in life can make such a big difference. I think that we should think about our fellow man and try to keep a positive attitude. Believe me, that’s contagious.
How do you feel being a part of what is probably the most beloved and most-watched Christmas movie?
It was never meant to be a Christmas movie. Sinbad the Sailor was supposed to be the Christmas movie, but it wasn’t ready, so they came to Capra and said, “Get your movie done.”
There’s a lot of editing mistakes throughout the film because he rushed it to get it done. It wasn’t released until December the 20th at the Globe Theatre in New York. Anyway, it wasn’t a success. So it sat on a shelf for 20 years. And then it became public domain, and all the television stations could show it during the early ’70s. And that’s when it all happened.
It’s also becoming worldwide. It’s the number one Christmas movie in the United Kingdom. I get mail from Germany, from Japan. I get mail from everybody. It’s amazing.
Do you have any final thoughts about the film and its legacy?
I would like to see more people watch the movie and embrace the messages. It would change our world in a big way if people would do that, because it’s all about how each man makes a difference. It’s love, it’s caring, and it’s community. There’s so much positive that comes from all that negative.
We here at Remind can’t help but agree!
Frank Capra's 1946 classic led by James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore will again air on NBC and some of its sister cable channels in 2023.