November 1, 1999
|Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes as Zuzu in It's a Wonderful Life.||Karolyn Grimes today.|
by Marshall Haley, staff reporter
CARNATION--Zuzu Bailey left Bedford Falls many years ago, but her lifelong association with the holiday classic movie It's a Wonderful Life and its star, Jimmy Stewart, have enriched her life and helped sustain her through several tragedies.
A Carnation resident since May, Zuzu, in reality known as Karolyn Grimes, said she fell in love with this area five years ago and determined to move here.
"I was brought out here to a doll-signing of the Zuzu Doll, at the Rosalie Whyel Museum of Doll Art in Bellevue," said Grimes. "While I was here, she 'donated' me to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's fundraising auction, whose theme that year was 'It's a Wonderful Life.' It was great fun. Richard Karns, of the Home Improvement TV series, was there. They've asked me back a couple of times since then. That first year, they raised about $500,000, but now they raise several million a year."
Grimes will be the featured guest at two teas hosted by Rosebud's in Carnation on Nov. 7. She will tell stories about working with many Hollywood legends and autograph her cookbooks, pictures, and other collectibles. Clay Eals, her biographer will also attend the tea. The tea is by reservation only, by calling Rosebud's at 425-333-6895, or visiting the store at 4475 Tolt Ave. in Carnation. The teas will be from 11-1 and 2-4 p.m.
Despite a life dotted with several emotional setbacks, Grimes engages strangers with a vivacious warmth that makes people feel better just for having talked with her.
Grimes grew up in Hollywood and was pushed into movie life by her "stage mother," who put her to work to supplement the family income, she said. Hollywood: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in Blue Skies; Rosalind Russell, Sammy Davis, Jr., Cecil B. de Mille, Gary Cooper, Betty Grable, Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Randolph Scott, Ida Lupino, Glenn Ford, Gig Young, Buster Keaton; in Rio Grande with John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, and director John Ford; in Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye; and of course, with Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.
Then reality threw her life in another direction: her mother died when she was 14, and her father died a year later in a car wreck.
"I was sent to live with relatives in the Midwest," said Grimes. "It was the first time I realized that not all people were like they are in Hollywood. I met real people and decided I liked them better. There wasn't as much pressure. I was able to live a normal life in Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. I went to college and found a husband, which is what women were expected to do in those days. I worked as a lab tech in the medical field for many years and raised my family."
Then, about 1980, the Wonderful Life phenomenon started and her life changed again, she said. Her fan club numbers over 3,000, and she has a website, www.zuzu.net. She spends much of her time as a travelling ambassador for Wonderful Life, speaking at film festivals, benefits, corporations, and conventions.
Grimes is also an inspirational speaker for bereavement organizations, women's groups, and caregiver organizations. She is able to speak about survival with authority and compassion, after losing her parents, her 18-year-old son to suicide in 1989, and her husband of 25 years to cancer in 1994.
Her lifelong friendship with Stewart ended when he died on July 2, 1997, two days before her 57th birthday. "It wasn't a bad death," said Grimes. "His health was bad, he'd recently had a pacemaker put in his heart, he wasn't enjoying life anymore and had become more and more reclusive. His wife Gloria had died in 1994, and she was the light of his life. That was his only marriage and he was over 40 when they got married. He was such a good, generous, down-to-earth man. I saw where he got his values and priorities, from his family and the little town he grew up in, Indiana, Pennsylvania. I've been there many times over the years and still serve on the advisory board of the Jimmy Stewart Museum there. He did so much for so many people, things the public knows nothing about. He especially contributed a lot to the Boy Scouts."
She is one of the few remaining cast members of It's a Wonderful Life. "Most of them already have their wings," said Grimes.