See Janie & Zuzu From "It's a Wonderful Life" Now at 86 & 81
Actors Carol Coombs and Karolyn Grimes still celebrate the holiday classic's legacy.
It's a Wonderful Life is the most enduring Christmas classic there is. And while it has a memorable lead performance from star Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, one of the most famous lines in the movie come from a much younger co-star. At the end of the film, George's daughter, Zuzu Bailey, says, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." All these years later, that line is still well-remembered thanks in part to actor Karolyn Grimes, who played adorable Zuzu when she was only six years old. It's a Wonderful Life was released 75 years ago, so, of course, many of the stars have since passed away. But, the actors who played the two Bailey daughters, Zuzu and Janie, are still around and still celebrating the film. Grimes is 81, and Carol Coombs, who played Janie, is 86. Read on to find out about how their lives have gone since starring in one of the most beloved movies of all time.
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Grimes stopped acting at age 15.
Grimes was a very successful child star. In addition to working with Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, she appeared in films with other big stars of the time, including Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in Blue Skies and Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife. At age 15, Grimes stopped acting when she had to go live with an aunt and uncle in Missouri after losing both of her parents.
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She took on a new career and started a family.
In a 2019 interview with Fox 11 Los Angeles, Grimes shared that she went on to be a medical technologist and raised seven children, including four of her own and three stepchildren. Unfortunately, the tragedies in her life didn't stop with the death of her parents. Her first husband died in a hunting accident and her second husband died of lung cancer. She also lost one of her children, who died by suicide.
These devastating situations influenced Grimes current passion, which is celebrating It's a Wonderful Life and spreading its message of connecting with others. She gives interviews about the film and attends events, including the annual It's a Wonderful Life festival in Seneca Falls, New York, the town that inspired the setting of the movie.
"I celebrate this movie year-round, and I love to share it with the people,"she told the National Catholic Register in a 2016 interview. "I'm getting fan mail from all over the world now, from email to snail mail, as well."
Coombs also retired from acting after her child star days.
Coombs' most memorable moment in It's a Wonderful Life is when Janie plays "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" on piano. And according to an interview with The Orange County Register, it was her musical skill that helped her land the role. "I'm not much better today—and we have a piano," she said at an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences event in 2016.
Like Grimes, Coombs was a successful child actor outside of It's a Wonderful Life. Some of her other films include The Clock, starring Judy Garland, and Mighty Joe Young. She also appeared on the series My Friend Flicka and Fireside Theater, among others. Coombs retired from acting when she was in her early twenties around which time she attended college at California State University, Los Angeles.
She became a teacher and got involved with the film's legacy.
After her acting days, Coombs became a kindergarten and elementary school teacher. She and her husband, Chet Mueller, who was also a teacher, welcomed three children together and are now great-grandparents.
Coombs initially wasn't interested in getting involved with It's a Wonderful Life again, but when she was approached about an event in the early '90s, she decided to go through with it. Since then, she, Grimes, and Jimmy Hawkins, who played brother Tommy Bailey, have traveled around for interviews and events together. (The fourth Bailey child, Pete Bailey, was played by Larry Simms, who died in 2009.)
"We have really, truly had a wonderful life. We've been blessed so much, and visited many different states," she said on stage with Hawkins and Grimes at the Academy event. "This one man when we were signing autographs—this one young man, who said he knew every word in the script. In the movie, he had memorized everything . Isn't that incredible? But it had changed his life that much, and I think it's changed a lot of people's lives." Grimes added, "Oh yes, it has."
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