Second Character Saturday — ZuZu Bailey

“Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” –ZuZu Bailey’

Who: ZuZu Bailey

From: It’s a Wonderful Life

it's a wonderful life

it’s a wonderful life (Photo credit: rocketlass)

Directed & Produced by: Frank Capra

Written By: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Philip Van Doren Stern and Michael Wilson. From the 1939 short story “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern.

Date Released: 1946

Why: ZuZu is the epitome of Christmas innocence.

Pros: Sweet, innocent, adorable.

Cons: Unrealistic. (But come on, she’s only 5!)

Shining Moment: When George realizes that he really IS better off alive then not… he reaches into to his pocket and finds the petals to ZuZu’s flower. He understands that he is back in the real world with his real family waiting for him at home. And no matter what other trouble might befall him, he has that love, and the love of his friends to rely on.

Least Shining Moment: (She really should have buttoned that coat.)

Iconic screen shot from the movie It's a Wonde...

Iconic screen shot from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Karolyn Grimes, the actress who played ZuZu in the movie, remembers making the movie 60+ years ago. She remembers Jimmy Stewart lifting her up for endless takes and gently setting her down each time after some one yelled “CUT”.  She remembers Frank Capra squatting down to give her a direction. She only had 6 minutes of screen time in the movie, but it has stayed with her for a lifetime.

… A lifetime that hasn’t always been so wonderful, frankly. Her mother died when Karolyn was 14, her father passed a year later, she went to a an unhappy “bad” home from there. But she got out and went to college and had a family and career as a medical technologist. But then her first husband died in a hunting accident. Her son committed suicide. Her second husband died of cancer. And she lost her life savings in the economic down turn in 2001.

“You have a choice,” she says. “You can drown in your sorrows, be the grumpy old Mr. Potter and be hurt and be in pain … but I think you need to put that behind you because, my gosh, life is a wonderful gift.” [Today Entertainment]

So instead of turning  bitter she remains upbeat. She wrote a cookbook, “ZuZu Bailey’s It’s a Wonderful Life Cookbook” and does personal appearances (especially around the holidays.)

“I’m that little girl and I stand for something those people love,” she says. “… For some reason or other, that little girl embodies the image, or maybe the power to make them happy.” [Ibid]

At one appearance, as Grimes analyzes the movie with the crowd, she asks them if they think ZuZu sees her father, George, hide the petals he can’t paste back on the flower? She thinks ZuZu is on to him.

“I think what Frank Capra is trying to say is she knows her father isn’t perfect,” she said. [Ibid]

And that speaks to LIFE and Christmas too. It isn’t perfect. And it doesn’t have to be, but it can still be WONDERFUL if you let it.


Some Christmas seasons you can’t swing a candy cane without hitting a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life on television. Sadly this wonderfully done movie has become part of the forced sentiment I like to call “Christmas Sausage” (That’s stuff YOU HAVE TO DO!!! to fulfill some one’s requirement of the Holiday) But this year, thankfully, it looks like the movie is only on once. So catch ZuZu, George, Mary, Uncle Billy and the rest of the gang at 8:00 pm Christmas Eve on NBC.



About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

2 responses to “Second Character Saturday — ZuZu Bailey

  • shaunagh61

    What a wonderful post! I did not know anything about this woman but your retelling of her story is insightful. It reminds me of Miss Bates from Austen’s Emma. It is often in the minor characters we find a little gem. Poor-but-Popular-Mrs Bates is surprisingly popular for one with so few advantages. Miss Bates is quite a comic character but she is truly content. Yet her life didn’t give her much. We are invited to laugh but later re evaluate as she has found what my friend calls the ‘contentment gene’.

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