James Maitland Stewart was born on 20 May 1908 and died on 2 July 1997, at the age of 89, at his home in Beverly Hills, of cardiac arrest and a pulmonary embolism following a long illness from respiratory problems. James Stewart had also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. James Stewart’s death came just 1 day after fellow screen legend and The Big Sleep co-star Robert Mitchum had died of lung cancer and emphysema. James Stewart is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. James Stewart was 6’3″ (191 cm) tall.
James Stewart, is popularly known as Jimmy Stewart. James Stewart was an American film and stage actor best known for his self-effacing screen persona. Over the course of his career, he starred in many films widely considered classics and was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, winning 1 in competition and 1 Lifetime Achievement award. James Stewart also had a noted military career, rising to the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Air Force.
Throughout his 7 decades in Hollywood, James Stewart cultivated a versatile career and recognised screen image in such classics as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, It’s a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, Rope and Vertigo. James Stewart is the most represented leading actor on the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) and AFI’s 10 Top 10 lists. James Stewart is also the most represented leading actor on the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time list presented by Entertainment Weekly. As of 2007, 10 of his films have been inducted into the United States National Film Registry.
James Stewart left his mark on a wide range of film genres, including screwball comedies, westerns, biographies, suspense thrillers and family films. James Stewart worked for a number of renowned directors later in his career, most notably Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra and Anthony Mann. James Stewart won many of the industry’s highest honours and earned Lifetime Achievement awards from every major film organisation. James Stewart died in 1997, leaving behind a legacy of classic performances, and is considered 1 of the finest actors of the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” James Stewart was named the 3rd Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.
James Stewart is the son of Elizabeth Ruth (née Jackson) and Alexander Maitland Stewart, who owned a hardware store. James Stewart’s parents were Presbyterian and of Scottish origin. James Stewart’s Jackson ancestors served in the American Revolution, War of 1812 and the Civil War. The eldest of 3 children (he had 2 younger sisters, Virginia and Mary), he was expected to continue his father’s business, which had been in the family for 3 generations.
James Stewart’s mother was an excellent pianist but his father discouraged James Stewart’s request for lessons. But when his father accepted a gift of an accordion from a guest, young James Stewart quickly learned to play the instrument, which became a fixture off-stage during his acting career. As the family grew, music continued to be an important part of family life.
James Stewart attended Mercersburg Academy prep school, graduating in 1928. At Mercersburg, James Stewart was active in a variety of activities. James Stewart played on the football team and track team. James Stewart was art editor for the KARUX yearbook and member of the choir club, glee club, and John Marshall Literary Society. During his 1st summer break, James Stewart returned to Indiana Pennsylvania to work as a brick loader for a local construction company and on highway and road construction jobs where he painted lines on the roads. Over the following 2 summers, he took a job as an assistant with a professional magician. James Stewart also made his 1st appearance on the stage at Mercersburg, as Buquet in the play The Wolves.
A shy child, James Stewart spent much of his after school time in the basement working on model airplanes, mechanical drawing and chemistry — all with a dream of going into aviation. But he abandoned visions of being a pilot when his father insisted that instead of the Naval Academy he attend Princeton University.
James Stewart enrolled at Princeton in 1928 as a member of the Class of 1932. There, he excelled at studying architecture, so impressing his professors with his thesis on an airport design that he was awarded a scholarship for graduate studies, but he gradually became attracted to the school’s drama and music clubs, including the famous Princeton Triangle Club. James Stewart was a member of the Princeton Charter Club as well as a head cheerleader. In his spare time, he enjoyed going to the movies at the time when “talkies” were just displacing silent films.
James Stewart’s acting and accordion talents at Princeton led him to be invited to the University Players, an intercollegiate summer stock company in West Falmouth a town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This company had been organised in 1928 and would run until 1932, with Joshua Logan, Bretaigne Windust, and Charles Leatherbee as the directors. James Stewart performed in bit parts in the Players’ productions in Cape Cod during the Summer of 1932 after he graduated. The troupe had previously included Henry Fonda, who married Margaret Sullavan on Christmas Day 1931 while the University Players were located in Baltimore for an 18-week winter season. Margaret Sullavan, who had rejoined the University Players in Baltimore in November 1931 at the close of the post-Broadway tour of A Modern Virgin, left the Players for good at the end of The Trial of Mary Dugan in Baltimore in March 1932. By the time James Stewart joined the University Players on Cape Cod after his graduation from Princeton in 1932, Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan’s brief marriage had ended. James Stewart and Henry Fonda became great friends over the summer of 1932 when they shared an apartment with Joshua Logan and Myron McCormick. When he came to New York at the end of the summer stock season, which had included the Broadway try-out of Goodbye Again, he shared an apartment with Henry Fonda, who had by then finalised his divorce from Margaret Sullavan. Along with fellow University Players, Alfred Dalrymple and Myron McCormick, James Stewart had his Broadway debut as a chauffeur in the comedy Goodbye Again, in which he had 2 lines. The New Yorker noted, “Mr. James Stewart’s chauffeur… comes on for 3 minutes and walks off to a round of spontaneous applause.”
