Skip to comments.Jimmy Stewart and God (The actor discussed his faith and 'It's a Wonderful Life' in 1977 article)
Posted on 07/12/2009 10:27:44 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
Remember the scene near the end of It's a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart, playing the role of George Bailey, breaks down in a pub, crying out to God in utter despair? (Watch the scene here; fast-forward to the 5:30 mark.)
Apparently Stewart wasn't really acting; those tears were real.
In this 1977 article that Stewart wrote for Guideposts, the actor recalls that George "is unaware that most of the people in town are arduously praying for him. In this scene, at the lowest point in George Bailey's life, Frank Capra was shooting a long shot of me slumped in despair. In agony I raise my eyes and following the script, plead, 'God...God...dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if You're up there and You can hear me, show me the way, I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God...'
"As I said those words, I felt the loneliness and hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless had reduced me to tears."
In the article, Stewart further discusses the making of the film, his faith, and how his dad held him accountable to attend church once he moved to LA from little Indiana, Pennsylvania. A good read about a fine man and a classic movie.
(Excerpt) Read more at blog.christianitytoday.com ...
A friend told me recently that seeing a movie I made in 1946 is a holiday tradition in his family, "like putting up the Christmas tree". That movie is It's a Wonderful Life, and out of all the 80 films I've made, it's my favorite. But it has an odd history.
When the war was over in 1945, I came back home to California from three years' service in the Air Force. I had been away from the film business, my MGM contract had run out, and frankly, not knowing how to get started again. I was just a little bit scared. Hank Fonda was in the same boat, and we sort of wandered around together, talking, flying kites and stuff. But nothing much was happening.
Then one day Frank Capra phoned me. The great director had also been away in service, making the Why We Fight documentary series for the military, and he admitted to being a little frightened too. But he had a movie in mind. We met in his office to talk about it.
He said the idea came from a Christmas story written by Phillip Van Doren Stern. Stern couldn't sell the story anywhere, but he finally had 200 twenty-four page pamphlets printed up at his own expense, and he sent them to his friends as a greeting card.
"Now, listen," Frank began hesitantly. He seemed a little embarrassed about what he was going to say. "The story starts in heaven, and it's sort of the Lord telling somebody to go down to earth because there's a fellow who is in trouble, and this heavenly being goes to a small town, and..."
Clarence the Angel Helps George BaileyFrank swallowed and took a deep breath. "Well, what it boils down to is, this fellow who thnks he's a failure in life jumps off a bridge. The Lord sends down an angel named Clarence, who hasen't earned his wings yet, and Clarence jumps into the water to save the guy. But the angel can't swim, so the guy has to save him, and then..."
Frank stopped and wiped his brow. "This doesn't tell very well, does it?"
I jumped up. "Frank, if you want to do a picture about a guy who jumps off a bridge and an angel named Clarence who hasn't won his wings yet coming down to save him, well, I'm your man!"
Production of It's a Wonderful Life started April 15, 1946, and from the beginning there was a certain something special about the film. Even the set was special. Two months had been spent creating the town of Bedford Falls, New York. For the winter scenes, the special effects department invented a new kind of realistic snow instead of using the traditional white cornflakes. As one of largest American movie sets ever made until then, Bedford Falls had 75 stores and buildings on four acres with a three block main street lined with 20 full grown oak trees.
Bedford Falls, New York as shown in 'It's a Wonderful Life' As I walked down that shady street the morning we started work, it reminded me of my hometown, Indiana, Pennsylvania. I almost expected to hear the bells of the Presbyterian church, where Mother played the organ and Dad sang in the choir. I chuckled, remembering how the fire siren would go off, and Dad, a volunteer fireman, would slip out of the choir loft. If it was a false alarm, Dad would sneak back and sort of give a nod to everyone to assure them that none of their houses was in danger.
I remembered how, after I got started in pictures, Dad, who'd come to California for a visit, asked, "Where do you go to church around here?"
"Well," I stammered, "I haven't been going -- there's none around here."
Dad disappeared and came back with four men. "You must not have looked very hard, Jim," he said, "because there's a Presbyterian church just three blocks from here, and here are the elders. They're building a new building now, and I told them you were a movie star and you would help them." And so, Brentwood Presbyterian was the first church I belonged to out here.
