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Life wasn't so 'Wonderful' for Zuzu actress

Life wasn't so wonderful for Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film
Life wasn't so wonderful for Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the filmDavid Duprey / AP

You know that heartwarming moment at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” — the one where George Bailey’s adorable daughter Zuzu tells her father that “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings”? It closes the tale of redemption and appreciation perfectly and leaves the audience feeling that it really is a pretty darned good life.

Well, get ready to have that warm feeling sucked away, because for the actress who played Zuzu, life wasn’t so wonderful at all. In fact, according to a report published in the Washington Post, much of Karolyn Grimes’ life proved downright tragic.

"My mother died when I was 12, and right after my dad died in a car crash,” said Grimes, who was just 6 when she played Zuzu. “I was 15 and had no family. The court sent me to live with my uncle and aunt in Missouri. … They were kind of nutso, religious fanatics who didn't believe in movies, dancing, singing, that kind of thing. I don't think they believed in laughing, either."

From there, things didn’t exactly improve for Grimes, as she later lost a husband to cancer and a son to suicide.

“My life has never been wonderful,” she said. “Maybe when I was a child, but not after age 15.”

Those looking for a bright spot in the 71-year-old’s story, something that might make this year’s requisite TV trip to Bedford Falls a little more bearable when Zuzu hits the screen, can (sort of) find it in this tidbit: Despite her tough times — or maybe because of them — Grimes takes comfort in the very film in which she starred.

“It’s not a Christmas movie, not a movie about Jesus or Bethlehem or anything religious like that,” she said. “It’s about how we have to face life with a lot of uncertainty, and even though nobody hears it, most of us ask God to show us the way when things get really hard… and (like in the film) it can be in Martini’s (bar), not a church on Christmas.”

This year marks the 65th anniversary of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Is "Wonderful Life" one of your holiday favorites? Tell us in the comments.


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