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Creator / Jimmy Stewart

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Jimmy Stewart in his 1940s heyday.

"If I had my career over again? Maybe I'd say to myself, 'Speed it up a little.'"

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". (In point of fact, he disliked 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 Brigadier 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.

Stewart's final film performance came in 1991, when he provided the voice of Sheriff Wylie Burp in An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. His wife Gloria died in 1994, and by all accounts Stewart was "lost at sea" after losing her; he died of a pulmonary embolism-induced heart attack three years later at the age of 89.

Partial filmography:

    Film roles 

    TV roles 
  • The Jack Benny Program (5 episodes, 1952–64) as Himself
  • Alcoa Premiere (episode "Flashing Spikes", 1962) as Slim Conway
  • My Three Sons (episode "Robbie Wins His Letter", 1963) as Himself
    • Specifically, as Brigadier General James Stewart, USAFR, who addresses a group of students to extoll the US Air Force's role in promoting science education.
  • The Jimmy Stewart Show (1971–72) as Professor James K. Howard
  • Hawkins (1973–74) as Billy Jim Hawkins
  • North and South: Book II (1986) as Miles Colbert

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: 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.
  • The Cameo: Had an epic and heartwarming one during the final episode of The Carol Burnett Show — Burnett had often mentioned on her show how Stewart was her favorite actor and lamented that she never had the opportunity to share the stage with him. As a surprise for her, the cast and crew, without her knowing, conspired to bring Stewart on the show for a brief appearance. Carol is NOT acting with her astonished and overjoyed reaction.
  • 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).note 
  • Humble Hero: When the makers of The World At War wanted to interview Stewart about his wartime experiences, he accepted on the strict condition that he would only be referred to as "Squadron Commander" (his title at the time), and that no reference to his Hollywood career was made, as the series was about the war, not him.
  • 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:
  • 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).
  • What Could Have Been: Was very seriously considered for leadership of Strategic Air Command, but many felt giving such an important role to a "mere actor" would demean the Air Force.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): James Stewart