Later that church was the one in which Gloria and I were married. A few years after that it was the same church I'd slip into during the day when Gloria was near death after our twin girls were born. Then after we moved, we attended Beverly Hills Presbyterian, a church we could walk to.
It wasn't the elaborate movie set, however, that made It's a Wonderful Life so different; much of it was the story. The character I played was George Bailey, an ordinary kind of fella who thinks he's never accomplished anything in life. His dreams of becoming a famous architect, of traveling the world and living adverturously, have not been fulfilled. Instead, he feels trapped in a humdrum job in a small town. And when faced with a crisis in which he feels he has failed everyone, he breaks under the strain and flees to the bridge. That's when this guardian angel, Clarence, comes down on Christmas Eve to show him what his community would be like without him. The angel takes him back through his life to show how our ordinary everyday efforts are really big achievements.
Clarence reveals how George Bailey's loyalty to the job at the building and loan office has saved families and houmes, how his little kindnesses have changed the lives of others, and how the ripples of his love will spread through the world, helping make it a better place.
Good as the script was, there was still something else about the movie that made it different. It's hard to explain. I, for one, had things happen to me during the filming that never happened in any other picture I've made.
In one scene, for example, George Bailey is faced with unjust criminal charges and, not knowing where to turn, ends up in a little roadside restaurant. He is unaware that most of the people in town are arduously praying for him. In this scene, at the lowest point in George Bailey's life, Frank Capra was shooting a long shot of me slumped in despair. In agony I raise my eyes and following the script, plead, "God...God...dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if You're up there and You can hear me, show me the way, I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God..."
As I said those words, I felt the loneliness and hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless had reduced me to tears.
Frank, who loved spontaneity in his films, was ecstatic. He wanted a close-up of me saying that prayer but was sensitive enough to know that my breaking down was real and that repeating it in another take was unlikely. But Frank got his close-up anyway.
The following week he worked long hours in the film labratory, again and again enlarging the frames of the scene so that eventually it would appear as a closeup on screen. I believe nothing like this had ever been done before. It involved thousands of individual enlargements with extra time and money. But he felt is was worth it.
There was a growing excitement as we strove day and night through the early summer of 1946. We threw everything we had into our work. Finally, after three months, shooting some 68 miles of 35-millimeter film, we complete filming and had a wrap up party for everyone. It was an outdoor picnic with three-legged races and burlap-bag sprints, just like the picnics back home in Pennsylvania.
At the outing, Frank talked enthusuiastically about the picture. He felt that the film as well as the actors would be up for Academy Awards. Both of us wanted it to win, not only because we believed in its message, but also for the reassurance we needed in this time of starting over.
But life doesn't always work out the way we want it to. The movie came out in December 1946, and from the beginning we could tell it was not going to be the success we'd hoped for. The critics had mixed reactions. Some liked it ("a humble drama of essential truth"), others felt it "too sentimental...a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes."
As more reviews came out, our hopes sank lower and lower. During early February 1947, eight other current films, including Sinbad the Sailor and Betty Grables's The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, out-ranked it in box-office income. The postwar public seemed to prefer lighthearted fare. At the end of 1947 It's a Wonderful Life ranked 27th in earnings among the other releases that season.
And although it earned several Oscar nominations, despite our high hopes it won nothing. "Best picture for 1946" went to The Best Years of Our Lives. By the end of 1947 the film was quietly put on the shelf.
But a curious thing happened. The movie simply refused to stay on the shelf. Those who loved it loved it a lot, and they must have told others. They wouldn't let it die any more than the angel Clarence would let George Bailey die. When it began to be shown on televison, a whole new audience fell in love with it.
Today I've heard the filmed called "an American cultural phenomenon". Well, maybe so, but it seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It's simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life."
His Frank Townes in “Flight of the Phoenix” is a classic.
What a beautiful article to read on Sunday. God bless.
What a great post. Thank you!
God bless Jimmy Stewart. What a great American.
my fave movie of all time.
Good post & interesting read. Thank you for posting it.
It is interesting how Christian actors need to be “in the closet” while homosexuality is celebrated.
My least favorite Stewart movie but I love him to death.
IMO, one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation
It's simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life."
Always have loved Jimmy Stewart’s work. Thank you for posting this!
I believed that one of Jimmy’s earliest movies is Rose Marie, maybe his first?
Shenandoah was good, its still good even after all these years.
To say they don’t build ‘em like Jimmy Stewart anymore is an understatement.
