Thursday, October 26, 2017

Seven Things to Know About James Stewart

1. As a young man, James Stewart was fascinated with aviation and avidly followed Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic. Many years later, Stewart would play Lindbergh in the film biography The Spirit of St. Louis (1957). It was only one of several aviation-themed films he starred in, with the others including Strategic Air Command, Airport '77, the excellent No Highway in the Sky, and The Flight of the Phoenix (a personal fave).

2. Stewart's introduction to show business came when he worked a couple of summers as a magician's assistant. However, he began to take it seriously as a potential career while at Princeton University. He became a member of an acting troupe called the University Players. Its alumni included Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan (with whom he'd make four movies).

3. After a modestly-successful stage career, James Stewart signed a contract with MGM in 1935. After several minor roles, he attracted attention as the murderer in After the Thin Man (1936), the immediate sequel to William Powell and Myrna Loy's 1934 hit.

Stewart with bunny.
4. Although he was nominated for five Academy Awards, James Stewart only won one Oscar--as Best Actor for The Philadelphia Story (1941). His other nominations were for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1940), It's a Wonderful Life (1947), Harvey (1951), and the gripping Anatomy of a Murder (1960). He was also recognized with a Special Oscar in 1985 "for his fifty years of memorable performances, for his high ideals both on and off the screen, with respect and affection of his colleagues."

5. Stewart made multiple films with some of Hollywood's greatest directors. He starred in four Alfred Hitchcock movies: Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and the classics Rear Window and Vertigo. He acted in three Frank Capra films: You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It's a Wonderful Life. However, his most frequent director was Anthony Mann, with whom he worked eight times. He and Mann helped redefine the Western genre in the 1950s with five outstanding Westerns that started with Winchester '73 (1950).

In The Jimmy Stewart Show.
6. James Stewart starred in two television series, though neither one was successful. In The Jimmy Stewart Show (1971), he played an anthropology professor at a small-town university, whose life is disrupted when his son and family move in. Julie Adams, who played his wife, told us in a 2013 interview: "My idea of heaven was going to work with Jimmy Stewart every day for six months." His second series Hawkins (1973-74) was actually comprised of seven 90-minute made-for-TV movies in which Stewart starred as a canny, country-raised lawyer. It was part of an umbrella series that also included the Shaft TV series and CBS television movies.

7. In the biography James Stewart: Behind the Scenes of a Wonderful Life, Hitchcock states of Stewart: "He was a very responsive actor, with an intuitive grasp of what I was after, what was required of a scene. He has a great natural gift...I have always been surprised by what Jim Stewart can dredge up out of his own inner feelings for a scene."

12 comments:

  1. Stewart's Oscar for The Philadelphia Story was actually for best actor, not supporting actor. It's amazing he wasn't nominated for Rear Window or Vertigo!

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    1. Thanks for pointing out the typo, which I fixed. I agree on VERTIGO and REAR WINDOW!

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  2. What I've read is that Hawkins was going to be picked up for a second season, but Jimmy Stewart folded the show himself; he'd decided that the TV production pace - even of a limited-length series - was more than he could handle.

    If memory serves, Richard Widmark folded his Madigan series for the same reason.

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  3. I'd completely forgotten about Stewart's TV detective series "Hawkins." I don't think I ever watched it. On the other hand, I probably saw every episode (there weren't many) of his earlier family sitcom, "The Jimmy Stewart Show." It was a kind of dull, throwback show that might have worked in, say, 1956, but was out of place in the 1970s when Norman Lear, MTM and other producers were revolutionizing TV.

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  4. Hawkins was sold as a spin on JS' Anatomy of a Murder character. Didn't help that it alternated with Shaft.

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  5. Stewart brought his own experience as a pilot during WWII to his aviation-themed movies, which made his portrayals so realistic. It was likely this experience influenced his decidedly darker-toned post-war movie roles.

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    1. Personally, I much prefer his post-war films and performances.

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    2. I thought Stewart's portrayal of Lin McAdam was stellar, but he wore Frank Towns' years and tribulations so well.

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  6. I just adore Jimmy Stewart! What an amazing actor and talent! His acting was always effortless and natural. He spoke his lines as if they had never been written on a page, but as each character he portrayed... they were his to speak. What a gift! And, his works are all a gift to us!

    It's a Wonderful Life will forever hold a dear place in my heart because of him and the incredible story it tells. In my mind, he truly won his Oscar (although delayed a year later) because of his magnificent performance as the eternally beloved George Bailey!

    Thank you for this interesting post about James Stewart, a truly wonderful actor!

    Blessings, Net

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    1. That's a good point re: Stewart saying lines as though they'd never been written on the page. He was always very natural, even in the early days.

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  7. In the recent Joan Fontaine Centenary blogathon I learned about another Jimmy and aviation movie. He plays a pilot in a romantic comedy called You Gotta Stay Happy. Check out the article by Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

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