It’s A Wonderful Birthday: Jimmy Stewart!

Reference: fans of classic cinema have a particular star that strikes a fancy within them.  It can be due to many factors, some more obvious than others.  Jimmy Stewart was one man whom millions worldwide related to.  In his younger years, he came across as the boy next door.  A guy who possessed handsome all-American ideals, without being so good-looking that he was placed on a pedestal.  On film, he made each and every one of the characters that he portrayed relatable to the masses.  One did not have to be a film critic to recognize that he put his heart into his performances. While many men and women in Hollywood during this time were constantly changing their romantic partners, Jimmy found his life partner, Gloria McLean.  When World War II broke out, he never second guessed his choice to join the ranks of military flier.  His career came second to the passion that he felt for his country.  During his long and illustrious career, Jimmy made movies that touched, and brought laughter to millions of people across the world.  It’s a Wonderful Life has become a quintessential Christmas tradition, while movies like Vertigo and Rear Window remain two Alfred Hitchcock’s most beloved film creations.  Today marks the date of Jimmy’s birth, so this is my small tribute to a great man.

“There wasn’t a role for me in the first play, so I was assigned to play my accordion in the Old Silver Beach Theater Tearoom next to the theater.  The patrons talked right through my playing, in fact, some just told me to shut up.  So I bowed out…deeply humiliated, and took to building sets, painting scenery and was sweeping out until they had some bit roles for me…..Anyway, I’. grateful to [those] patrons, because they were really responsible for my career as an actor,” Jimmy Stewart.


“If I hadn’t become an actor, I think I’d been mixed up in flying…..Acting was like getting bit by the malaria mosquito,” Jimmy Stewart.


“It was a very exciting time.  It was at the very bottom of the Depression….people wanted to go out and go into a theater and be lifted up a little.  There were parts, big parts, small parts, but you had to go out and hustle for them.  Actually, it was a great time to get into the business,” Jimmy Stewart.


[Stewart] has a different kind of appeal than that of Valentino or Garbo or Robert Taylor.  He has an alert, kiddish, eagle-beaked appearance and everybody likes him.  He is the kid from Elm Street who rents his tux to go to the junior prom…..The audiences seem to like him and the movie lasses draw straws to see who will be the next lady of the evening.  One noted Hollywood person could see no mystery in his appeal.  It’s simple enough.  A big, good-natured kid like that, they like to mother him,” Collier’s Magazine.


When Frank Capra hired James Stewart he was a minor MGM contract player, thirty years old, with Princeton, Broadway, and only three years of Hollywood experience behind him.  The director had spotted Stewart in Navy Blue and Gold, directed by Sam Wood, in which Stewart played a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. [Capra]:  “He had a minor part, he wasn’t the star. He did a little something defending a fellow naval student.  When I saw him, I thought, ‘Oh lord, there’s a man,'” From Joseph McBride’s Frank Capra.  


Jimmy Stewart recalled Jean Harlow as being “all woman.”  When she kissed, she really kissed. Some actresses fake it. Not Jean. I did quite a love scene with her — long before it became the thing to do on screen. I remember it to this day — we did it six times. And that dress. Yes, she was braless and she didn’t seem to wear anything under the dress. Well, I forgot my lines. That’s what I did,” Jimmy Stewart.


“He’s the easiest man to direct I’ve ever seen.  A man who gets that you’re talking about in just a few words.  You wonder if you’ve told him enough about the scene, and yet when he does it, there it is.  He knew by looking at me, and I can look at him and know him.  It’s not because I’ve worked with him so much; I think he’s probably the best actor who’s ever hit the screen,” Frank Capra.

Reference:“Stewart’s most distinctive quality is his voice.  If you listen to him, it’s hard not to start imitating him, stammering out a ‘Whal gosh,’ or two.  The stars with staying power all had distinctive voices that were essential to the continuing thread in their characterizations.  Stewart’s voice isn’t hesitant because he is unsure of himself, though there’s some of that; it’s more that he doesn’t want to rush things, come on to fast and too strong.  Voice is at the heart of the appeal of The Philadelphia Story.  With Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant, the picture is a veritable summit meeting of memorable voices,” David Freeman.


“What I would do after a take is to look in Jimmy Stewart’s eyes.  He would nod his head, as if to say, ‘That was it.’  I used Jimmy to give me what I needed to keep going and to know that I was on the right path with it. I thought I saw Jimmy’s soul all the time we worked.  He never covered his soul and I never covered mine.  We saw into each other’s souls, very definitely,” Kim Novak.


“The American dreamboat is Jimmy Stewart.  Sure, sure, they’re also made about Clark Gable, Eddy Duchin and Victor Mature…..but it’s Jimmy they brun to mother and smother in the over of their lovin.’  That’s because he’s a bachelor and never been snagged by any of these mantraps,” Syndicated Columnist Earl Wilson Circa 1940s.


“Hitchcock saw in Stewart an American different from the George Bailey of It’s A Wonderful Life…his was not the dark opposite of Stewart’s usual character, as some critics have written, but a much more complex figure – a George Bailey whose guilt and confusion were uniquely Hitchcock’s creation.  The Hitchcock male was complex – the hero, yet reluctant; the lover, yet confused and restrained; the innocent, yet menaced as if guilty.  They were men drawn reluctantly to women – Cary Grant in Notorious and To Catch a Thief and Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window and Vertigo, “Dan Auiler.


Many of the above featured quotes were obtained from the book, Jimmy Stewart, A Biography by Marc Elliot.  It is an incredibly well done piece of literature that gives the reader a truly in depth look at the man behind the scenes.  By the time the book is finished, one feels as if they know Stewart on a person level.  I have found it to be one of the most thorough and eye-opening books on Stewart ever published.


What more can you say about an icon and a truly great man?  All I can say is Happy Birthday and I am thankful for all the truly wonderful contributions Jimmy Stewart made to cinema history.


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