I was just looking at the second verse of O Holy Night in church this morning:
In all our trials born to be our Friend! He knows our needto our weakness is no stranger. Behold your King; before Him lowly bend! Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
You are right about that, the other actors in that movie did a pretty good job too.
James Stewart is my favorite actor. A true gentleman, wonderful actor, and -- he was hot. :)
Ok, let’s also mention that James Stewart also flew his 25 in WWII!(don’t know what that means? look it up!)
If you are really a fan tell me in what “Thin Man” movie he portrayed the bad guy?:)
Stewart fans should seek out a copy of Billy Wilder’s The Spirit of St. Louis, it’s Stewart’s best performance.
In his bio of his father, Capra’s son writes that liberal Hollywood was aghast when they found out uber-director Capra-——who garnered world-wide praise for his talents—— was an arch conservative.
Premier American Director Capra won three Academies and three noms over 40 years, and was a Republican who was active in the anti-Communist cause.
Capra was also anti-abortion and donated funds to support the Human Life Amendment.
Capra was smart too. I believe he was a member of the first graduating class of the California Institute of Technology.
Patriotism and brains......an unbeatable combo!
The movie really got big when its copyright ran out and it was shown all the time on TV. When Congress restored its copyright, it is now shown only twice a year.
A Christmas Story is now the main movie most watch at Christmas.
Thank you very much for posting this article. I love Jimmy Stewart and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
Jimmy Stewart was the bad guy in After the Thin Man
I love these movies...
I watch them on YouTube...
Myrna Loy and William Powell were married in real life...
They made 13 movies together...
William Powell was hot...
I know it was After the Thin Man. I love the Thin Man movies and although I never thought of William Powell as hot, I can truthfully say that Myrna Loy was about as hot as they come!
Date of Death
2 July 1997, Los Angeles, California, USA (cardiac arrest and pulmonary embolism following respiratory problems)
James Maitland Stewart
The Ordinary Hero
6’ 3” (1.91 m)
His “aw shucks” demeanor has served him well as the good guy, the shy guy or the nice guy in films like Harvey (1950) and You Can’t Take It with You (1938). Alfred Hitchcock turned him into a dramatic leading man in films like Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958). Stewart also starred in his share of westerns, including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), The Naked Spur (1953) and The Man from Laramie (1955).
IMDb Mini Biography By: Ray Hamel
Gloria Stewart (9 August 1949 - 16 February 1994) (her death) 2 children
Soft-spoken, extremely polite and shy manner, with a very recognizable drawl in his voice.
Often played honest, average middle class individuals who are unwittingly drawn into some kind of crisis.
Roles in westerns.
After 1950 he often played tough, cynical and frequently ruthless characters.
Ranked #10 in Empire (UK) magazine’s “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time” list. [October 1997]
He was the first movie star to enter the service for World War II, joining a year before Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was initially refused entry into the Air Force because he weighed 5 pounds less than the required 148 pounds, but he talked the recruitment officer into ignoring the test. He eventually became a Colonel, and earned the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and 7 battle stars. In 1959, he served in the Air Force Reserve, before retiring as a brigadier general. (Walter Matthau was a sergeant in his unit).
The James Stewart Museum was dedicated in Indiana, Pennsylvania on 20 May 1995
Attended Princeton University. Graduated in 1932 with a degree in architecture.
When Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar in 1940, he sent it to his father in Indiana, Pennsylvania, who set it in his hardware shop. The trophy remained there for 25 years.
The word “Philadelphia” on the Oscar that Jimmy received in 1941 for The Philadelphia Story (1940) is misspelled. The Oscar was kept in the window of Jimmy’s father’s hardware store located on Philadelphia Street in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
Interred at Forest Lawn, Glendale, California, USA, in the Wee Kirk O’ the Heathers Churchyard , on the left side, up the huge slope, to the left of the Taylor Monument, space 2, lot 8.
James was named Best Classic Actor of the 20th Century in an Entertainment Weekly on-line poll. [September 1999]
He held the highest active military rank of any actor in history. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps and rose to the rank of colonel; after the War, he continued in the US Air Force Reserve becoming a brigadier general (1- star). Ed McMahon was also commissioned a Brigadier General in the California Air National Guard in 1966 and continued to serve after he began his acting career. Two former actors outranked him: John Ford was an actor before becoming a director and a rear admiral (2-star) in the US Naval Reserve; President Ronald Reagan was Commander-in-Chief, but he made his last theatrical TV appearance in 1965.