The play was a moderate success but times were hard. Many Broadway theaters had been converted to movie houses and the Depression was reaching bottom. “From 1932 through 1934”, James Stewart later recalled, “I’d only worked 3 months. Every play I got into folded.” By 1934, he got more substantial stage roles, including the hit, Page Miss Glory, and his 1st dramatic stage role in Sidney Howard’s Yellow Jack, which convinced him to continue his acting career. However, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, still roommates, were both struggling.
In the fall of 1934, Henry Fonda’s success in The Farmer Takes a Wife took him to Hollywood. Finally, James Stewart attracted the interest of MGM scout Bill Grady who saw James Stewart on the opening night of Divided by 3, a glittering première with many luminaries in attendance including Irving Berlin and Moss Hart and his buddy Henry Fonda who had returned to New York for the show. With Henry Fonda’s encouragement, James Stewart agreed to take the screen test and signed a contract with MGM in April 1935, as a contract player for up to 7 years at $350 a week.
On his arrival by train to Los Angeles, Henry Fonda greeted James Stewart at the station and took him to Henry Fonda’s studio-supplied lodging, right next door to Greta Garbo. James Stewart’s 1st job at the studio was as a participant in the screen tests done for newly arrived starlets. At first, he had trouble being cast in Hollywood films due to his gangling looks and shy, humble screen presence. James Stewart’s 1st film was the poorly received Spencer Tracy vehicle, The Murder Man, but Rose Marie, an adaptation of a popular operetta, was more successful. After mixed success in films, he received his 1st substantial part in 1936’s After the Thin Man.
On the romantic front, he found himself dating newly-divorced Ginger Rogers, whom he had revered while a student at Princeton only a few years earlier. The romance soon cooled, however, and by chance James Stewart encountered Margaret Sullavan again. James Stewart found his footing in Hollywood thanks largely to Margaret Sullavan who campaigned for James Stewart to be her leading man in the 1936 romantic comedy Next Time We Love. Margaret Sullavan rehearsed extensively with him, having a noticeable effect on his confidence. Margaret Sullavan encouraged James Stewart to feel comfortable with his unique mannerisms and boyish charm and use them naturally as his own style. In the meantime, roommate Henry Fonda continued to arrange parties with starlets, who found James Stewart different from the other young actors and irresistible in his own way. James Stewart was enjoying Hollywood life and had no regrets about giving up the stage, as he worked 6 days a week in the MGM factory. In 1936, he acquired big-time agent Leland Hayward, who would eventually marry Margaret Sullavan. Leland Hayward started to chart James Stewart’s career, deciding the best path for him was through loan-outs to other studios.
In 1938, James Stewart had a brief, tumultuous, and well-publicised romance with Hollywood queen Norma Shearer whose husband Irving Thalberg, head of production at MGM, had died 2 years earlier. James Stewart began a successful partnership with director Frank Capra in 1938, when he was loaned out to Columbia Pictures to star in You Can’t Take It With You. Frank Capra had been impressed by James Stewart’s minor role in Navy Blue and Gold (1937). The director had recently completed several popular movies including It Happened One Night and was looking for the right type of actor to suit his needs—which other recent actors in his films such as Clark Gable, Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper did not quite fit. Not only was James Stewart just what he was looking for, but Frank Capra also found James Stewart understood that prototype intuitively and required very little directing. Later Frank Capra commented, “I think he’s probably the best actor who’s ever hit the screen.”
This heart-warming Depression-era film (You Can’t Take It With You), starring Frank Capra’s “favorite actress”, comedienne Jean Arthur, went on to win the 1938 Best Picture Academy Award. The following year saw James Stewart team with Frank Capra and Jean Arthur again for the political comedy-drama Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. James Stewart replaced intended star Gary Cooper in the film about an idealistic man thrown into the political arena. Upon the film’s October release, it garnered critical praise and became a box office success. For his performance, James Stewart was nominated for the 1st of 5 Academy Awards for Best Actor. Even after this great success, James Stewart’s parents were still trying to talk him into leaving Hollywood and its sinful ways and to return to his home town to lead a decent life. Instead, he took a secret trip to Europe to take a break and returned home just as Germany invaded Poland.
