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Article updated: 12/15/2012 5:50 PM

66 years later, 'Zuzu' still living a wonderful life

By Justin Kmitch

For Karolyn Grimes, visiting Naperville in late December has become about as traditional as egg nog and mistletoe.

Grimes -- who most people know as Zuzu Bailey, the 6-year-old in the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life" who tells Jimmy Stewart (George Bailey), "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings" -- made her 10th annual appearance Saturday at Naperville's Holiday Palms Cinemas to host a screening of the film with fans.

"This is my 10th year, so it's become part of my holiday tradition. Absolutely," said Grimes, 72. "And I always see some familiar faces out there in the lobby, so I know it's a tradition for few others as well."

Jennifer Reidel of Plainfield was likely one of those familiar faces. Saturday was the fifth time she has come to meet Grimes.

"My dad was a huge fan of the movie and he made me a fan, so this is special," she said. "It's my fifth time meeting her, and every time I do it's an honor. She's so gracious, and I get so star-struck."

Lynette Piekarski of Bolingbrook got an ornament and book signed by Grimes. She said it's hard to get into the holiday spirit if the movie isn't shown.

"It's my favorite movie, by far," she said. "It's on 24/7 repeat at my house on Thanksgiving Day and many days leading up to Christmas."

Grimes said it's that energy from her fans that keeps her showing up.

"I've seen what this movie has done and how many lives this movie has touched, and it just gets more popular every year as people embrace the message from the movie," Grimes said. "They just need a little refresher every Christmas, and this movie brings them hope. I think it will always be with us because its timeless. It applies to yesterday, today and tomorrow."

A motivational speaker, Grimes started going around the country in connection with the movie in 1993 as part of a Target stores holiday promotion, then doing it herself.

Despite its current success, the movie didn't do well when it came out. In fact, some of director Frank Capra's earlier works had became known as "Capra-corn," a label he acknowledged by inserting a scene into "It's a Wonderful Life" in which characters are eating popcorn at a train station, Grimes told the fans before Saturday's showing.

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