Monday, December 5, 2011

Karolyn Grimes, Part 1

Karolyn Grimes on the Albuquerque set

During the mid- to late 1940s, Karolyn Grimes was one of Hollywood’s busiest child actors. She made her movie debut at age four and achieved pop culture immortality two years later as “Zuzu” in Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life when she delivered the picture’s unforgettable closing line, “Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” A year later, she appeared in Albuquerque, which had some second unit action filmed in Sedona. We chatted with her at the Memphis Film Festival in June 2006. For more on Karolyn's life and career, visit her Website at

SM: Prior to the DVD, had it been a while since you had seen Albuquerque

KAROLYN GRIMES: I made appointments at UCLA; I saw it maybe four times. I kept trying to figure out who really had the rights and how I could pursue them to get it out again. I wrote to Paramount and all different places. Well, nothing I did did any good. And then it was a miracle. Somebody wrote to me and then I got about ten calls: ‘Did you know...?!’ And I was so thrilled, oh my gosh, it’s out!

It sounds like the movie meant a lot to you. 
Well, after seeing it I remembered so much and I loved it! The color is so gorgeous and I just love my part –– I’m hilarious! [Repeating lines from the film] “I’ll be a-knittin’ and a-sittin’”! [Laughs] “Whoa, horses! Whoa!”

What was a typical day like on Albuquerque

The limo would come and get me at 5 in the morning – it would still be dark – and they’d drive us up to the ranch [outside L.A.]. And there was this one building with a room for makeup and wardrobe and hair, with a big wood stove. And we’d have to spend a long time in makeup. I remember one day I got superheated, I think, and as a little girl I fainted a lot. So they’d done my hair, I had wardrobe on, I was ready to go. I was just walking to go outside and [indicating a fall] right on the floor. Randolph Scott carried me out into the cool air. I think he realized I was overheated. When I woke up, he was looking down into my eyes, saying ‘Are you alright, Karolyn?’ He was so tall. A bit aloof, but he was kind. He was good to me, very easy to work with.

What was Lon Chaney Jr. like? 

You know, Lon Chaney was probably friendlier and more personable than any of the rest. He kind of stayed to himself and was so grouchy and grumpy-looking that he fascinated me as a little kid. And the fact that he was The Wolfman and all that stuff, he just scared me. But he seemed so mean that I couldn’t’s like when I did Rio Grande. They told me to stay away from the Indians. Naturally, I just peeked and spied and was there all the time; you know, the opposite of anything they tell you. So you get the impression that Lon Chaney doesn’t want you around and, naturally, I’m going to be around. So I approached him and he turned out to be really nice. But he would try to scare me, in a way. He wanted to be stern and see what he... he loved to play with people. He told me I was very ugly. When I asked why, he said ‘Because you have freckles.’ Well, I felt freckles really were ugly, so I liked that he told me the truth. He was a straight-shooter, and I liked that. We were friends from then on.

He and Randolph Scott have this fight in the film, an unbelievable battle. [Laughing] He took me aside, because everybody was going to watch, and he said, ‘I just want you to know that I’m going to bleed, and I want to show you how I’m going to do this.’ So he had this capsule and he said ‘It’s just like ketchup. I’m going to slip it in my mouth, nobody’s going to know, and I’m going to break it and then I’m going to bleed all over my face. It’s going to run down, but I’m not hurt.’ I watched that fight with eyes peeled, and it went very well!

And how about Catherine Craig? 

This was the second movie I’d done with her; we were in The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947). She’s very sweet. She married Robert Preston and sort of gave up her career. She told me years later there was a scene cut out [of Albuquerque]; my line was, [perkily] ‘And I’ll help too!’ For the rest of their married life, she and Robert used that phrase. She said they always remembered me because of that. That was kind of neat.––Originally published in the October 2006 issue of Sedona Monthly

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