Today’s Guest: Karolyn Grimes, actress, It’s a Wonderful Life
(Originally published December 9, 1996)
What would your life be like if something you did at age 6 haunted you every Christmas for the next 50 years?
For Karolyn Grimes, it has been a wonderful life. So wonderful, in fact, she turned it into a cottage industry. The child star who played “Zuzu Bailey” in the classic 1946 holiday film, It’s a Wonderful Life, appeared in 18 movies but none of the others inspired conventions, greeting cards, a collector’s plate and trivia contests.
Now she’s cashing in with Zuzu Bailey’s It’s A Wonderful Life Cookbook (Birch Lane Press), featuring “recipes and anecdotes inspired by America’s favorite movie.” Stretching the concept a little thin? Maybe you need another viewing to remember how these recipes fit in:
• “Clarence Oddbody’s Heavenly Hot Mulled Wine” — The drink Clarence the angel ordered at Nick’s Place.
• “South Pacific Honeymoon Chicken” — It makes you think of that night, Grimes says.
• “Angel Second Class Pink Lemon Pie” — Light and fluffy, naturally.
KAROLYN GRIMES excerpt: “‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ really is my favorite movie for Christmas. But my second favorite is ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.’ That dog named Snot! The squirrel in the tree! I just love that movie!”
Grimes and her co-author, Franklin Dohanyos, milked every possible “Wonderful” scene and cliché they could in dubbing these recipes. Here are a few more examples: “He Melts When He Sees-Her Salad”; “Angel Fluff Mashed Potatoes”; “Potter’s Cold-as-a-Potato Soup”; and, of course: “I Want to Live Again Twice Baked Potatoes.”
Why a cookbook? “People love It’s A Wonderful Life,” Grimes says. “They always want more of it.” And as the many photos in the cookbook recall, there was plenty of eating and drinking in the movie. But the real reason, says Grimes, a mother of seven, is family.
“It’s my firm belief that the family is the core of America. And that core is starting to dissolve,” she says, beginning a speech that would make her “father,” George Bailey, proud. “Our lives are going so fast, so many things are going on! A family meal, at least once a day, is a time everyone can share their experiences and learn something about the other person. Even if it’s just breakfast — we’re together and we’re talking. It’s a good time to fasten the foundations of the family.”
She hopes that a cookbook of wholesome favorites will give families another reason to gather.
Besides food and photos, the book collects reminiscences from the movie and is chock-full of trivia such as “What was the name of Uncle Billy’s deceased wife?” (Laura.)
The nostalgia circuit keeps Grimes busy from September through December. She even hired someone to handle her fan mail. “It’s the most remarkable thing you’d ever think could happen to you,” she says.
Most of the recipes originated with Grimes, but not all. “There was a recipe exchange on the set when they made the movie,” she says, although it’s hard imaging a 6-year-old girl was very interested then. One of the recipes came from Jimmy Stewart’s real mother — “somebody who already got her wings,” Grimes says, referring to the movie’s closing line that made her famous.
Not everything in Grimes’ life has been absolutely wonderful, however. With the remarkable resurrection of It’s a Wonderful Life, there have been disreputable attempts by different parties to cash in on the film, Grimes says. She frequently sees her likeness appear in all manner of Wonderful Life merchandise. Although she and some of the other surviving actors put up with it for a time, they have drawn the line at attempts by Republic Studios — controlled by “Melrose Place” TV producer Aaron Spelling — to collect licensing fees for the movie. (Republic didn’t return calls for comment.)
First of all, she says, Republic does not have the right to market her likeness. And more important to her — they aren’t paying her to do so.
“We’re suing ’em, you betcha,” Grimes says, affecting a perfect Bedford Falls dialect. “Mr. Aaron Spelling is now Mr. Potter and he’s coming after the Bailey kids. Republic has made like they own all this stuff and they don’t. They’re getting money for something they don’t own — me.”
Let’s end on an upbeat note. While nearly everyone else on the planet has now watched It’s a Wonderful Life for the thousandth time, what will “Zuzu Bailey” be watching?
The Bishop’s Wife.
“That really is my favorite movie for Christmas,” Grimes says. “But my second favorite is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. That dog named Snot! The squirrel in the tree! I just love that movie!”
This is Zuzu all grown up!
Karolyn Grimes Website • Order Zuzu Bailey’s It’s A Wonderful Life Cookbook
Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey on It’s A Wonderful Life) Interview with Mr. Media (2011)