Karolyn Grimes has lived quietly in her South Kitsap home with her husband for the last three years.
Many people may be unaware that she appeared in a famous Christmas classic with a legendary actor and actress.
Grimes, now 74, who appeared in “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, recently donated memorabilia from her private collection to a New York museum.
Grimes and the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum launched a “It’s a Wonderful Road Trip” — a U-Haul truck loaded with items from Grimes’ collection. It also will raise funds for the museum expansion at www.indegogo/projects/wish-i-had-a-million-dollars-hot-dog.
“The truck came out and they are taking display cases, frames, movie posters and all kinds of memorabilia from all the movies I was in, as well as special stuff from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ” said Grimes.
The truck also will stop in Dennison, Iowa (Reed’s hometown), Indiana, Penn. (Stewart’s hometown) and Chicago before heading Seneca Falls, N.Y.
The former actress said she started donating things for the museum when it opened on Dec. 10, 2010.
“There are also other collectors who are exhibiting in the museum,” Grimes said.
She said the fundraiser is for the museum’s expansion.
“We want to give it what it needs,” said Grimes. “We have people from all over the world who come and spend hours in there. We want it to really ‘pop.’ It’s for the people and that’s what it is about because they love this movie so much.”
The museum has achieved “archive status.”
It’s a Wonderful Life Museum is located in a portion of what was the first movie theater in town, the Seneca Theater. The theater was built in 1913.
Photographs and memorabilia from Grimes collection are on display together with items from other private collections. There are rare artifacts, such as a call sheet and the Academy Awards program from the year the film was nominated. The exhibit also includes quotes from Frank Capra that focus on his philosophy of the value of each individual together with stills of scenes from the film. The museum is open year round.
Each year, the town celebrates with an “It’s A Wonderful Life Festival” the second weekend in December. This is the 68th anniversary of the making of the film.
Box office bust
“It’s a Wonderful Life” was filmed in 1946 about an angel who helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.
The film also starred Hollywood legend Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter), along with Carol Coomes, Larry Simms, Jimmy Hawkins and Grimes, who played the Bailey children, Janie, Pete, Tommy and Zuzu.
It was directed by Frank Capra, who visited Seneca Falls one year earlier to look for inspiration for the fictional town of Bedford Falls in the film. The movie was filmed at RKO Radio Pictures Studio in Culver City, Calif.
The movie was nominated for five Oscars and won a Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Director for Capra.
Grimes never thought the movie would be successful.
“It was a box office failure when it came out,” she said. “No one had any idea. It sat on a shelf for 20-something years before someone didn’t renew the copyright and it became public domain.”
She said the movie got its exposure from television stations airing the movie.
Grimes said she attended the opening premier of the movie.
“I was only 6 years old, so I fell asleep,” she laughed
Working with legends
According Grimes’ website, www.zuzu.net, she began acting at age 4. She worked with film legends John Wayne, Boris Karloff, Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, Loretta Young, Fred MacMurray, Betty Grable, Danny Kaye, Lon Chaney, Randolph Scott and, of course, Stewart.
“Jimmy Stewart was wonderful,” said Grimes. “I had a lot of wonderful movie experiences. They were people who were not stuck on themselves. They were everyday people who had the ability to act. It’s different now.”
She already had appeared in four films when the part of Zuzu came along at age 6.
She also appeared in “The Bishop’s Wife” with Grant, and David Nivens, “Rio Grande” with Wayne, “Blue Skies” with Crosby and other movies.
Her last film was in 1952 when she appeared in “Han Christian Anderson” with Danny Kaye.
“I worked with the movie legends,” she said, laughing. “I have had a lot of famous parents.”
She thinks today’s actors and actresses are geared for the “teen” market.
“That’s unfortunate because they have lost a lot of creditability and intelligence I think,” Grimes said. “I think the independent films are good.”
Grimes said she still makes numerous appearances speaking throughout the country. She just recently returned from a “Christmas in July” event in Cleveland.
“And I sign a lot of autographs,” she noted.
She said she sells items on eBay.com and has her own website, www.zuzu.net.
“I sell a lot of memorabilia from the movie,” said Grimes.
Grimes has lived in the state for 17 years — 14 in Fall City and the last three in Manchester. Before moving to Washington, she lived in the Kansas City area.
“I love it here,” said Grimes. “The weather is fabulous. I like gray days, what can I say.”
Grimes said she and her husband are trying to “downsize.”
“I had a museum at the other house and it was quite large,” she said. “We had several storage units full and I want to see the museum succeed. I want to see some type of legacy. I probably have a large collection.”
According to Grimes’ website, tragedy beset her early and often.
Her Hollywood career ended in her teens when her mother died from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and her father was killed in an automobile accident. She was sent by the court to live in Osceola, Mo. Living in a less than desirable home, she found support from the townspeople, and, through their love and encouragement Grimes got an education and became a medical technician.
She later married and had two girls, but the marriage ended in divorce. Two years later, the girls’ father was killed in a hunting accident.
She then married a man who had three children. They had two more together. Her youngest child committed suicide at age 18, and her husband of 25 years died from lung cancer.