Virginia Patton, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ actress, dies at 97

Virginia Patton, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ actress, dies at 97

Virginia Patton, who played Ruth Dakin Bailey, the sister-in-law of Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, in Frank Capra’s holiday classic It’s a wonderful life, he died. She was 97 years old.

Patton died Thursday at an assisted living facility in Albany, Georgia, Mathews Funeral Home announced.

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Patton’s character in the 1946 film was married to Harry Bailey (Todd Karns), and her big scene takes place at the Bedford Falls train station when she meets George and Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) for the first time.

As crew members were lighting her scene — filmed at the now-defunct Lamanda Park station on the Santa Fe railroad in Pasadena — with her replacement, she wondered how she was going to eat her buttered popcorn while wearing white gloves.

“I was dressed like a young matron. I was wearing a hat, a suit and white gloves, I was coming to meet my new in-laws,” she recalled in 2016. “And I was going to eat buttered popcorn with white gloves?

“We rehearsed, and Frank didn’t say anything about it, his assistant didn’t say anything about it, the cameraman didn’t say anything about it. I was sitting there, ‘What am I going to do? I’m gonna put the popcorn in all these gloves. … I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to pretend that everyone eats buttered popcorn with their gloves on, and they all have butter on them.’”

Virginia Ann Patton was born in Cleveland on June 25, 1925. She was raised in Portland, Oregon, where she graduated from Jefferson High School in 1942, then moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

She signed to Warner Bros., made her film debut in the musical Thank your lucky stars (1943), starring Eddie Cantor and an all-star cast, and appeared in small roles in other films, including Janie (1944), Hollywood Canteen (1944) and Jack Benny’s The horn sounds at midnight (1945).

The niece of World War II General George Patton, she starred in a play written by William C. De Mille, brother of Cecil B. De Mille, while studying at USC, and this put her on Capra’s radar. he was launching It’s a wonderful lifethe first film he would make for his new production company Liberty Films.

“I read to him and he signed me,” she said in 2013, adding that she was “the only girl he ever signed in his entire career.” His contract with Warner had expired, and all other adult cast members would work on loan from other studios.

From left: Todd Karns, Virginia Patton, Jimmy Stewart, and Thomas Mitchell in 1946's 'It's a Wonderful Life' - Credit: Courtesy Everett Collection

From left: Todd Karns, Virginia Patton, Jimmy Stewart, and Thomas Mitchell in 1946’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – Credit: Courtesy Everett Collection

Courtesy Everett Collection

Since It’s a wonderful life aired several times every year around Christmas for decades, Patton has often joked that “I’ve probably been in more homes than Santa Claus”.

Patton had the female lead in The Burning Cross (1947), a film about the Ku Klux Klan, and Black Eagle (1948), a Western, then retired from acting after a supporting turn in the laugh of luck (1949).

She left Hollywood and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, after marrying automotive executive Cruse W. Moss in 1949, and they had three children. They were married for 69 years until her death in 2018.

Patton has served as a faculty member at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and president and director of Patton Corp., an investment and real estate holding company.

In a 2012 interview, Patton noted that Capra asked her to think twice about giving up on show business, but she said she was comfortable with her decision.

“I have a beautiful letter that [Capra] wrote to me because I kept in touch with him,” she said. “He wrote, ‘I knew you would be a wonderful mother with three little bambinos and a wonderful husband.’”

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