Destry Rides Again, also released that year, became James Stewart’s 1st western film, a genre for which he would become famous later in his career. In this Western parody, James Stewart is a pacifist lawman and Marlene Dietrich the saloon dancing girl who comes to love him, but doesn’t get him. In it she sings her famous song The Boys In the Back Room. Off-screen, Marlene Dietrich did get her man, but the romance was short-lived. Made for Each Other (1939) had James Stewart sharing the screen with irrepressible Carole Lombard in a melodrama that garnered good reviews for both stars, but did less well with the public. Newsweek wrote that they were “perfectly cast in the leading roles.” Between movies, James Stewart began a radio career and became a distinctive voice on the “Lux Radio Hour,” the “Screen Guild Theater” and other radio shows. So well known had his slow drawl become that comedians started to impersonate him, a form of flattery which continued for most of his life.
from the film The Philadelphia Story (1940)In 1940, James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan teamed again for 2 films. The 1st, the Ernst Lubitsch romantic comedy, The Shop Around the Corner, starred James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as co-workers unknowingly involved in a pen-pal romance who cannot stand each other in real life (this was later remade into the romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan). It was James Stewart’s 5th film of the year and that rare film shot in the story’s sequence; it was completed in only 27 days. The Mortal Storm, directed by Frank Borzage, was 1 of the 1st blatantly anti-Nazi films to be produced in Hollywood and featured the pair as a husband and wife caught in turmoil upon Hitler’s rise to power.
James Stewart also starred opposite Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in George Cukor’s classic The Philadelphia Story (1940). James Stewart’s performance as an intrusive, fast-talking reporter earned him his only Academy Award in a competitive category (Best Actor, 1941) and he beat out his good friend Henry Fonda (The Grapes of Wrath). James Stewart thought his performance “entertaining and slick and smooth” but lacking the “guts” of “Mr. Smith.” James Stewart gave the Oscar statuette to his father, who displayed it in a case just inside the front door of his hardware store for many years, alongside other family awards and military medals.
During the months before he began military service, James Stewart went on to appear in a series of screwball comedies with varying levels of success. James Stewart followed the mediocre No Time for Comedy (1940) and Come Live with Me (1941) with the Judy Garland musical Ziegfeld Girl and the George Marshall romantic comedy Pot o’ Gold. James Stewart was drafted in late 1940 and it coincided with the lapse in his MGM contract, marking a turning point in James Stewart’s career, with 28 movies to his credit at that point.
The Stewart family had deep military roots as both grandfathers had fought in the Civil War, and his father had served during both the Spanish-American War and World War I. Since James Stewart considered his father to be the biggest influence on his life, it was not surprising that when another war eventually came, he too served. Unlike his family’s previous infantry service, James Stewart chose to become a military flyer.
An early interest in flying led James Stewart to gain his Private Pilot License in 1935 and Commercial Pilot Certificate in 1938. James Stewart often flew cross country to visit his parents in Pennsylvania, navigating by the railroad tracks. Nearly 2 years before the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour, James Stewart had accumulated over 400 hours of flying time.
Considered a highly proficient pilot, he even entered a cross-country race as a co-pilot in 1939. Along with musician/composer Hoagy Carmichael, seeing the need for trained war pilots, James Stewart teamed with other Hollywood moguls and put their own money into creating a flying school in Glendale, Arizona, which they named Thunderbird Field. This airfield trained more than 200,000 pilots during the War, became the origin of the Flying Thunderbirds, and is now the home of Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Later in 1940, James Stewart was drafted into the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) but was rejected due to a weight problem. The USAAC had strict height and weight requirements for new recruits and James Stewart was 5lb under the standard. To get up to 148lbs he sought out the help of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s muscle man, Don Loomis, who was legendary for his ability to add or subtract pounds in his studio gymnasium. James Stewart subsequently attempted to enlist in the USAAC but still came in under the weight requirement although he persuaded the AAC enlistment officer to run new tests, this time passing the weigh-in, with the result that James Stewart successfully enlisted in the Army in March 1941. James Stewart became the 1st major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II.
James Stewart enlisted as a private and began pilot training in the renamed United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). During this time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, bringing the US into direct involvement in the war. James Stewart continued his military training and earned a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in January, 1942. James Stewart was posted to Moffett Field and then Mather Field as an instructor pilot in single- and twin-engine aircraft.
Public appearances by James Stewart were limited engagements scheduled by the Army Air Forces. “Stewart appeared several times on network radio with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Shortly after Pearl Harbour, he performed with Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Walter Huston and Lionel Barrymore in an all-network radio programme called We Hold These Truths, dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.” In early 1942, James Stewart was asked to appear in a propaganda film to help recruit the anticipated 100,000 airmen the USAAF would need to win the war. The USAAF’s 1st Motion Picture Unit shot scenes of Lieutenant Stewart in his pilot’s flight suit and recorded his voice for narration. The short film, Winning Your Wings, appeared nationwide beginning in late May and was very successful, resulting in 150,000 new recruits.
