“Then it hit me,” said Grimes. “I was in that movie. I was Zuzu.”
The film, of course, is the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life,” which premiered at the Globe Theater in New York Dec. 20, 1946. Though she had never seen it before 1979, her kids and everyone else seemed to be familiar with the sentimental chestnut from filmmaker Frank Capra. When the copyright lapsed in 1974, television stations worldwide began looping the movie into their schedules. It was free programming, a cash gusher with no royalties paid to its creators, and the widespread exposure informed the imagination of generations of families huddled around the television over the holidays.
“I never saw movies I was in because my mom told me that would be prideful, being stuck on yourself,” said Grimes.
Watching it for the first time, 33 years after she appeared in the film, however, Grimes said she was swept away by the story she had never heard before.
It was about Clarence the angel (played by Henry Travers) coming down from heaven on Christmas Eve to save financially ruined George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) from killing himself so his life insurance would support his wife Mary (played by Donna Reed), and their four children — 6-year-old Zuzu, her big sister Janie (played by Carol Coombs), and big brother Pete (Larry Simms) and baby Tommy (Jimmy Hawkins).
“Oh, it was fresh and dark, about as relevant today as it was when it was made,” said Grimes, quieting a moment. “Think of all the people out of work, losing their homes, hungry kids worried about their parents. What’s so different about today and 60 years ago?”
Whatever its social relevance, the film remains popular. For the 65th anniversary, there is a pileup of festivities, with Los Angeles for the first time designating a day in honor of a film, Dec. 3. “Look, we’ve got ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstrators right here in front of city hall,” said the sponsoring city council member, Tom LaBonge (D), in a telephone interview. “We need more George Baileys in our world.”
Meanwhile, NBC will offer viewers a jazzed-up colorized version of the black-and-white original, and Paramount Studios has released Blu-ray color and black and white copies. And in Seneca Falls, N.Y., the small town Capra is said to have used as a template for Bedford Falls, the town laid out its 10th annual IAWL festival Dec. 9-11, with Grimes and Coombs on hand.
After hitting the Los Angeles and Seneca Falls celebrations, Grimes will fly to London to promote the film. In Los Angeles, Jimmy Hawkins released a third IAWL-related book, this one a coloring book.