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'It's a Wonderful Life' Actress Recalls Classic Film Role in Visit to Plymouth

Virginia Patton of Ann Arbor, who portrayed Ruth Dakin Bailey in 'It's a Wonderful Life,' appeared Sunday at the Penn Theatre in Plymouth.

OUTSIDE DETROIT-- Giving up a promising career in Hollywood to start a family might be a difficult choice for a talented young actress, but for Virginia Patton, the decision paved the way for a wonderful life away from the limelight.

Patton, now 86, portrayed Ruth Dakin Bailey in the 1946 Frank Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life, starring alongside such screen legends as James Stewart and Donna Reed at just 20 years old, but left acting soon afterwards to move to Ann Arbor to pursue a family with husband Cruse W. Moss, a successful automotive executive.

Patton, of Ann Arbor, and Moss appeared together Sunday at the historic Penn Theatre in downtown Plymouth for a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life, where the former actress signed autographs and posed for photographs with fans.

One fan, Robert Volpe of Livonia, caught Patton by surprise when he asked her to autograph vintage movie posters for two of Patton’s lesser-known roles, Black Eagle, a 1948 western, and The Horn Blows at Midnight, a Jack Benny comedy in which Patton had a small, uncredited role. 

Patton joked with Volpe, who collects vintage movie posters, that neither film was a great movie. 

Patton’s appearance packed the 405-seat Penn Theatre auditorium, as audiences erupted into applause when Patton first appeared onscreen during a scene at a train depot and again when her name appeared in the credits.

The Road to Bedford Falls

Patton said while a freshman at the University of Southern California, she starred in a play by playwright and silent film director William C. deMille, brother of legendary filmmaker Cecil B. deMille, a Hollywood connection that helped lead to her eventual casting in It’s a Wonderful Life.

“Virginia was the only girl that was contracted directly by Frank Capra,” Moss said of his wife. “Everybody else in that film was loaned by another studio. But Ginny was not with the studio and Frank Capra actually signed her for that picture.”

In the film, Patton portrays Ruth Dakin Bailey, wife of protagonist George Bailey’s younger brother, Harry Bailey. 

The arrival of Patton’s character disrupts George Bailey’s plans to leave his hometown of Bedford Falls and hand the family business off to his brother when Ruth Dakin Bailey’s father offers Harry Bailey a more lucrative job elsewhere. 

A ‘Wonderful’ Experience

Watching the film again brought back fond memories for Patton.

“That really is a wonderful motion picture,” she said. “I hadn’t seen it in a while. I’m getting tears in my eyes.”

Patton spoke highly of working with Capra and her time on the set of It’s a Wonderful Life.

“When you were on the set, you knew your lines, you knew your business,” she said. “It was a camaraderie, but it was a business. It was a wonderful atmosphere that some other directors didn’t produce.”

Patton starred in four more films before she left Hollywood in 1949 to marry Moss and start a family in Michigan—a move that ended her acting career, but also earned Capra’s blessing.

Moss said Capra told Patton to think about what she’s walking away from, but said he knew she was making the right decision.

Patton and Moss moved to Ann Arbor and raised three children. 

“I have a beautiful letter that (Capra) wrote me because I kept in touch with him and he said, ‘I just knew you’d be a wonderful mother with three little bambinos and a wonderful husband,’” Patton said.

While she was involved with the Young Presidents’ Organization, a group that enlisted guest speakers from around the world, Patton said she again crossed paths with Capra, who was a speaker for the organization. She said she and Moss visited the filmmaker at his California home and she and the director became “renewed acquaintances.”

A 'Wonderful' Life After Hollywood

Patton, who currently serves as a docent at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and is involved in a handful of other local organizations, said she has no second thoughts about leaving acting to start her family.

“I couldn’t see me doing that for my life,” she said. “That isn’t what I wanted. I wanted exactly what I am. Ann Arbor, Michigan, a wonderful husband, wonderful children, a good part of the community. I work hard for the community.”

This story has been updated on Dec. 9 to clarify that the couple lives in Ann Arbor, not Dexter, an adjacent community.