James Stewart was concerned that his expertise and celebrity status would relegate him to instructor duties “behind the lines.” James Stewart’s fears were confirmed when he was stationed for 6 months at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico to train bombardiers. James Stewart was transferred to Hobbs AAF to become an instructor pilot for the 4-engined B-17 Flying Fortress. James Stewart trained B-17 pilots for 9 months at Gowen Field.
“Still, the war was moving on. For the 36-year-old James Stewart, combat duty seemed far away and unreachable and he had no clear plans for the future. But then a rumour that James Stewart would be taken off flying status and assigned to making training films or selling bonds called for his immediate and decisive action, because what he dreaded most was the hope-shattering spectre of a dead end.” James Stewart appealed to his commander, a pre-war aviator, who understood the situation and reassigned him to a unit going overseas.
Col. Stewart being awarded the Croix de guerre with palm by Lt. Gen. Henri Valin, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, for his role in the liberation of France. In August 1943 he was finally assigned to the 445th Bombardment Group at Sioux City AAB, Iowa, first as Operations Officer of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron and then as its commander, at the rank of Captain. In December, the 445th Bombardment Group flew its B-24 Liberator bombers to RAF Tibenham, England and immediately began combat operations. While flying missions over Germany, James Stewart was promoted to Major. In March 1944, he was transferred as group operations officer to the 453rd Bombardment Group, a new B-24 unit that had been experiencing difficulties. As a means to inspire his new group, James Stewart flew as command pilot in the lead B-24 on numerous missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe. These missions went uncounted at James Stewart’s orders. James Stewart’s “official” total is listed as 20 and is limited to those with the 445th. In 1944, he twice received the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in combat and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. James Stewart also received the Air Medal with 3 oak leaf clusters. In July 1944, after flying 20 combat missions, James Stewart was made Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing of the Eighth Air Force. Before the war ended, he was promoted to colonel, one of very few Americans to rise from private to colonel in 4 years.
At the beginning of June 1945, James Stewart was the presiding officer of the court-martial of a pilot and navigator who were charged with dereliction of duty when they accidentally bombed the Swiss city of Zurich the previous March – the 1st instance of U.S. personnel being tried over an attack on a neutral country. The Court acquitted the accused.
James Stewart continued to play an active role in the United States Air Force Reserve after the war, achieving the rank of Brigadier General on 23 July 1959. James Stewart did not often talk of his wartime service, perhaps due to his desire to be seen as a regular soldier doing his duty instead of as a celebrity. James Stewart did appear on the TV series, The World At War to discuss the 14 October 1943, bombing mission to Schweinfurt, which was the center of the German ball bearing manufacturing industry. This mission is known in USAF history as Black Thursday due to the high casualties it sustained; in total, 60 aircraft were lost out of 291 dispatched, as the raid consisting entirely of B-17s was unescorted all the way to Schweinfurt and back due to the contemporary escort aircraft available lacking the range. Fittingly, he was identified only as “James Stewart, Squadron Commander” in the documentary.
James Stewart served as Air Force Reserve commander of Dobbins Air Reserve Base in the early 1950s. In 1966, Brigadier General James Stewart flew as a non-duty observer in a B-52 on a bombing mission during the Vietnam conflict. At the time of his B-52 flight, he refused the release of any publicity regarding his participation as he did not want it treated as a stunt, but as part of his job as an officer in the Air Force Reserve. After 27 years of service, James Stewart retired from the Air Force on 31 May 1968.
James Stewart, Karolyn Grimes and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
Right after the war, James Stewart took some time to reassess his career and spent much time with friend Henry Fonda. James Stewart was an early investor in Southwest Airways, started by Leland Hayward, and he considered going into the aviation industry if his re-started film career didn’t pan out. Upon James Stewart’s return to Hollywood in fall 1945, he decided not to renew his MGM contract. James Stewart signed with an MCA talent agency. James Stewart’s former agent Leland Hayward got out of the talent business in 1944 after selling his A-list of stars, including James Stewart, to MCA. The move made James Stewart 1 of the 1st independently contracted actors, and gave him more freedom to choose the roles he wished to play. For the remainder of his career, James Stewart was able to work without limits to director and studio availability.
