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Zuzu's Petals Were Real!

July 23rd, 2016 (10:26 pm)

We met Zuzu! Yesterday Bob and I visited Seneca Falls, NY, which is supposed to have been Capra's inspiration for the town of Bedford Falls. We stopped in at the It's a Wonderful Life Museum, and Karolyn Grimes, who played little Zuzu in the film, was there, chatting with visitors and signing autographs! How cool is that?

Here are Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes as George Bailey and his younger daughter (his "little gingersnap") Zuzu. Karolyn, who had already been in several movies by age 6, when she made this one, said she adored working with Stewart, and felt like he really was family. I asked Karolyn if Zuzu's famous petals were real, and she said yes, they used real rose petals in the filming.

Bob and I posed with Karolyn. (Notice Jimmy Stewart as George on the Bedford Falls backdrop between me and Karolyn.)

It's a Wonderful Life was filmed in Hollywood, but director Frank Capra seems to have based the fictional town of Bedford Falls on the real town of Seneca Falls, NY. Karolyn believes that he did, and has been a great friend to the It's a Wonderful Life Museum there.

This bridge in Seneca Falls, NY, was apparently the model for the one that the angel (2nd class) Clarence jumped from in order to keep George Bailey from leaping to his death in the film. The Seneca Falls bridge bears a plaque honoring Seneca Falls resident Antonio Varacalli, who lept into the icy waters of the canal in April 1917 to rescue a girl who had attempted suicide by jumping off the bridge. Varacalli saved her, but drowned during the rescue.

Capra never mentioned a visit to Seneca Falls in his own writings, but residents say he was there in 1945 and crossed the steel truss bridge on Bridge Street to get to the main part of town. At the time, he was working on the storyline for It's a Wonderful Life, which was based on a story called "The Greatest Gift," by Philip Van Doren Stern. It seems likely that Capra was inspired by Varacalli's sacrifice and added the plot device of Clarence jumping into the water in order to save George from committing suicide, which did not happen in the original story.