Virginia Patton, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ star, has died aged 97

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

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

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Patton’s character in the 1946 film was married to Harry Bailey (Todd Carnes), 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 lit her scene — filmed at the now-defunct Santa Fe Lamanda Park Station in Pasadena — with her stand-in, she wondered how she would eat her buttered popcorn while wearing white gloves.

“I was dressed as a young matron. I had on a hat, a suit and white gloves, I was coming to meet my new in-laws,” he recalled in 2016. “And I’m going to eat buttered popcorn with white gloves on?

“We rehearsed it 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’ll get the popcorn in all these gloves.’ … I thought, “Well, I’m just going to pretend that everybody’s eating buttered popcorn with their gloves on, and they’re all getting butter.”

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

Signed to Warner Bros., she 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 such as Janie (1944), Hollywood Canteen (1944) and by Jack Benny The horn blows at midnight (1945).

The niece of World War II General George Patton, she had starred in a play written by William S. DeMille, brother of Cecil B. DeMille, while attending USC, which put her on Capra’s radar. He was casting It’s a wonderful lifethe first film he would make for his new production company Liberty Films.

“I read him and he signed me,” he said in 2013, adding that she was “the only girl he ever signed in his entire career.” Her contract at Warners had expired and all the other adult cast members would be working on loan from other studios.

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

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

Courtesy of the Everett Collection

From It’s a wonderful life has aired several times each year around Christmas for decades, Patton often joked that “I’ve probably been to more houses than even Santa Claus.”

Patton had the female lead 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 The Lucky Stiff (1949).

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

Patton served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and president and director of Patton Corp., an investment and real estate firm.

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

“I have a beautiful letter this [Capra] he wrote to me because I kept in touch with him,” she said. “She wrote: ‘I just knew you would be a wonderful mother to three little babies and a wonderful husband.’

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