For his 1st film in 5 years, James Stewart appeared in his 3rd and final Frank Capra production, It’s a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra paid RKO the rights for the story and formed his own production company. The female lead went to Donna Reed, after Frank Capra’s perennial 1st choice, Jean Arthur was unavailable, and after turn downs by Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, Ann Dvorak and Martha Scott. James Stewart appeared as George Bailey, a small-town man and upstanding citizen, who becomes increasingly frustrated by his ordinary existence and financial troubles. Driven to suicide on Christmas Eve, he is led to reassess his life by Clarence Odbody AS2, an “angel, second class,” played by Henry Travers.
After viewing It’s a Wonderful Life, President Harry S. Truman concluded, “If Bess and I had a son, we’d want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart.”
Although the film was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including James Stewart’s 3rd Best Actor nomination, it received mixed reviews and only moderate success at the box office, possibly due to its dark nature. However, in the decades since the film’s release, it grew to define James Stewart’s film persona and is widely considered as a sentimental Christmas film classic and, according to the American Film Institute, one of the best movies ever made.
In the aftermath of the film, Frank Capra’s production company went into bankruptcy and it effectively ended his movie career. James Stewart started to have doubts about his ability to act after his military hiatus. James Stewart’s father kept insisting he come home and marry a local girl. Meanwhile in Hollywood, his generation of actors were fading and a new wave of actors would soon remake the town, including Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean.
from the film Harvey (1950)After a poorly received Magic Town (1947) and after the completion of the shooting of Rope, James Stewart decided to return to the stage for the Mary Chase-penned comedy, Harvey, which had opened to nearly universal praise in November 1944. Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist and James Stewart’s character, is a wealthy eccentric whose best friend is an invisible rabbit, living with his sister and niece. James Stewart’s eccentricity, especially the friendship with the rabbit, is ruining the niece’s hopes of finding a husband. While trying to have Dowd committed to a sanatorium, his sister is committed herself while the play follows Dowd on an ordinary day in his not-so-ordinary life. James Stewart took over the role from Frank Fay and gained an increased Broadway following in the unconventional play. The play, which ran for nearly 3 years with James Stewart as its star, was successfully adapted into a 1950 film, directed by Henry Koster, with James Stewart playing Dowd and Josephine Hull as his sister, Veta. Bing Crosby was the 1st choice for the movie but he declined. For his performance in the film, James Stewart received his 4th Best Actor nomination.
After Harvey, the comedic adventure film Malaya with Spencer Tracy and the conventional but highly successful biographical film The Stratton Story in 1949, his 1st pairing with “on-screen wife” June Allyson, his career took another turn. During the 1950s, he expanded into the western and suspense genres, thanks largely to collaborations with directors Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock.
Other notable performances by James Stewart during this time include the critically acclaimed 1950 Delmer Daves western Broken Arrow, which featured James Stewart as an ex-soldier and Indian agent making peace with the Apache; a troubled clown in the 1952 Best Picture The Greatest Show on Earth; and James Stewart’s role as Charles Lindbergh in Billy Wilder’s 1957 film The Spirit of St. Louis. James Stewart also starred in the Western radio show The 6 Shooter for its 1 season run from 1953-1954.
James Stewart’s collaborations with director Anthony Mann expanded James Stewart’s popularity and expanded his career into the realm of the western. James Stewart’s 1st appearance in a film helmed by Anthony Mann came with the 1950 western classic, Winchester ’73. In choosing Anthony Mann (after 1st choice Fritz Lang declined), James Stewart cemented a powerful partnership. The film, which became a massive box office hit upon its release, set the pattern for their future collaborations. In it, James Stewart is a tough, revengeful sharpshooter, the winner of a prized rifle which is stolen and then passes through many hands, until the showdown between James Stewart and his brother (Stephen McNally).
Other James Stewart-Anthony Mann westerns, such as Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Far Country (1954) and The Man from Laramie (1955) were perennial favorites among young audiences entranced by the American West. Frequently, the films featured James Stewart as a troubled cowboy seeking redemption, while facing corrupt cattlemen, ranchers and outlaws—a man who knows violence first hand and struggles to control it. Their collaborations laid the foundation for many of the westerns of the 1950s and remain popular today for their grittier, more realistic depiction of the classic movie genre. Audiences saw James Stewart’s screen persona evolve into a more mature, more ambiguous, and edgier presence.
