James Stewart

  • Born: May 20, 1908 in Indiana, PA
  • Died: July 2, 1997 in Beverly Hills, CA
  • Notable Works:
    • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
    • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
    • Rear Window (1954)
  • Academy Award Nominations:
    • 1940 Best Actor for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
    • 1941 Best Actor for The Philadelphia Story (won)
    • 1947 Best Actor for It’s a Wonderful Life
    • 1951 Best Actor for Harvey
    • 1960 Best Actor for Anatomy of a Murder
    • 1985 Honorary Award (won)
  • Personal Favorites:
    • You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
    • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
    • The Philadelphia Story (1940)
    • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
    • Rope (1948)
    • Bend of the River (1952)
    • Vertigo (1958)

I know, normally I only list one film as a personal favorite, but Jimmy is different. I made an exception for an exceptional actor. Much of Stewart’s early life foreshadowed his incredible body of future work, on and off the screen. For starters, his family had served as military in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. Stewart continued this tradition by becoming a highly decorated Air Force pilot who fought in World War II and served as a Reserve for both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. As a boy, he was infatuated with Charles Lindbergh, who he would later portray in 1957’s The Spirit of St. Louis. Later, at Princeton University, he studied to become an architect, which his most famous on-screen character, George Bailey, dreamed of becoming. His architecture interests were mostly with the building of airplanes and airports. This continued into his film career and contributed greatly to his roles in No Highway in the Sky, Strategic Air Command, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Flight of the Phoenix, and Airport ’77. Stewart’s lengthy and prosperous career was fueled by several legendary directors who continuously worked with him. Between 1938 and 1946, he starred in the Frank Capra masterpieces You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life. In 1948, Stewart appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, and the two continued to work together through the 1950’s in Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo. During the 1950’s, he also worked extensively with Anthony Mann on genre-defining westerns like Winchester ’73, Bend of the River, The Naked Spur, The Far Country, and The Man from Laramie. Stewart also appeared in Mann’s The Glen Miller Story, Thunder Bay, and Strategic Air Command. There’s so much more that can be said about one of the greatest Hollywood actors of all time, but I’m going to leave the rest to the great Orson Welles. Welles never wasted a word or a compliment, which makes this quote even more meaningful and moving:

“This evening we’re assembled to honor Jimmy Stewart, who’s not only a fine actor but whose very image as a man seems to be typical of all that America used to stand for. And I say “used to” because today’s screen heroes are a far cry from that gentle, nonviolent fellow Jimmy’s been portraying throughout his long and triumphant career. Just to show you what I mean, let’s look at some of today’s leading men. I saw Charles Bronson in a movie recently, where Charles, certainly a fine actor, merely playing what the public wants him to play, grabbed a beautiful girl, pulled her out of a room, belted her in the chops, and threw her down three flights of stairs – and this was the love scene. Jimmy may have hemmed and hawed – but he never hit. And Burt Reynolds, one of the very best of our newer stars, when he plays a cop, he jumps into his cruiser car, drives a hundred miles an hour, firing with a sub-machine gun, smashing and crashing 50 cars, buses, and trucks on the way, just so when he catches the guy he can give him a citation for blowing his horn in a hospital zone. That’s what’s happening on the silver screen today. By now we can see how much we needed that soft-spoken, shy, kind-hearted fellow that Jimmy Stewart plays. No brutality for Jimmy – no, sir. And as for mindless violence, why even in Jimmy’s picture called The FBI Story, which sounds like a perfect excuse for gun fire, car smashing – well, Jimmy did it the decent way. In one scene while he was chasing John Dillinger, that notorious criminal, had a flat tire on his sedan. Instead of smashing into Dillinger, Jimmy got out of his car, looked the villain straight in the eye, and fixed the flat. Jimmy, a metaphor, the movie industry is a — well it’s sometimes called a jungle, but I think it’s a forest, a forest made up of a million different plants and trees and shrubs. And some of these plants have a brief day in the sun — they flower quickly, but they can’t seem to sustain, so they wither away. Hollywood has seen a lot of these. But a career like yours, Jimmy, is an evergreen. Rain or shine it keeps growing. Because is had a kind of beauty and purpose it will never die. That’s what we’ve always seen in you, something that will be here when all the fads and fancies are long gone. As an image, “Jimmy Stewart” is indelible. As an actor – well, I saw him on the stage in New York long before he went to Hollywood – well, long before Hollywood got him. No, that’s not – that’s wrong. Hollywood never got Jimmy Stewart. He was the conqueror. He was and is superb – and I use that word very carefully. I pause for a parentheses – I’m the only actor on this podium who has not attempted to imitate you, Jimmy, because in my view that’s all we can do.”


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