James Maitland "Jimmy" Stewart (May 20, 1908 July 2, 1997) was an American film actor who began his career during The Golden Age of Hollywood and remained a popular screen presence for much of the 20th century. He is perhaps most famous for his role as George Bailey in the classic film It's a Wonderful Life, with his Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington also getting a strong look-in.
Among his other films were You Can't Take It with You, The Philadelphia Story, The Shop Around the Corner, Harvey, The Greatest Show on Earth, Rear Window, Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, and The Flight of the Phoenix, as well as numerous Westerns (including Destry Rides Again, Winchester '73, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How the West Was Won, and Shenandoah) and Biopics (including The Glenn Miller Story and The Spirit of St. Louis).
Stewart is 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 on this wiki) 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 squadron 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 Reserve, starting from private), and was famous for being a Nice Guy, both in his film roles and in real life.
A native Pennsylvanian, Stewart had a very unusual accent that is hard to describe (a sort of whiny warble/drawl), and a stumbling delivery that is very tempting to imitate. But hey, audiences ate it up. So did women, apparently, as Stewart was known as something of a ladies' man early in his life, but stopped after he entered a very loving 45-year 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.
- The Murder Man (1935) — Feature film debut, in a supporting part. His actual debut was the year before in a comedy short called Art Trouble.
- After the Thin Man (1936) — The first movie where he had a substantial role (he was billed third), and one in which he played a very different role than in his later career.
- Wife vs. Secretary (1936)
- The Last Gangster (1937)
- 7th Heaven (1937) — Remake of 1927 silent film.
- The Shopworn Angel (1938)
- You Can't Take It with You (1938) — His first movie with Frank Capra.
- Destry Rides Again (1939) — With Marlene Dietrich. His first Western.
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) — Directed by Frank Capra. Made him a star overnight. Oscar nomination.
- It's a Wonderful World (1939) — With Claudette Colbert. Screwball Comedy/Mystery film.
- Made for Each Other (1939) — With Carole Lombard.
- The Shop Around the Corner (1940) — Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
- The Philadelphia Story (1940) — With Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Notable as the film for which he won his only Best Actor Oscar.
- The Mortal Storm (1940)
- Come Live with Me (1941) — With Hedy Lamarr.
- Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
- It's a Wonderful Life (1946) — Directed by Frank Capra. His first movie after World War II, his personal favorite of all the movies he made, and probably his best-known role for modern audiences. Now considered the quintessential Christmas movie. Oscar nomination.
- Rope (1948) — His first movie with Alfred Hitchcock.
- The Stratton Story (1949) — His first of three screen pairings with June Allyson.
- And Then There Were Four (1950) — documentary short, narrator
- Broken Arrow (1950)
- Harvey (1950) — Previously played the role on stage. One of his favorites. Oscar nomination.
- Winchester '73 (1950) — First movie with Anthony Mann.
- Bend of the River (1952) — Directed by Anthony Mann.
- The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) — Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Stewart notably spends the entire film disguised in clown makeup.
- The Glenn Miller Story (1953) — Directed by Anthony Mann.
- The Naked Spur (1953) — Directed by Anthony Mann.
- Rear Window (1954) — Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Stewart's favorite of the movies they did together.
- The Far Country (1955) — Directed by Anthony Mann.
- Strategic Air Command (1955) — Directed by Anthony Mann.
- The Man from Laramie (1955) — Directed by Anthony Mann.
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) — Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
- Night Passage (1957) — With Audie Murphy.
- The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) — Directed by Billy Wilder. Stewart plays aviator Charles Lindbergh.
- Vertigo (1958) — Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Now considered one of the greatest movies ever made.
- Bell, Book and Candle (1958) — His last romantic leading man role.
- Anatomy of a Murder (1959) — Oscar nomination.
- Two Rode Together (1961) — Directed by John Ford.
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) — Directed by John Ford. First onscreen pairing of him and John Wayne.
- How the West Was Won (1962) — Directed by John Ford.
- Cheyenne Autumn (1964) — Directed by John Ford. An extended Cameo as Wyatt Earp.
- The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
- Shenandoah (1965)
- The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)
- The Shootist (1976) — John Wayne's last movie.
- Airport '77 (1977)
- An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) — His final movie.
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.
- Character Filibuster + Motor Mouth: Arguably Jimmy's signature is the moment in his films where his character gives a passionate and enthusiastic rant. Bonus points if it's a "The Reason You Suck" Speech or a What the Hell, Hero? speech.
- 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.
- The Eponymous Show: His short-lived early '70s sitcom The Jimmy Stewart Show (which is also notable as the only time he allowed himself to be billed as "Jimmy" rather than "James" onscreen).
- 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.
- Opposites Attract: He was close friends with Henry Fonda, despite the two having polar opposite personalities (Stewart was well known to be a gregarious Nice Guy, while Fonda was much colder and more emotionally distant) and political views (Stewart was a staunch Conservative, while Fonda was a New Deal Democrat.)
- 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.
- Played With in Anatomy of a Murder, where he's an Amoral Attorney who puts on the typical Jimmy Stewart Nice Guy persona while in court.
- 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), two with Jean Arthur (You Can't Take It with You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), two with Marlene Dietrich (Destry Rides Again and No Highway in the Sky), and two with Kim Novak (Vertigo and Bell, Book and Candle). Oddly, he only appeared opposite his most iconic leading lady, Donna Reed, in one film (It's A Wonderful Life, obviously).
- 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.