James Stewart and Anthony Mann also collaborated on other films outside the western genre. 1953’s The Glenn Miller Story was critically acclaimed, garnering James Stewart a BAFTA Award nomination, and (together with The Spirit of St. Louis) cemented the popularity of James Stewart’s portrayals of “American heroes.” Thunder Bay, released the same year, transplanted the plot arch of their western collaborations in the present day, with James Stewart as a Louisiana oil-driller facing corruption. Strategic Air Command, released in 1955, allowed James Stewart to use his experiences in the United States Air Force on film.
from the trailer for Rope (1948) James Stewart’s starring role in Winchester ’73 was also a turning point in Hollywood. Universal Studios, who wanted James Stewart to appear in both that film and Harvey, balked at his $200,000 asking price. James Stewart’s agent, Lew Wasserman, brokered an alternate deal, in which James Stewart would appear in both films for no pay, in exchange for a percentage of the profits and cast and director approval. It wasn’t the 1st such deal at Universal; Abbott and Costello also had a profit participation contract, but they were no longer top-flight moneymakers by 1950. James Stewart ended up earning about $600,000 for Winchester ’73 alone. Hollywood’s other stars quickly capitalised on this new way of doing business, which further undermined the decaying “studio system.”
The 2nd collaboration to define James Stewart’s career in the 1950s was with acclaimed mystery and suspense director Alfred Hitchcock. Like Anthony Mann, Alfred Hitchcock uncovered new depths to James Stewart’s acting, showing a protagonist confronting his fears and his repressed desires. James Stewart’s 1st movie with Alfred Hitchcock was the technologically innovative 1948 film Rope, shot in long “real time” takes.
The 2 collaborated for the 2nd of 4 times on the 1954 hit Rear Window, 1 of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces. James Stewart portrays photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, loosely based on Life photographer Robert Capa, who projects his fantasies and fears onto the people he observes out his apartment window while on hiatus due to a broken leg. L.B. Jeff Jeffries gets into more than he can handle, however, when he believes he has witnessed a salesman (Raymond Burr) commit a murder, and when his glamorous girlfriend (Grace Kelly), at first disdainful of his voyeurism and skeptical about any crime, eventually is drawn in and tries to help solve the mystery. Limited by his wheelchair, James Stewart is masterfully led by Alfred Hitchcock to react to what his character sees with mostly facial responses. It was a landmark year for James Stewart, becoming the highest grossing actor of 1954 and the most popular Hollywood star in the world, displacing John Wayne.
from the trailer for Vertigo (1958)After starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s remake of the director’s own production, The Man Who Knew Too Much, with co-star Doris Day, James Stewart starred in what many consider Alfred Hitchcock’s most personal film, Vertigo. The movie starred James Stewart as “Scottie”, a former police investigator suffering from acrophobia, who develops an obsession with a woman he is shadowing. Scottie’s obsession inevitably leads to the destruction of everything he once had and believed in. Though the film is widely considered a classic today, and the pairing with Kim Novak, one of the screen’s most perfect, Vertigo met with negative reviews and poor box office receipts upon its release, and marked the last collaboration between James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock. James Stewart was also disappointed. The director blamed the film’s failure on James Stewart looking too old to still attract audiences, and cast Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959), a role James Stewart had very much wanted. In reality, Cary Grant was actually 4 years older than James Stewart.
In 1960, James Stewart was awarded the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and received his 5th and final Academy Award for Best Actor nomination, for his role in the 1959 Otto Preminger film Anatomy of a Murder. The early courtroom drama starred James Stewart as Paul Biegler, the lawyer of a hot-tempered soldier Ben Gazzara who claims temporary insanity after murdering a tavern owner who raped his wife Lee Remick. The film featured a career-making performance by George C. Scott as the prosecutor. The film was sexually frank for its time (some thought it sordid), and its provocative promotional campaign helped gain it box office success, though Ben-Hur outgrossed all movies by a huge margin and swept the Academy Awards that year. James Stewart’s nomination was 1 of 7 for the film (Charlton Heston was the winner), and saw his transition into the final decades of his career.
On 1 January 1960 James Stewart received the devastating news that Margaret Sullavan had committed suicide, most likely over despondency from her loss of hearing and its impact on her stage career. As a friend, mentor, and focus of his early romantic urges, she had a unique impact on James Stewart’s life.
from the trailer for How the West Was Won (1962)In the early 1960s James Stewart took leading roles in 3 John Ford films, his 1st work with the acclaimed director. The 1st, 2 Rode Together, paired him with Richard Widmark in a Western with thematic echoes of John Ford’s The Searchers. The next, 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (with John Wayne), is a classic “psychological” western, with James Stewart featured as an Eastern attorney who goes against his non-violent principles when he is forced to confront a psychopathic outlaw (played by Lee Marvin) in a small frontier town. At story’s end, James Stewart’s character — now a rising political figure — faces a difficult ethical choice as he attempts to reconcile his actions with his personal integrity. The film’s billing is unusual in that James Stewart was given top billing over John Wayne in the trailers and on the posters but John Wayne had top billing in the film itself, a system later repeated by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men. The film garnered so-so reviews and fared poorly at the box office, but is now considered a late John Ford classic.
