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The Only Main Actors Still Alive From It's A Wonderful Life

"It's a Wonderful Life" has grown into a beloved holiday classic that's on television every Christmas, without fail (thanks in part to a copyrighting snafu that left the original black and white version of the film in the public domain). As George Bailey (James Stewart, fresh back from World War II and clearly going through some stuff during the making of the film) has big dreams for his future, he finds himself perpetually prevented from following through on them by all the disruptions and disappointments of everyday life. After he contemplates ending his life, he is saved by a fledgling angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), who gives him the opportunity to see how meaningful he has been to his community by showing him a version of Bedford Falls where he never existed.

A heartwrenching but ultimately uplifting drama from legendary director Frank Capra, "It's a Wonderful Life" was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, and best actor for James Stewart. And its legacy has only grown since its initial release. As "It's a Wonderful Life" first hit theaters in 1946, it goes without saying that there are very few of the original cast members left — mostly actors who appeared in the film as children, including Karolyn Grimes, Ronnie Ralph, Jimmy Hawkins, and Carol Coombs.

Ronnie Ralph (Little Sam)

Throughout "It's a Wonderful Life," Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) represents everything that George Bailey hoped he would achieve in his life. He's a wealthy businessman who has left their sleepy hometown of Bedford Falls and made something of himself, which George imagines he would have if he had been given the chance. Ronnie Ralph plays the younger version of Sam, who is seen in flashbacks to their shared childhood.

The role of Little Sam was Ralph's first credited role, although he had appeared in bit parts a year earlier. Born in 1933, he was just 13 years old when "It's a Wonderful Life" was released. He had a short career in Hollywood (which may have been a blessing, considering the fate of many child actors during the studio era), making small, largely uncredited appearances throughout the late 1940s in films such as "The Decision of Christopher Blake," "Blondie's Big Deal," and "City Across the River," before disappearing from the film industry altogether. His last on-screen role was in 1951, when he played Stuffy in "Corky of Gasoline Alley."

Jimmy Hawkins (Tommy Bailey)

Unlike many of the other child actors who appeared in "It's a Wonderful Life," Jimmy Hawkins continued working in Hollywood for many years after appearing as George Bailey's son Tommy. He took on bit roles throughout the 1940s and early 1950s before landing a lead role as Annie Oakley's younger brother Tagg in "Annie Oakley," which ran from 1954 to 1957. A year later, he reunited with his "It's a Wonderful Life" mother Donna Reed in a recurring role on "The Donna Reed Show." His final credit as an actor was in a 1974 episode of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," but that didn't represent the end of his career in Hollywood — he penned two films released in the 1980s and worked as a producer on several movies throughout the 1990s.

Throughout his life, he has remained closely connected to the classic film he appeared in as a child. Not only is he on the Advisory Board The Jimmy Stewart Museum and affiliated with the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts as a former board member, but he has written five books about "It's a Wonderful Life." Hawkins is continually affected by the message of the film, saying to The Republican in 2019, "Each man's life touches so many. What a big difference it makes when one man is taken out of the equation."

Carol Coombs (Janie Bailey)

In "It's a Wonderful Life," Carol Coombs played Janie Bailey, George's older daughter who is practicing the piano in the background in one of their would-be idyllic family scenes, much to George's irritation. Although she was only 11 years old when "It's a Wonderful Life" was released, she was already an experienced actress by that point — she had been appearing in films for five years, debuting at the age of six in an uncredited role in "Blossoms in the Dust." Coombs worked sporadically throughout the decade after "It's a Wonderful Life," acting in "The Boy with Green Hair," "Mighty Joe Young," "My Friend Flicka," and even lended her voice to Disney's "Peter Pan."

After retiring from acting in 1958, Coombs became an early childhood educator, teaching kindergarten and elementary school. She married Chet Muller back in 1957, and the two are still happily married with several children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey)

Out of all of George Bailey's children, little Zulu (Karolyn Grimes) is probably the most memorable, largely thanks to the petals she gives to her father, which he joyfully rediscovers in his pocket once he returns to his real life. Also, she gets one of the film's classic lines, helping to confirm that sweet angel Clarence has gotten his wings. Grimes made a huge impression at such a young age, and had several acting roles over the next few years, including "Rio Grande" and "The Bishop's Wife," before retiring in 1954. Tragically, her mother died of early-onset Alzheimer's when Grimes was just 14, and her father died in a traffic accident the following year, after which she was sent to live with extended family in Missouri, where she was unable to continue her promising work in Hollywood.

But like every great Hollywood story, her acting career was not without its second act. After over 60 years away from the entertainment industry, she appeared in two episodes of "Cassandra's Castle" in 2016, proving that it's never too late to follow your dreams.