Never took an acting lesson, and felt that people could learn more when actually working rather than studying the craft.
When he left to serve in WWII, his father gave him a letter which he kept in his pocket everyday until the war ended.
Played the accordion.
Often incorrectly noted as having achieved the highest rank in Boy Scouting, Eagle Scout, while in his youth in Indiana, Pennsylvania; he was a scout for four years, attaining Second Class. He appeared in a series of award-winning commercials promoting the Boy Scouts, and served as a volunteer with the Orange County and Los Angeles Area Councils. He was awarded the Silver Beaver, the highest adult award.
Had four children - twin daughters ‘Judy Stewart-Merrill’ and ‘Kelly Stewart-Harcourt’. Kelly is also known as Kelly Stewart. The girls acted with their parents in “Password” (1961). He adopted his wife’s two sons from a previous marriage - Ronald (5) and Michael (2)- when they married. Ronald was killed in action while serving in the Vietnam War in 1969.
Was a regular on the “Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.” He was even a guest of honor in 1978.
Introduced the Cole Porter standard “Easy to Love” in 1936’s Born to Dance (1936). His undubbed, reedy tenor voice was actually not so bad. He would later say of the experience, “the song had become such a big hit that they felt even my singing couldn’t ruin it.” He would later sing a few bars of “Over the Rainbow” as part of his Oscar-winning performance in The Philadelphia Story (1940).
Recipient of Kennedy Center Honors in 1983.
Starred in the NBC Radio series “The Six Shooter” (1953-54).
Many of his works were donated to Brigham Young University in 1983, including his personal copy of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
Hit #133 on the Billboard Singles Charts in 1965 with “The Legend of Shenandoah” (Decca 31795), a narration backed up with the Charles “Bud” Dant Orchestra
Was of Northern Irish heritage from County Antrim.
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1972.
When Stewart served as an officer and a pilot in the Army Air Corps in WWII, one of the sergeants in his unit was Walter Matthau.
He once said the the public was his biggest critic, and if they didn’t like his performance, neither did he.
His two natural children, twin daughters Judy and Kelly Stewart, were born May 7, 1951. His wife, Gloria Stewart (the former Gloria Hatrick McLean), a former model from Larchmount, New York, also brought two sons to the marriage: Ronald and Michael (aged 5 and 2 at the time of the wedding in 1949), whom he adopted. Ronald later died on active service, as a Marine officer on June 8, 1969 in Vietnam.
Over 3,000 people, mostly Hollywood celebrities, attended his funeral to pay their respects.
President Harry S. Truman was an admirer of Stewart’s work, and even commented that if he’d had a son, he’d have wanted him to be “just like Jimmy Stewart.”
Despite having been a decorated war hero in WWII, he declined to talk about this, in part because of the traumatic experiences he had in killing others and watching friends die. The roles he chose after returning from the war were generally darker, some say because he was hardened by combat.
A true “regular guy,” he genuinely disliked the glamour often basked in by Hollywood stars, avoiding expensive clothes and fancy cars.
He remained faithful to his wife Gloria Stewart throughout their marriage. While this may seem ordinary, it was rare in Hollywood for male stars to stay devoted to their wives, with many of his colleagues, such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and his friend Henry Fonda, having had a series of infidelities.
His mother’s maiden name was Jackson. Her father, Col. Samuel Jackson, served in the Civil War.
One of the first (if not the first) stars to receive a percentage of the gross of his movies.
Was of Scottish and Irish heritage.
His best friend was probably Henry Fonda, whom he met while at acting camp. Early on they got into a fistfight over politics (Stewart was a very conservative Republican, Fonda a very liberal Democrat) that was won by Fonda, but they apparently never discussed politics again. When Fonda moved to Hollywood he lived with Stewart and the two gained a reputation as among Hollywood’s biggest playboys. However, after each married and settled down, their children noted that their favorite activity when not working seemed to be silently painting model airplanes together.
His hair began receding during World War II. By the early 1950s, he was wearing a toupee for all his movie roles, though he often went without it in public. His baldness was made less obvious by wearing a gray toupee for many movie roles.
He was voted the 9th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine.