How the West Was Won (which John Ford co-directed, though without directing James Stewart’s scenes) and Cheyenne Autumn were western epics released in 1962 and 1964 respectively. While the Cinerama production How the West Was Won went on to win 3 Oscars and reaped massive box office figures, Cheyenne Autumn, in which a white-suited James Stewart played Wyatt Earp in a long sequence in the middle of the movie, failed domestically and was quickly forgotten. It was John Ford’s final Western and James Stewart’s last feature film with John Ford.
Having played his last romantic lead in 1958’s Bell, Book and Candle, and silver-haired (although not all was his – he had begun wearing a hairpiece in the early 1950s), James Stewart transitioned into more family-related films in the 1960s when he signed a multi-movie deal with 20th Century Fox. These included the successful Henry Koster outing Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), and the less memorable films Take Her, She’s Mine (1963) and Dear Brigitte (1965), which featured French model Brigitte Bardot as the object of James Stewart’s son’s mash notes. The Civil War period film Shenandoah (1965) and the western family film The Rare Breed fared better at the box office; the Civil War movie was a smash hit in the South.
As an aviator, James Stewart was particularly interested in aviation films and had pushed to appear in several in the 1950s. James Stewart continued in this vein in the 1960s, most notably in a role as a hard-bitten pilot in Flight of the Phoenix (1965). Subbing for James Stewart, famed stunt pilot and air racer Paul Mantz was killed when he crashed the “Tallmantz Phoenix P-1”, the specially-made, single-engine movie model, in an abortive “touch-and-go”. It’s little known, but James Stewart was the narrator in the X-15 film (1961).
After a progression of lesser western films in the late ’60s and early ’70s, James Stewart transitioned from cinema to television. In the 1950s he had made guest appearances on the Jack Benny Programme (Benny was his real life neighbor and good friend). James Stewart 1st starred in the NBC comedy The Jimmy Stewart Show, which featured James Stewart as a college professor. James Stewart followed it with the CBS mystery Hawkins, in which he played a small town lawyer investigating his cases. The series garnered James Stewart a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Dramatic TV Series, but failed to gain a wide audience and was cancelled after 1 season. (Andy Griffith fared much better later in Matlock, based on a similar formula.) During this time, James Stewart periodically appeared on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show, sharing poems he had written at different times in his life. James Stewart’s poems were later compiled into a short collection titled Jimmy Stewart and His Poems
James Stewart returned to films after an absence of 5 years with a major role in John Wayne’s final film, The Shootist (1976) where James Stewart played a doctor giving John Wayne’s gunfighter a terminal cancer diagnosis. At one point, both John Wayne and James Stewart were flubbing their lines repeatedly and James Stewart turned to director Don Siegel and said, “You’d better get 2 better actors.” James Stewart also appeared in supporting roles in Airport ’77, the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum and The Magic of Lassie (1978). The latter film received poor reviews and flopped at the box office. Some critics expressed their dismay at seeing the 70-year-old veteran singing as the grandfather. James Stewart responded it was the only script he had been offered without any sex, profanity and graphic violence.
James Stewart was presented an Academy Honourary Award in 1985, “for his 50 years of memorable performances, for his high ideals both on and off the screen, with respect and affection of his colleagues.”
James Stewart’s best friend Henry Fonda died in 1982 and his long-time friend Grace Kelly, his favourite female co-star, died shortly afterwards. A few months later, James Stewart starred with Bette Davis in Right of Way, which had the distinction of being the 1st made-for-cable movie. After filming several television movies in the 1980s, including Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, James Stewart, still receiving considerable offers to play “grandfather” roles, retired from acting to spend time with his family. James Stewart made frequent visits to the Reagan White House and traveled on the lecture circuit. The re-release of his Alfred Hitchcock films gained James Stewart renewed recognition. Rear Window and Vertigo were particularly praised by film critics, which helped bring these films to the attention of younger movie-goers.
James Stewart became a real life “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in 1988, when he made an impassioned plea in Congressional hearings, along with aging superstars Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn, and film purist Martin Scorsese, against Ted Turner’s decision to “colourise” classic black and white films, including It’s a Wonderful Life. James Stewart stated, “the colouring of black-and-white films is wrong. It’s morally and artistically wrong and these profiteers should leave our film industry alone”. The traditionalists eventually prevailed.
1 of Hollywood’s most shrewd businessmen, James Stewart had diversified investments including real estate, oil wells, a charter-plane company and membership on major corporate boards. James Stewart became a multimillionaire. In the 1980s and 1990s, he did voiceovers for commercials for Campbell’s Soups.
