"If I had my career over again? Maybe I'd say to myself, speed it up a little."
— James Stewart
James Maitland "Jimmy" Stewart (1908–1997) was a popular actor for a good deal of the 20th century, starring in films from Harvey
to The Philadelphia Story
to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
. He is perhaps most famous for his role as George Bailey in the classic film It's a Wonderful Life
, with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
getting a strong look-in. His other films included You Can't Take It with You
, The Shop Around the Corner
, Anatomy of a Murder
, and The Flight Of The Phoenix (1965)
, as well as numerous Westerns
(including Destry Rides Again
, Winchester '73
, How the West Was Won
, and Shenandoah
) and Biopics
(including The Glenn Miller Story
and The Spirit of St. Louis
). Also notable for making multiple collaborations with several famous directors from the era, such as Frank Capra
, Alfred Hitchcock
, John Ford
, and Anthony Mann. A mark of his image as an everyman was his constantly being referred to by the public (and this entry) as "Jimmy Stewart", despite the fact that he was never credited as such in any of his famous film roles, always going by "James" (He, in fact, hated being referred to by the nickname).
He fought as a pilot and commander in the Second World War
and flew once as a non-duty observer in a B-52 on a bombing mission during the Vietnam War
(eventually promoted to the rank of Major General
in the Air Force Reserves
, starting from private), and was famous for being a Nice Guy
, both in his film roles and in real life.
He had a very unusual accent that is hard to describe (a sort of whiny warble/drawl), and very tempting to imitate. But hey, audiences ate it up. So did women, apparently, as Stewart was something of a ladies' man
early in his life, but he stopped after he entered a very loving marriage with model Gloria McLean. He was also very good friends with Henry Fonda
, another famous actor from the era and his former roommate.
Also known for reading poems he wrote about his dog on talk shows in his later years.
Some notable movies from his career include:
Tropes associated with Jimmy Stewart's work:
- Actor Allusion: In the movie Strategic Air Command, Stewart plays an Air Force Reserve colonel flying a B-36 bomber (later, B-47) who is also a Major League Baseball player. At this time, he was an actual Air Force Reserve colonel who was assigned to the real Strategic Air Command, while also being a Hollywood movie star.
- Badass: The man was a Brigadier General, after he became an actor. And no, we're not kidding.
- Determinator: When World War II rolled around, Stewart was refused into the armed forces for failing the military's height and weight requirements and being a tad too old (he was over 30). When he gained weight and logged in several hundred hours of flight training to prove he was capable, he was still refused for active duty due to being a beloved actor that the military didn't want to send to certain death. He pushed for it, survived the war, and stayed in the reserves for another 22 years before retiring as a Brigadier General. He also acted in the meantime.
- Jumped at the Call: The man fought to serve his country when he had all the reasons not to, and everyone else had all the reasons not to let him.
- Non-Action Guy: Stewart's typical role when paired with John Wayne. Ironic, since Stewart was a genuine decorated war hero and Wayne did not serve in the military.
- Playing Against Type:
- He plays Anti-Hero roles in some of the Hitchcock and Mann films, and in After the Thin Man he's actually the murderer.
- In Rope he's a Straw Nihilist, though he comes to renounce it.
- Those Two Actors: As was the case with directors, he frequently re-teamed with actresses - he was in four films with Margaret Sullavan (Next Time We Love, The Shopworn Angel, The Mortal Storm, and The Shop Around the Corner), three with June Allyson (The Stratton Story, The Glenn Miller Story, and Strategic Air Command), and two with Jean Arthur (You Can't Take It with You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Oddly, he only appeared opposite his most iconic leading lady, Donna Reed, in one film (It's A Wonderful Life, obviously).
- Perhaps Stewart's most iconic co-star other than Reed was John Wayne - they starred in three movies together, toward the end of both men's careers.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: The kind of character most often associated with his career—due in no small part to It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The former film in particular is a major Break the Cutie.