Was named #3 on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends Actor list by the American Film Institute
According to the March 31, 1941 issue of ‘Time’ Magazine, Stewart was drafted into the Army. Prior to induction, he flew in a private plane to California and the next day braved a large crowd of female admirers to board a Los Angeles trolley car that took him and other draftees off to be inducted for a year hitch in the Army. ‘Time’ said that Stewart’s salary would drop to $21 a month from $6,000.
Was very good friends with Ronald Reagan, Henry Fonda, John Wayne and Gary Cooper.
Accepted his friend Gary Cooper’s honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 1961, because Cooper was dying of cancer.
Died one day after Robert Mitchum.
While always gracious with his fans, he was always very protective of his privacy. A notable example of this occurred when a nervy family of tourists set up a picnic on his front lawn. Stewart came out of his house and, without uttering a word, turned on the sprinklers.
Hosted the Academy Awards in 1946 (alongside Bob Hope), 1958 (alongside David Niven, Jack Lemmon, Rosalind Russell, Bob Hope and “Donald Duck”).
Upon accepting his Honorary Oscar in 1985, he stated, “This was the greatest award I received, to know that, after all these years, I haven’t been forgotten.” The audience gave him a ten-minute standing ovation, making the show run long. Steven Spielberg, who was in attendance, said that he was humbled to even be in the same room as Jimmy, because he respected him so much.
While filming The Big Sleep (1978) in August 1977, Stewart appeared to be much older than his actual age of 69 as the rich, wheelchair-bound Gen. Sternwood. The fact is that he had a hearing impairment and was having memory problems, which caused him to keep flubbing his lines. It’s believed that these health problems brought about his retirement from movies shortly afterwards, although he was also concerned with the violence and explicit sexual content of modern films and saw no future for himself in the movie industry.
Upon his death in July of 1997, a small group of fans and admirers placed a few items on his Hollywood star, not the least of which was a rather tall (although not 6’ tall) plush rabbit wearing overalls. (It was reportedly stolen later in the night.)
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, by his friend President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1985.
Stewart very much wanted the role of Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959) and he was the original choice for it, but after the financial failure of Vertigo (1958), director Alfred Hitchcock, unfairly blamed the film’s box office woes on Stewart, claiming Stewart now looked too old to still attract audiences and cast Cary Grant instead, even though Grant was actually four years older than Stewart. Previously one of the director’s favorite collaborators, Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock never worked together again.
Of all the movies he has done It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) was his favourite.
Replaced Cary Grant as Rupert Cadell in Rope (1948). Ironically, Grant replaced him as Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959).
His performance as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is ranked #8 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
His performance as James “Scottie” Ferguson in Vertigo (1958) is ranked #30 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
His jazz and blues piano-playing skills were showcased in Anatomy of a Murder (1959).
After making The Magic of Lassie (1978) Stewart went into semi- retirement from acting. During the next few years he suffered from many health problems including heart disease, skin cancer, deafness and senility.
His performance as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is ranked #60 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
Three of his films are on the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time, two of which are in the top five. They are: The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) at #69, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) at #5 and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at #1.
According to the curator of the James Stewart Museum, he was exactly 6’3” tall. His military physical would have indicated he was 6’3”, since he was 138 lb., five pounds under the 143 required for his draft eligibility. The weight / height requirements for the US Air Force prior to October 1999 was 143 lb. minimum for a man of 6’3”. By the late 1950s, he reported that his weight was up to 160 lb.
Medals awarded: Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal, American Defense Service Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 Service Stars, World War II Victory Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, French Croix de Guerre with Palm, Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Stewart never recovered from his wife’s death in February 1994, and vowed to make no further public appearances after her funeral service. Thereafter he spent most of his time in his bedroom, coming out only at the insistence of his housekeeper for meals. Newspaper reports suggested Stewart had Alzheimer’s disease. Over the Christmas holiday season in 1995 he failed to negotiate a rise leading to a dining area and fell, cracking his head on the bill of a wooden duck that his daughter Judy had given him as a gift some years previously. In December 1996, when he was due to have his battery changed in his pacemaker, he told his children that he’d rather not have that done. He wanted to let things take their natural course. On 31 January 1997, Stewart tripped over a potted plant in his bedroom, and cut open his forehead. He was taken to St John’s Hospital, in Santa Monica, where he was given twelve stitches. A few weeks later, he was hospitalized for a blood clot and irregular heartbeat. He had a blood clot in his right knee, and the swelling soon spread through his entire leg. At 11:05 am on 2 July 1997, James Stewart died of cardiac arrest at the age of eighty-nine.