In 1989, James Stewart joined Peter F. Paul in founding the American Spirit Foundation to apply entertainment industry resources to developing innovative approaches to public education and to assist the emerging democracy movements in the former Iron Curtain countries and Russia. Peter F. Paul arranged for James Stewart, through the offices of President Boris Yeltsin, to send a special print of It’s a Wonderful Life, translated by Moscow University, to Russia as the 1st American programme ever to be broadcast on Russian television. On 5 January 1992, coinciding with the 1st day of the existence of the democratic Commonwealth of Independent States and Russia, and the 1st free Russian Orthodox Christmas Day, Russian TV Channel 2 broadcast It’s a Wonderful Life to 200,000,000 Russians who celebrated an American holiday tradition with the American people for the 1st time in Russian history.
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, James Stewart worked from 1987 to 1993 on projects that enhanced the public appreciation and understanding of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In 1991, James Stewart voiced the character of Sheriff Wylie Burp in the movie “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West”, which was his final role in a film before his death.
Right before his 80th birthday, he was 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.'”
“America lost a national treasure today,” President Bill Clinton said on the day James Stewart died. “Jimmy Stewart was a great actor, a gentleman and a patriot.”
James Stewart was almost universally described by his collaborators as a kind, soft spoken man and a true professional.
Joan Crawford, James Stewart’s co-star in early period, praised him as an “endearing perfectionist” with “a droll sense of humour and a shy way of watching you to see if you react to that humour.”
When Henry Fonda moved to Hollywood in 1934, he was again a roommate with James Stewart in an apartment in Brentwood and the 2 gained a reputation as playboys. Once married, both men’s children noted that their favourite activity when not working seemed to be quietly sharing time together while building and painting model airplanes, a hobby they had taken up in New York, years earlier.
After World War II, James Stewart settled down, at the age of 41, marrying former model Gloria Hatrick McLean (1918-1994) on 9 August 1949. As James Stewart loved to recount in self-mockery, “I, I, I pitched the big question to her last night and to my surprise she, she, she said yes!”.
James Stewart adopted her 2 sons, Michael and Ronald, and together they had twin daughters, Judy and Kelly, on 7 May 1951. They remained devotedly married until her death on 16 February 1994, due to lung cancer. Ronald McLean was killed in action on 8 June 1969, at the age of 24, while serving as a Marine Corps Lieutenant in Vietnam. Dr. Kelly Stewart is an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis.
A plaque in honour of James Stewart’s spirit of humanitarianism in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California. While visiting India in 1959, James Stewart reportedly smuggled the remains of a supposed yeti, the so-called Pangboche Hand, by hiding them in his luggage (specifically, in his wife, Gloria’s underwear) when he flew from India to London, as a favour to Tom Slick.
James Stewart was active in philanthropic affairs over the years. James Stewart’s signature charity event, “The Jimmy Stewart Relay Marathon Race”, held each year since 1982, has raised millions of dollars for the Child and Family Development Center at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
James Stewart was a lifelong supporter of Scouting. James Stewart was a 2nd Class Scout when he was a youth, an adult Scout leader, and a recipient of the prestigious Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). In later years, he made advertisements for BSA, which led to him sometimes incorrectly being identified as an Eagle Scout. (Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, was also the leader of the “Boy Rangers”, a fictional organisation patterned after cub scouts.) An award for Boy Scouts, “The James M. Stewart Good Citizenship Award” has been presented since 17 May 2003.
1 little-known talent of James Stewart’s was his homespun poetry. Once on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, James Stewart read from his poem, “My Dog, Beau.” By the end of his reading, Johnny Carson’s eyes were welling with tears. This was later parodied on a late 1980s episode of the NBC sketch show Saturday Night Live, with Dana Carvey as James Stewart reciting the poem on Weekend Update and bringing then anchor Dennis Miller to tears.
In addition to poetry, James Stewart would talk during Tonight Show appearances about his avid gardening. James Stewart purchased the house next door to his own home at 918 North Roxbury Drive, razed the house, and installed his garden in the lot.
Politically, James Stewart was a staunch supporter of the Republican Party and actively campaigned for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
1 of his best friends was Henry Fonda, despite the fact that the 2 men had very different political ideologies. A political argument in 1947 resulted in a fist fight between them, but the 2 apparently maintained their friendship by never discussing politics again. There is brief reference to their political differences in character in their movie The Cheyenne Social Club.
James Stewart’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was once stolen but was subsequently replaced.
Awards & Honours
James Stewart was presented various kinds of film industry awards, military and civilian medals, honourary degrees, memorials and tributes over the years for his contribution to performing arts, humanitarianism, and military service.
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