Misty Rose December 10, 2012 at 02:07 AM
She did what made her happy & that's all that really matters. It looks like she had a Wonderful Life. ☺
paul moholland December 10, 2012 at 02:41 AM
there's always one or 2 nay sayers on any subject that anyone comments on and 99% of the time they would'nt know nothing about nothing if it was a cobra reared up and bit them in the arse.
Garry Watkins December 10, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Very nice story. Merry Christmas to one and all...
John McKay (Editor) December 10, 2012 at 02:54 AM
You haven't seen this yet, Pamela?! This was one of Stewart's best roles! I highly recommend picking it up. Just make sure you watch it in its original black-and-white format. :)
Joel Henry December 10, 2012 at 02:54 AM
I go to the Penn Theatre all the time but wasn't aware she was appearing there that day. Would have loved to have met her and asked her a couple questions about It's a Wonderful Life. She looks beautiful and certainly doesn't look her age. God Bless her and her husband. What a nice story! Merry Christmas to all out there who also love this Frank Capra Hollywood classic!
RubyJuly December 10, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Well aren't we a little ray of sunshine......! Check out IMDB before your next post.
Doug Montgomery December 10, 2012 at 08:08 AM
The "essence" is: CHOOSING. How many women get to do that?
Tom December 10, 2012 at 10:45 AM
Pamela, Go get it today. It is a wonderful, wonderful movie with great acting and an even greater story. You will love it.
John R. Borges December 10, 2012 at 11:27 AM
Many Blessings from a classic movie buff in Florida. May the angel guide you to many more wonderful encounters, and a sweet place in heaven.
Squeeks910 December 10, 2012 at 12:36 PM
I am so thrilled she had a goal and stuck to it. God Bless her and her family. What a wonderful life.
BILL December 10, 2012 at 12:56 PM
SHE WAS ALSO IN SGT YORK ANOTHER GREAT MOVIE
Scott R. George December 10, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I prefer the Jewish version of this flick on SNL. Why doesn't Patton mention her more famous father from WW II in the article?
Craig December 10, 2012 at 01:39 PM
I loved "The Horn Blows at Midnight" too.
Joe Barnard December 10, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Joe Barnard "It's a Wonderful Life" is a great movie and Ms Patton is one of the best, like all the supporting actors brought together by Frank Capra for this film. However, the real life story of the star of the film also needs to be told. As I recall, this was Jimmy Stewart's first movie after leaving active duty from World War II. Unlike other actors who played the role of heroes, his was a real exprience. In the movie he is rejected for service because of his bad ear, and served in the Civil Defense Patrol at home. In real life, when he tried to join, he was rejected because he was underweight. But he fattened up and was eventually accepted. He was already a civilian pilot and sooned made his way up through the ranks. He became the commander of a B-24 Liberater bomb squadron in North Africa. Lt. Colonel James Stewart flew twenty missions as commander until he was grounded by the War Department. The reason given was that he was a "national treasure" and it would be demoralizing to the country if he were to be killed or captured. But he did remain as commander of the squadron until he was promoted to full colonel. You may google me on all of this or visit the Mighty Air Force museum in Savannah, Ga. Jimmy Stewart seldom spoke about it himself!
Mark Rusin December 10, 2012 at 02:14 PM
For once, a "Wonderful" story!
george walters December 10, 2012 at 02:19 PM
you are an idiot, but thanks to a( wonderful country) you can say anything you want. i choose to like her choice.
Joan December 10, 2012 at 02:25 PM
you have no idea of what she would have and could have if she stayed. Praise goes to her for choosing to do what she wanted for her life.
Joan December 10, 2012 at 02:37 PM
best said Bill.
salemslot December 10, 2012 at 02:40 PM
lol GO SPARTANS!
Joan December 10, 2012 at 02:40 PM
I totally agree with you Jean.
Joan December 10, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Yes, that's 'our' Jimmy Stewart.I never saw a movie with him in it that I didn't like. One of my sons (when he was a teen) told me how he liked Jimmy Stewart,he did me proud. It's not often in this day and age when a teen likes someone so honorable and fine.
shorty December 10, 2012 at 04:48 PM
i remember when jimmy stewart passed away.., they did a documentary on " abc news nightline with ted koppell " ( abc news shud have put that special on dvd/vhs with english subtitles/captions for us hearing impaired people ) & released it to the public if they havent alredy " about his life & career & honestly thought that she had passed aswell ! the only ones i wudve thought that wud be alive wud be the ones who played his kids & any others those kids ages..
John McKay (Editor) December 10, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Indeed, the primary adult actors have all died: Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Todd Karns (Harry Bailey) and Gloria Grahame (Violet), as well as some of the younger actors: Georgie Nokes (young Harry Bailey), Robert J. Anderson (young George Bailey) and those who already were old when the film was released (Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers). All the Bailey kids except Pete (Larry Simms) are still alive, as well.
S.K. Wieland December 10, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Tell us more about the Jewish version on Saturday Night Live...nu, who knew? Sharon
Sandra Martin December 29, 2012 at 02:49 PM
wow,what a world we live in !
Sandra Martin December 29, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Sounds like she had a wonderful life. I'm happy for her. Someone had to play the part and she got it and she did a wonderful job doing it.
karen mccants December 29, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Exactly! I always thought she looked a little like Marilyn Monroe---quite a different, "wonderful life" she had than Marilyn!!
karen mccants December 29, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Exactly! I always thought she looked a lot like Marilyn Monroe---quite a different "wonderful life" she had, than Monroe!
greg cavalieri December 29, 2012 at 07:20 PM
frank capra at that time wasnt speilburg, jerry bruckheimer,or even martin scorsese HE WAS BIGGER--and to have cecil b demille as a friend--let alone his brother william--well she could have been huge-this was colonel jimmy stewarts first film since leaving active duty--he alone had raves for ms. patton--she gave up a career a huge career--remember dolores hart ,the nun who kissed elvis---oh yeah she had no career in hollywood either
Gnwalker December 30, 2012 at 01:01 AM
You must be a very unhappy person. None of us know what the future holds in life for us, but in most cases we tend to show promise. One Love!!!!!!

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