COLORADO SPRINGS. Karolyn Grimes’ most famous line from her days in Hollywood — “Look, Daddy! Teacher says, ‘Everytime a bell rings an angel gets his wings’”— concludes the harrowing story of George Bailey in the Frank Capra classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” On April 14, Grimes will bring some of that old Hollywood magic to the St. Mary’s High School Annual Gala, which this year is themed “Lights. Camera. Auction.”
The 2018 Annual Gala will be held at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, which is a new venue this year. The evening will be filled with fun and fellowship all for the worthy cause of raising funds to support St. Mary’s students. As is tradition, there will be a silent and live auction, the Dessert Dash, dinner and dancing. The auction will have an online component again this year. One item on the auction ticket will be breakfast with Grimes the morning after the Gala. St. Mary’s students will perform this year as well. Grimes will be available for photos and mingling with the Gala guests.
While Zuzu Bailey is the role Grimes is most remembered for, her real life hasn’t always been wonderful. Grimes had roles in 16 movies with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Cary Grant in “The Bishop’s Wife,” Bing Crosby in “Blue Skies,” and John Wayne in “Rio Grande.” Her acting career ended in her teens when her mother’s early onset Alzheimer’s prevented her from managing Grimes’ career. She attended Catholic school for three years until her father could no longer juggle the commute as he became the primary caregiver for her mother.
As her circumstances changed, Grimes turned to music for refuge. She began singing in a church choir throughout Los Angeles; it was an experience she found extremely satisfying.
“I was raised in the church and led to believe that my foundation was a life with God,” Grimes said. “Religion was always a part of my life.”
One loss would follow another in Grimes’ life from that point forward. Her mother passed away when she was 14, and then a year later her father was killed in a car accident. Her father died without a will and with no family in the Los Angeles area, a judge decided that she would live with her closest relatives in Osceola, Missouri. Grimes said moving from Los Angeles to a town of 800 people was a culture shock for her, and she has described living with her aunt and uncle as a “bad home” situation.
“It was one of the worst times in my life, and it changed the course of my life in ways I never dreamed,” Grimes said. “In retrospect, getting out of Hollywood was probably the best thing that could have happened. I was at an age that would have had to start making choices in Hollywood and without parental support and a loving home, I’m not sure I would have made the right choices. Lots of my friends got involved with drugs and alcohol during those years.”
Living in Osceola taught Grimes a lot about people. With no Catholic church in town, she attended the Baptist church there and continued to sing. During high school, she said she learned about real friendships and real people, which led her to decide to stay in Missouri instead of returning to California after high school.
Her home situation with her aunt and uncle never improved, and Grimes said she believes she married for the first time to get out of “that miserable house.” She and her husband had two children, but later divorced a couple of years before he died in a hunting accident. When she met her second husband, he had three children and she had two. They married and had two more children together. Raising seven children was not always easy, but Grimes said they had a nice life together.
During these years, Grimes said her life in Hollywood was largely behind her. Her children knew of her roles in movies and would take memorabilia to show and tell at school, but her film career wasn’t a part of her daily life. Then in the 1980s, as “It’s a Wonderful Life” had a revival on network television during the Christmas season, Grimes began getting interview requests. She would do local interviews but declined anything that required travel since she still had teens at home.
In 1989, hard times came again when Grimes’ 18-year-old son committed suicide. The family struggled during this difficult time. Then her husband was diagnosed with cancer and later lost his business. After 25 years of marriage, Grimes’ husband lost his battle with cancer.
It was as she was struggling in her personal life that “It’s a Wonderful Life” became a part of her life again. In 1993, the four Bailey kids were reunited in a tour of Target stores. As Grimes, Carol Coombs-Mueller (Janie), Larry Simms (Pete), and Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy) met fans, they heard story after story of how the movie had impacted people’s lives.
“‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was a box office flop that sat on the shelf until it entered the public domain,” Grimes said. “I attended the premiere when it was released but was only six, so I fell asleep. I remember being interviewed in front of the theater for the radio and I saw snippets of my scenes. But I was 40 years old before I watched the movie all the way through.”
The positive messages of the movie, Grimes said, are what draw people to it.
“It’s a message of hope, of giving of oneself, and finding satisfaction in seeing others happy,” Grimes said.
These days, Grimes continues to be involved with the film that made her famous. She attends the Seneca Falls “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival each year and shares her story at events like the St. Mary’s gala.
“I believe God had a hand in everything and that he allowed me to have the experiences I have had. People pour out their hearts to me and I can understand because I’ve walked in their shoes. Through my experiences, I’ve learned compassion and how to help others, which is the whole purpose of life,” Grimes said.
More information about St. Mary’s Annual Gala can be found on the school’s website at www.smhscs.org.
(Amy G. Partain is Director of Communications for St. Mary’s High School.)