It’s a Wonderful Life has brought both happiness and happy tears to millions — it’s this writer’s favorite film of all-time — regaling audiences every year since 1946. While largely heralded as a holiday movie due to the crux of the film taking place on Christmas Eve, the picture’s universal message — “no man is a failure who has friends” — resonates year round. In fact, the powerful and moving tale of everyman George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who, with the help of his guardian angel, gets to see what life would be like if he had never been born, was named the No. 1 film on the American Film Institute’s list of “America’s Most Inspiring Movies.”
While the beloved movie starred Stewart and Donna Reed, it also featured an ensemble cast: Bedford Falls townspeople such as Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell), Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), Violet (Gloria Grahame), Harry (Todd Kairns), Bert and Ernie (Ward Bond and Frank Faylen, respectively), Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson), as well as the otherworldly angel Clarence (Henry Travers), and more.
Though all of the actors above have passed on, there are several stars who are still with us today. And with them, the spirit of It’s a Wonderful Life lives on.
Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) celebrates the film every year
Zuzu Bailey, of “Zuzu’s petals” fame, was portrayed by actor Karolyn Grimes in It’s a Wonderful Life. Just 6 years old at the time (She celebrated her 80th birthday in 2020), Grimes talked to Thrillist in 2017 about the importance of the flower petals that disappear from George Bailey’s pocket while he lives in the alternate universe of Pottersville. Grimes said the petals “showed how much he loved that little girl and how much he loved his family and how fortunate he was to have his family.”
Though Grimes’ own childhood was difficult — she lost both her parents before the age of 15 — she has thrived in the entertainment industry, thanks in part to this classic film’s lasting interest across generations. Grimes even wrote a children’s book about the film, Thrillist reported.
As Grimes told the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum (yes, there is such a place!), she has “returned to the community of Seneca Falls [the town on which the fictional Bedford Falls was based] every year since 2002. There is a festival celebrating this beloved Christmas film every December. Every time I come back, I feel like I am coming home.”
Janie (Carol Coombs) lived out George Bailey's dream
In a 2014 interview with The Orange County Register, Carol Coombs (pictured above) revealed that, despite her stint as a child actor, she spent the majority of her career as an elementary school teacher. At the time of the article, she was a proud great-grandparent who lived in a mobile home park in Irvine, Calif., with her longtime husband. In fact, she and her hubs seemed to live out one of George Bailey’s major life goals: to travel. The couple reportedly spent one summer traveling around the country in an RV.
In the movie, Janie’s little brother Tommy (Jimmy Hawkins), the youngest of the Bailey kids — “excuse me… excuse me… I burped” — continued to act. According to his IMDb profile, Hawkins’ most recent role was in the 2018 TV series Foresaken Westerns.
The other young actors in the film: Little Violet (Jeanine Ann Roose), Little Mary (Jean Gale), and Little Sam Wainwright (Ronnie Ralph) are all living as of July 2020, according to their IMDb profiles.
Ruth Dakin (Virginia Patton Moss) shares the film's values
Virginia Patton Moss portrayed Ruth Dakin — “Ruth Dakin Bailey, if you don’t mind” — the wife of George Bailey’s younger brother, Harry. In the film, Ruth’s father offers Harry a job, thus committing George — desperate to travel the world — to be stuck in Bedford Falls while he continues to work at their late father’s building and loan.
As of 2012, Patton was a docent at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, according to a Patch article about the actor. Patton was 86 at the time of the piece and dedicated to her family life and the larger community in which she lived. She celebrated her 94th birthday in 2020.
Patton filmed several pictures after It’s a Wonderful LIfe, then stepped away from acting to pursue her dream of starting a family. She knew it was the right decision. “I couldn’t see me doing that for my life,” she told Patch. “That isn’t what I wanted. I wanted exactly what I am. Ann Arbor, Michigan, a wonderful husband, wonderful children, a good part of the community. I work hard for the community.”
Just like George Bailey.
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