Lessons from a 'not-so-wonderful-life'

After landing on Mercer Island eight years ago, I learned that Donna Reed once lived in our community. I'd enjoyed her role in the television series that bore her name when I was a boy. But I also appreciated her acting abilities when I saw her play opposite Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life." Reed's interpretation of Mary Bailey's character was both believable and charming. How I wish I could have met her.

Ironically, a few months after moving to the Island, I met someone who also starred in Frank Capra's timeless film. Karolyn Grimes (who played little Zuzu in the movie) was appearing as Mary Bailey in a radio theatre production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” at Bellevue College. Following the performance I introduced myself as a lifelong fan of the film. I asked Karolyn if she would allow me to interview her some Sunday in church. She agreed.

I learned that this child star, now in her seventh decade, had not had such a wonderful life herself. Her faith in a loving God was tested in adolescence when both her mother and father died within a couple years of each other. Involuntarily removed from her acting niche in Hollywood, she was placed in a relative's home in Missouri and subjected to an abusive home life. Karolyn married, divorced, struggled to survive as a single mom, remarried and watched her husband die of cancer. If that wasn't enough, her eighteen year old son committed suicide.

As a result of my growing friendship with Karolyn, a publisher back east invited me to write a devotional book about "It's a Wonderful Life." The invitation provided me an opportunity to chronicle Karolyn's trials and trace the spiritual values inherent in the film. About the same time, Karolyn published a book chronicling how the movie continues to touch lives.

After our books came out, I discovered yet another local connection to the movie. Marcie Healy, a leader in the Mercer Island Community Bible Study program is married to a relative of Frank Albertson who played the part of Sam Wainwright in IAWL. Heehaw!

On Monday January 6 from 7-8:30 pm, I will be interviewing Karolyn Grimes at Island Books. In addition, both of us will be signing copies of our books.  For people of faith who follow the church year, January 6th is Epiphany (the twelfth day of Christmas). Why not ring in the New Year by meeting the actor who immortalized the phrase "Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings?"




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