Stewart nearly declined to support his friend Ronald Reagan’s campaign for the governorship of California in 1966, since Reagan had been a Democrat until 1962. In 1976 Stewart campaigned extensively in California for Reagan in the presidential primaries, especially visiting shopping malls and airports.
Campaigned for Richard Nixon in the 1968 and 1972 presidential elections.
Fell out with Anthony Mann during the shooting of Night Passage (1957), resulting in Mann being replaced (by James Neilson). A year later Mann shot Man of the West (1958), regarded by many as his greatest western of all and totally suited to Stewart, but with Gary Cooper in the lead role.
His mother Bessie died on 2 August 1953, a week after suffering a severe heart attack at the age of seventy-eight.
His father Alexander died of stomach cancer on 28 December 1961, at the age of eighty-nine.
During the 1980s he was one of the most prominent critics of the colorization of old movies, even testifying before a congressional committee about what he called the “denaturing” of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). “If these color-happy folks are so concerned about the audience,” he said, “let them put their millions of dollars into new films, or let them remake old stories if they see fit, but let our great film artists and films live in peace. I urge everyone in the creative community to join in our efforts to discourage this terrible process.”
Had a dislike of Hollywood’s war movies, explaining that they were hardly ever accurate. During his career he only starred in two war films - Strategic Air Command (1955) and The Mountain Road (1960).
In 1980 he was hospitalized for five days with an irregular heartbeat. Three years later the condition resurfaced and doctors at St John’s Hospital in Santa Monica installed a pacemaker.
Stewart agreed to play a cameo role in The Shootist (1976) only after John Wayne specifically requested him. His short time on the film proved to be trying. The bad acoustics of the huge, hollow sound stages worsened his hearing difficulties, and he stayed by himself most of the time. He and Wayne muffed their lines so often in the main scene between them that director Don Siegel accused them of not trying hard enough. Wayne’s reply was a variation on an old John Ford line, advising the director that “if you’d like the scene done better, you’d better get a couple of better actors.” Later on, the star told friends that Stewart had known his lines, but hadn’t been able to hear his cues, and that in turn had caused his own fumbling.
Stewart and Richard Widmark both wore toupees and had hearing problems. On the set of Two Rode Together (1961) director John Ford became frustrated with the two stars being unable to hear his instructions and exclaimed, “Fifty years in this goddamn business, and what do I end up doing? Directing two deaf hairpieces!”
Underwent surgery for skin cancer in 1983.
He considered himself to be miscast in Rope (1948) and Bell Book and Candle (1958).
Deliberately exaggerated his accent in films after he returned from World War II, because several directors told him he needed to create a persona in order to sell his films to the public, particularly with the rising popularity of television.
He never had any cosmetic surgery, unlike his friends Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda and John Wayne.
In association with politicians and celebrities that included President Ronald Reagan, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, California Governor George Deukmejian, Bob Hope and Charlton Heston, Stewart worked from 1987 to 1993 on projects that enhanced the public appreciation and understanding of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Stewart was sometimes amused when critics would always compare him with Henry Fonda, in particular his one marriage versus Fonda’s five marriages. Stewart was dismayed that people forgot he had been romantically linked with numerous actresses before finally marrying at the age of 41.
Stewart wanted to make Night Passage (1957) because he believed it would give him a chance to show off his accordion playing. However, all of his playing in the film was re-recorded by a professional accordion player.
He wore the same hat in all of his westerns. John Ford complained on the set of Two Rode Together (1961): “Great, now I have actors with hat approval!”.
Actively supported the presidential campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964, after Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act.
His favorite movies were westerns, he said, “because they’re told against the background of a very dramatic period in our history” and “give people a feeling of hope, an affirmative statement of living.”.
Pictured on a 41¢ USA commemorative postage stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series, issued 17 August 2007.
Originally intended to make On Golden Pond (1981), but Jane Fonda bought the rights before he could.
He was a frequent guest at the White House throughout the 1980s, addressing the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan on 20 January 1981.
He actively sought the role of Charles Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), even though the producers felt he was far too old for the part, simply because he admired Lindbergh so much.
In 1999 the American Film Institute named him the third greatest male star of all time.
