1 ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Star Didn’t Watch the Movie Until 30 Years After It Debuted

At Christmastime, there are many holiday classics that families can’t wait to watch. But from A Christmas Story to Home Alone to The Santa Clause, all are — at least, a little bit — influenced by one of the oldest out there: It’s a Wonderful Life. And though it’s been passed down through generations, one of the movie’s stars didn’t watch it for decades.

‘It’s a Wonderful’ premiered in 1946

'It's a Wonderful Life'
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ | LMPC via Getty Images

The dark holiday tale premiered on December 20, 1946. It follows George Bailey, a man who’s been having a challenging time. Obstacles throughout his life include his father’s death, being saddled with a job he hates, and, finally, losing the money needed to keep his business afloat.

As angel-in-training, Clarence, stops George from taking his own life. He shows him what the world would have been like without him and how much worse off those in his life would be. In the end, George returns to his friends and family, grateful for them and how they’ve rallied around him.

Years later, Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu) saw the film

James Stewart as George Bailey and Karolyn Grimes as his daughter Zuzu in a scene from 'It's a Wonderful Life'
James Stewart as George Bailey and Karolyn Grimes as his daughter Zuzu in a scene from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ | by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t an immediate success when it debuted, though it did earn Academy Award nominations. It took until it began to play on the small screen years later that it earned cult hit status. More than 30 years after the premiere, one star from the movie saw it for the first time.

“I never saw the movie before,” former child star Karolyn Grimes told the Washington Post in 2011. “Then it hit me,” she continued. “I was in that movie. I was Zuzu.” As for why she hadn’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life before, Grimes said, “My mom told me that would be prideful, being stuck on yourself.”

She believes in the movie’s timeless nature

Karolyn Grimes in 2010
Karolyn Grimes in 2010 | Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Many look back on It’s a Wonderful Life as a heartwarming film, but it can be pretty grim. “It was fresh and dark, about as relevant today as it was when it was made,” Grimes said. “What’s so different about today and 60 years ago?” She also talked about her own troubled adolescence. “My life has never been wonderful.”

“Maybe that’s what makes the film so important for me and a lot of other people,” she continued. “George is suffering terribly in the movie — you can just see it. He’s in Martini’s café and saying to himself, ‘God, I’m not a praying man, but please show me the way…Gosh, it makes me cry.”

Why Grimes doesn’t think of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ as a Christmas movie

Though the events of It’s a Wonderful Life take place on Christmas Eve, it’s not as merry as other Yuletide offerings. And the lack of the holiday’s presence leads some, like Grimes, to see it as something else entirely. “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,” Grimes continued. “Everybody has some sorrow, worry, and everybody asks God for help. One way or the other, we all do, and it can be in Martini’s, not a church on Christmas.”