TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (36)
|Also Known As:||Jamie Stewart,James M Stewart,Jimmy Stewart||Died:||July 2, 1997|
|Born:||May 20, 1908||Cause of Death:||blood clot in lungs|
|Birth Place:||Indiana, Pennsylvania, USA||Profession:||Cast ... actor author colonel bomber pilot brigadier general|
James Stewart was arguably the most loved actor ever to have appeared on screen. Certainly, he was the last of the great men who captured audience hearts in the throes of the Depression and became, in the words of Andrew Sarris, "the most complete actor-personality in the American cinema."
Stewart's origins read like cliches; he was born in 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, the son of the local hardware store owner (his Oscar has permanently resided in the store, which has been in the family for generations). While studying architecture at Princeton (his father's alma mater), he met Joshua Logan, who convinced him to begin acting. Billy O'Grady, MGM's chief talent scout, saw his performance in a line of female impersonators and remembered him as "the only one who didn't ham it up." Bitten at last by the drama bug, Stewart moved with Logan to summer stock work with the University Players in Falmouth, MA, joining future co-stars Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan.
That summer a production had a pre-Broadway tryout at Falmouth and Stewart, as a chauffeur, had two lines: "Mrs. Mainwaring's car is waiting" and, after being delayed, "Mrs. Mainwaring's going to be sore as hell." It tore down the house and was noticed and written up by a visiting New York critic. Stewart and Fonda moved to New York, where Hedda Hopper recommended Jimmy for a screen test, resulting in a long-term MGM contract.
From the first, Stewart's performances stood out: raw, edgy, full of nervous, boyish energy. Tall, skinny and not conventionally handsome, he nonetheless possessed an engaging, approachable charisma and a naturalistic warmth. While his rivals played with masculine understatement, Stewart mirrored the vital excesses of those most American of rising actresses--Crawford, Davis, Rogers, Hepburn.
Audiences first took note of him as Eleanor Powell's leading man in 1936's "Born to Dance". Everyone at Metro at least had to "try" musicals; Stewart, singing--sort of--introduced Cole Porter's "Easy to Love". He was hopeless, but the public found him adorable.
Most of Stewart's big breaks came away from MGM: George Stevens's "Vivacious Lady", at RKO with Ginger Rogers, and Frank Capra's "You Can't Take it With You", at Columbia (both 1938); David O. Selznick's "Made For Each Other" (1939), opposite Carole Lombard; Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (his greatest pre-WWII performance), with Jean Arthur, at Columbia; and "Destry Rides Again", taming Marlene Dietrich and the west at Universal (both 1939). MGM rallied with two winners, both co-starring Sullavan: Ernst Lubitsch's entrancing "The Shop Around the Corner" and Frank Borzage's haunting "The Mortal Storm" (both 1940). George Cukor's "The Philadelphia Story" followed. Stewart surprised the industry and himself, winning a Best Actor Oscar, despite being second lead to Cary Grant.
At age 33, Stewart enlisted as private and rose to colonel in the Air Force, leading one thousand plane strikes against Germany; Stewart won the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. In his later years he gradually rose in rank in the reserves until he retired a brigadier general.
After the war, Stewart contributed what is undoubtedly his best-known performance, in Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), a film and a performance full of postwar angst and visions of youthful dreams dashed yet also showing the compensations bound up with overlooked achievements. He would later deliver a speech before Congress protesting the film's colorization.
Postwar audiences no longer wanted sentiment. Stewart vigorously changed his image, turning hard-bitten for "Call Northside 777" and working for Hitchcock in "Rope" (both 1948). He returned to Broadway to replace Frank Fay in the whimsical "Harvey" and, before filming the 1950 movie version, made the first two westerns of many that would follow, both of which were hugely popular. Stewart also turned in a heart-tugging performance as a clown in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1951).
In 1952, Stewart's agent Leland Hayward successfully negotiated an agreement with Universal for Stewart to work on a percentage basis--a first for the sound era. Every star in the business stampeded to do the same, something which Stewart felt signified the last hurrah for the studio system. He still looks back on his "factory years", though, with clear nostalgia and gratitude.
The next phase of Stewart's career saw some of his most complex roles, for directors such as Hitchcock, Otto Preminger (1959's "Anatomy of a Murder" earned him a best actor award from the New York Critics--his second--and the Venice Film Festival), John Ford, Robert Aldrich and, most prolifically, Anthony Mann. His famous gawky, stammering mannerisms took on an extra interest for being filtered through toughness, cynicism and world-weariness. Though there have been occasional flops, he has undoubtedly proved his ability to transcend bad material, and to add an intriguing tang of both homespun idealism and even nasty bitterness to seemingly routine genre situations.
Stewart married his wife Gloria in 1949 and had four children. In 1970, he revived "Harvey" on Broadway with Helen Hayes and did occasional TV work, notably "The Jimmy Stewart Show" (NBC, 1971-72) and 1983's powerful TV-movie "Right of Way" (HBO), with Bette Davis.
Pat222 ( 2008-04-04 )
Source: not available
Jimmy Stewart: A Biography, by Marc Eliot. 2006. Harmony Books
Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.Click here to contribute