Profiled in “Back in the Saddle: Essays on Western Film and Television Actors”, Gary Yoggy, ed. (McFarland, 1998).
He stopped playing the romantic lead when he was 50 because he felt embarrassed playing Kim Novak’s lover in Vertigo (1958) and Bell Book and Candle (1958), since she was half his age.
In March 2008 a proposal was submitted to award Stewart the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his services to the nation.
Joined the Army eight months before Pearl Harbor. Served overseas for 21 months, where, as a pilot with the 445th Bomb Group, 703rd squadron, he flew 20 combat missions.
After Boris Yeltsin seized power in Russia in December 1991, Stewart was involved in arranging for It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) to be screened on Russian television.
Made London stage debut in 1975 with “Harvey”.
Following the release of Winchester ‘73 (1950), he appeared on the list of Top 10 Stars at the US box office for the first time, a position he retained until the end of the decade.
Wearing his air force uniform, he presented Gary Cooper with his Best Actor Oscar for Sergeant York (1941).
Along with Robert De Niro and Harrison Ford, Stewart has 8 films in the Imdb’s Top 250 movie list.
African-American actor ‘Woody Strode (I)’ (Stewart’s co-star in Two Rode Together (1961) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)) praised Stewart as “one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet anywhere in the world”.
Daughter Kelly and her husband teach at the University of California, Davis.
Daughter Kelly married Cambridge professor Alexander “Sandy” Harcourt in London in 1977.
Daughter Kelly graduated from Stanford and got a PhD from Cambridge University.
His daughter Judy married banker Steven Merritt in 1979 and they later divorced.
He has two grandsons, John and David Merritt.
As of the 5th edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (edited by Steven Jay Schneider), Stewart is runner-up as the most represented actor, by 13 films, behind Robert De Niro. Included are the Stewart films Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Destry Rides Again (1939), The Mortal Storm (1940), The Philadelphia Story (1940), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Rope (1948), Winchester ‘73 (1950), The Naked Spur (1953), Rear Window (1954), The Man from Laramie (1955), Vertigo (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Gary Cooper considered him to be his closest friend.
Some sources state that Stewart was considered to play James Bond in Dr. No (1962). However, it was in fact Stewart Granger, whose real name was James Stewart, who was considered - but ultimately rejected as being too old.
Allegedly hated the nickname “Jimmy”.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing a Jimmy Stewart imitation myself.
[in 1983] I’d like people to remember me as someone who was good at his job and seemed to mean what he said.
There ought to be a law against any man who doesn’t want to marry Myrna Loy.
[on John Wayne] I can’t imagine there’s anyone in the country who doesn’t know who he is. Kids will be talking about him long after the rest of us are gone. John will make the history books, as Will Rogers did, because he as lived his life to reflect the ideals of his country.
It’s much easier, for example, to play a heroin addict and you’re withdrawing - you tear the ceiling off - that’s much easier than it is to come in and say, “Hello” or “I love you”. When you judge it in that way, the heavy isn’t as difficult.
[10/1/48, upon being named a Pennsylvania Ambassador (he was born and raised in the town of Indiana) by Gov. James Duff] Indiana means home to me. It is a town for me to cling to, because my mother and father are here. I was born and reared here. I have a great love and pride for Indiana. I love every bit of it.
I don’t act. I react.
I’m the inarticulate man who tries. I don’t really have all the answers, but for some reason, somehow, I make it.
The big studios were an ideal way to make films - because they were a home base for people. When you were under contract, you had no chance to relax.
If I had my career over again? Maybe I’d say to myself, “Speed it up a little”.
[5/20/58, from a speech at a Boy Scout Testimonial Dinner celebrating his 50th birthday] Through the years Indiana [his home town of Indiana, PA] has been something of tremendous importance in my life. It’s true there is something special about the place where you were raised—your hometown. I have found through the years during the times when I’ve been here in Indiana that almost every direction I look, and so many faces I see, immediately cause a picture to be formed of an event, a happening in my life that I remember well. I think the main thing that has kept Indiana so close to my heart is the fact that Indiana has been, and still is, the headquarters of Mr. Alex Stewart and his family ... My father has been almost fanatical in his determination to keep our family together—and he has done it. Time and distance haven’t seemed to have affected this headquarters in Indiana. I’ve settled down three thousand miles from Indiana. I’ve traveled to points in the world three times that distance. At times I’ve stayed away several years at a stretch, but I somehow have never felt that I was very far from here ... somehow I don’t feel that I have ever been away.
