Wonderful Words

For many fans of the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, the characters in the movie seem to be almost part of their own lives, because of the many times they have seen the film and director Frank Capra’s detailed depictions of the characters.

This Christmas season, two of the actresses in that movie shared their real-life experiences with movie audiences at the Redford Theatre and Michigan Theater.

On November 22 and 23, 2013, the Redford hosted Karolyn Grimes, who, as the young girl Zuzu, uttered the most famous phrase in It’s a Wonderful Life – “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

Then, on December 22, 2013, the Michigan hosted Virginia Patton, who played the wife of Harry Bailey, the younger brother of George Bailey (James Stewart). She has a small but significant role where she informs James Stewart that his brother will be working in her father’s business, which means that James Stewart will have to stay in Bedford Falls. Virginia (Ginnie) Patton Moss has lived in Ann Arbor for many years.

Karolyn Grimes, Redford Theatre, November 22, 2013

There was a heat wave going on when they shot the movie. It was 90 degrees. So, Jimmy Stewart sweats a lot. Every once in a while you’d see that. But it took three months to film this movie, and that’s a pretty record time in those days.

My number one asked question is what was it like working with Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy Stewart was a delight. He was six feet four, and he was very gentle, he was very kind, and he was always very sweet with me. I think he really tried to build a little bit of chemistry between us, and I think it shows, so he was wonderful to work with.

But he was a great man in real life. He did a lot for his fellow man, he was a war hero, and he actually had a clause written up in his contract for this movie, because this was the first movie he’d done after World War II. It said that the movie would in no way use his military career to promote the film. So, he was a very humble man as well. He was really a delight.

And down the road, in later years, he actually had people looking for me. Whatever happened to that kid? [Laughter] And he found me. He had his secretary find me and so we became friends again in the later years, and that was a real treat for me, that’s for sure.

Virginia Moss, Michigan Theater, December 22, 2013

(Talking with Michigan Theater Executive Director Russ Collins about her scene at the railway station where she meets Harry Bailey’s family)

Russ: [Frank Capra] asked you to do a complicated piece of business that kind of spliced with reality, and it has to do with popcorn, which we really like here at the Michigan Theater.

Virgina: The popcorn that I have in that movie is not nearly as good as the popcorn at the Michigan Theater. [Laughter]

Russ: Thank you, your check’s in the mail. [Laughter]

Virginia: So I was dressed as a young married woman, in those days, and I had a hat, and a suit, and white gloves. So I meet Jimmy Stewart and Uncle Billy and all this foofaraw, but we are supposed to walk over to a popcorn stand, and I’m supposed to have a bag of popcorn.

And so we shot this scene and rehearsed it, and Mr. Capra was satisfied, the cameraman was satisfied, and in this scene is, you sit down, and they light and get the camera, get the scene all set for us to shoot.

Well, I’ve been sitting there thinking, what am I going to do, because I have white gloves on, and I have a bag of popcorn, and I’m supposed to be nibbling the popcorn in the scene. What am I going to do with the white gloves?

And in the mean time, Pasadena [where the scene was shot], there were a lot of people gathering around by that time, they were pretty interested in what these movie people were doing, and this fellow came up and wanted to buy a bag of popcorn from the popcorn stand, and the assistant director had to come up and said, no, you can’t buy it, that’s a prop for the scene.

And all this time I was thinking, what am I going to do? So, I thought, you know, I’m just going to start a new trend. Doesn’t everybody eat buttered popcorn with white gloves?

Russ: And the rage went across the nation! [Laughter]

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Copyright © 2013 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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