Movie Legends: James Stewart

James Stewart

In the beginning, he was just a guy. On the surface, it seemed that Jimmy Stewart was just like everyone else. Stewart was born in 1908 in Indiana, Pa., a small town of 6,000 residents, and worked hard in his parent’s hardware store. As an architecture student, he never even considered being an actor until his friend at Princeton University, Joshua Logan, convinced him to try out summer theater in Massachusetts.

During that happily fateful summer in Falmouth, MA, acting with the likes of a young Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullivan, Stewart caught the acting bug. From then on, he would stretch his knowledge of the average guy to new and stellar levels. And all the world could watch along in the local bijou.

Shortly after he and pal Henry Fonda moved to New York, actress/gossip columnist Hedda Hopper met Stewart and helped get him an MGM screen test. The screen test worked, showcasing that patented combination of nervous energy and understated good looks

Once at MGM, Stewart was paired with the hottest leading ladies of all time. There was everyone from Marlene Dietrich in “Destry Rides Again” to Carole Lombard in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” to Katherine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story” for which Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar, beating out smooth romantic Cary Grant.

At 33, the patriotic Stewart enlisted as a private in the Air Force, and rose through the ranks to eventually lead a mammoth one thousand air strikes over Europe in World War II. To the chagrin of jealous actors who hoped his post-war career would founder, Stewart returned to American shores to shine in the landmark family drama, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

After the war, the world was different, and so it was with film. Stewart moved from showing the sweet and sentimental sides of his acting personality to displaying something edgier, more serious. He teamed up with Alfred Hitchcock for four landmark suspense films including “Rope” and “Vertigo.” Hitchcock called Stewart the “perfect hero because he is Everyman in bizarre situations. You can believe him as a professor, a doctor, a family man. Just about anything.”

Though he often returned to lighter roles, like the comedy of “Harvey,” Stewart continually proved he was beyond Everyman. As critic Andrew Sarris once put it, Stewart became “the most complete actor personality in the American cinema.”