John Wayne was probably the biggest star in the world, yet he retained the qualities of a small boy. He had the enthusiasm for life that would make a high school football star envious. And through it all, Duke never changed. As a man he was exactly the boy he started out. And as a friend . . . well, you just wouldn’t want a better one. In his lifetime, Duke stamped AMERICA across the face of the motion picture industry. Few other men, living or dead, have ever portrayed the fine, decent, and generous American qualities as Duke did. He portrayed on screen the values he lived off screen. Gentle - so much so, it would have surprised his critics. Loyal - once your friend, always your friend. Courageous - if you doubt it, remember his fight against cancer, or the way he faced heart surgery. And decent. Above all, Duke was a decent man. He was also far from perfect. He made his mistakes as I have made mine and you have made yours. All in all, I would say they were unintentional. Mistakes of the heart, I would say. Let me say this about the John Wayne I knew. He was an original. He was the statue of his times. All in all, I think it was the man’s integrity that speaks most of him. His principles never varied. Nor did his ideals. Nor did his faith in mankind.
[in 1970] I don’t think there’s any question that the Communists are behind a great deal of unrest in the United States. In addition, I feel they are still a potential danger in show business.
[on draft-age men who evaded military service during the Vietnam war] I hate them! I absolutely hate them! Whether right or wrong, their country was at war and their country asked them to serve, and they refused and ran away. Cowards, that’s what they were.
[his last words] I’m going to be with Gloria [deceased wife Gloria Stewart] now.
If a western is a good western, it gives you a sense of that world and some of the qualities those men had - their comradeship, loyalty, and physical courage. The vogue for the new kind of western seems pretty unimportant to me. They try to destroy something that has been vital to people for so long.
I am James Stewart playing James Stewart. I couldn’t mess around with the characterizations. I play variations on myself.
Mr. Hitchcock [Alfred Hitchcock] did not say actors are cattle. He said they should be treated like cattle.
I have my own rules and adhere to them. The rule is simple but inflexible. A James Stewart picture must have two vital ingredients: it will be clean and it will involve the triumph of the underdog over the bully.
You hear so much about the old movie moguls and the impersonal factories where there is no freedom. MGM was a wonderful place where decisions were made on my behalf by my superiors. What’s wrong with that?
[asked how he wanted to be remembered] As someone who believed in hard work and love of country, love of family and love of community.
John Wayne was the greatest cowboy. Henry Fonda was the better actor but John Wayne, well, he was a champ.
[On Joan Crawford] My first impression of Joan Crawford was of glamor.
[On Jean Arthur] Jean was the finest actress I ever worked with. No one had her humor, her timing.
[on Margaret Sullavan] She could do maybe a look, or a line or two, but they would hit like flashes or earthquakes.
I suppose people can relate to being me, while they dream about being John Wayne.
[on longtime friend Henry Fonda, a liberal Democrat] Our views never interfered with our feelings for each other, we just didn’t talk about certain things.
[to longtime friend Ronald Reagan, on his inauguration as US President on 1/20/81] I cannot tell you, Mr President, just how happy I am to finally be able to call you my Commander-in-Chief.
I’ve always thought [John Wayne] is underrated as an actor. I think The Searchers (1956) is one of the most marvelous performances of all time.
[in 1976] I am sixty-eight years old and I feel every damn day of it.
I’ve always regretted that I didn’t spend more time on the stage because there’s nothing like that for experience - real experience - and to bring you up to snuff as far as the acting is concerned.
From 1932 through 1934 I’d only worked three months. Every play I got into folded.
Saving for later.
Thank you, just thank you! What a lovely post!
I’ve always been in love with Jimmy Stewart.
That’s one of my very favorite songs to sing. Everything about it is special and beautiful.
The point was that even Stewart has his dark night of the soul.
Enjoy that movie. Though it was never the tradition it is in some places.
Burl Ives has a diffferent second verse, and I love that too:”he knows our name, he guardeth us from danger; ..
bump for later
We’ve a pic of you two together, somewhere.
I think MGM tried to make him sing...once.
“Everytime a bell ring an angel gets his wings.”
What a great thread! Thanks for the ping :)
You’ll like this thread too :)
You are most welcome! :)
I knew You’d enjoy it.
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