The Actor Who Played ZuZu in “It’s A Wonderful Life” Attended UCM
By the time actress Karolyn Grimes wound up in Missouri, her acting career, had come to an end. Yet, her iconic role as ZuZu in "It's A Wonderful Life" would put her back in the spotlight long after leaving Hollywood.
I wish I could say Grimes lived a storybook life in Missouri. Unfortunately, her early years here could be considered difficult. As were the circumstances that brought her to Missouri. Grime's mother died when she was 14, and her father a year later. According to the Washington Post, "A court ordered that she be sent to Osceola, Mo., to live with an uncle and his unstable wife, who, Grimes said, were fanatical about their new charge not watching movies, singing and dancing."
That had to be difficult for the teenager, who had acted in a variety of films including another Christmas classic "The Bishop's WIfe" and the John Wayne classic "Rio Grande".
She told The Post that the whole town knew about her situation and she didn't talk about her time in Hollywood. And while it sounds like a difficult time for her, she said she made some wonderful friends who she's still close to today.
Grimes would attend the University of Central Missouri and become a medical technologist. And while her seven children knew of her childhood acting career, it wasn't a big deal. And Grimes herself, lead a life like many busy moms. She told The Post she lived in the car, the laundry room, and the kitchen.
As a mom, I don't think Grimes thought she'd be in the spotlight again. Yet, the forgotten Frank Capra film would end up having its copyright lapse and became a perennial Christmas classic that got shown a lot every year on television because TV stations didn't need to pay anyone to run it.
Over the years "It's A Wonderful Life" became sort of a cult classic film. And Grimes started to have reporters show up and ask her if she had played ZuZu and if she'd be willing to do an interview. Fans and reporters also started asking Jimmy Stewart about her, and he had one of his secretaries find her.
She told The Washington Post when she started to be asked about the film, she finally watched the whole movie. And it had an impact on her. The Post says, "She was sustained by the film’s uplifting message that everyone’s life has meaning. “I always try to look at the bright side,” she said. “There is something good, you just have to look for it.”
That message made her want to have the movie be a part of her life, and she's served as a goodwill ambassador for the film ever since.
I think her story, and the impact seeing the film she had acted in as a child as an adult had on her, is amazing.
I'm also glad the film has given Grimes a little more notoriety. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but The Post article leaves me with the impression Grimes wasn't necessarily done with acting when she stopped. She was a young teen when life happened, threw her some curveballs, and changed the trajectory of her life. Yet it all seems to have worked out for the actress, mom, and UCM alum.
If you're a fan of "It's A Wonderful Life" or want to learn more about Karolyn Grimes, I highly recommend you check out the article in The Washington Post.