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Hollywood Icon James Stewart

Full Name James Maitland Stewart
Age 89
Birthday May 20, 1908
Death Date July 2, 1997
Birth Sign Taurus
Born Indiana, Pennsylvania, United States
Height 6′ 3′′
Net Worth $30M

James Maitland Stewart, better known as Jimmy Stewart, was one of the most beloved and iconic actors of Hollywood‘s Golden Age. Over his decades-long career, Stewart starred in over 80 films and left behind an enduring legacy as both a dramatic and comedic actor.

Early Life and Beginnings

Stewart was born on May 20, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania to Alexander and Elizabeth Stewart. His father worked at the local hardware store, hoping that young James would take over the family business one day. However, James was drawn to performing from a young age. As a shy child, he discovered that he could overcome his inhibitions when playing a role.

After graduating from Princeton University in 1932, Stewart decided to pursue acting full-time. He made his Broadway debut that same year in Goodbye Again, marking the start of an impressive theater career that included acclaimed productions like Yellow Jack and Divided by Three.

In 1935, Hollywood came calling when MGM Studios signed Stewart to a contract. That year, he made his first film appearance in The Murder Man, though it was a small role. His friend Henry Fonda later remarked, "Jimmy was awkward and unsure of himself in those first screen tests." But Stewart soon found his footing in Hollywood.

Rise to Stardom

Stewart‘s breakthrough film role came as the endearing, idealistic Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra‘s 1939 political drama Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This earned Stewart his first Academy Award nomination and catapulted him to stardom.

In 1940, Stewart won the Oscar for Best Actor for his hilarious performance in The Philadelphia Story opposite legends like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Around this time, his uniquely halting speech pattern and Midwestern drawl were becoming trademarks that made him instantly recognizable. As Stewart later quipped, "I had to learn to be a movie actor all on my own. I had to learn to talk."

Other major successes soon followed, including the romantic drama The Shop Around the Corner (1940), the Christmas classic It‘s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Alfred Hitchcock‘s thrillers Rope (1948) and Rear Window (1954). Stewart was now considered one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. His natural charm and everyman relatability shone through in each role he played during this period.

Wartime Service

In 1941, at the height of his early Hollywood career, Stewart enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces after receiving his military induction notice. He was initially refused entry due to being underweight, but later gained enough weight to join.

The actor went on to have a distinguished military career, flying 20 combat missions as a bomber pilot and earning honors like the Distinguished Flying Cross. He achieved the rank of colonel before retiring from the Air Force in 1968 as a brigadier general.

Stewart considered his time in the Army Air Forces one of the proudest chapters of his life, more so than his storied Hollywood career. His service exemplified his dedication, bravery and patriotism. As he later said, "I would have done it all over again."

Post-War Success

After serving in WWII, Stewart returned to a changed Hollywood—but his popularity had not waned. Two of his greatest performances came in darker, more complex post-war roles: the cynical reporter in It‘s a Wonderful Life (1946) and the wheelchair bound photographer in Hitchcock‘s Rear Window (1954).

As Stewart entered the twilight of his career, he took on distinguished character roles in films like How the West Was Won (1962) and Firecreek (1968). His final screen role was voicing the character of Sheriff Wylie Burp in the animated movie An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991).

Off screen, Stewart pursued his lifelong passion for aviation as an active private pilot. His military service had ignited this zeal for flying. After retiring from acting, he regularly flew as a special guest at air shows until the late 1980s.

Death and Legacy

Stewart was married twice, first to Gloria Hatrick McLean from 1949 to her death in 1994, and then to his longtime friend Barbara Miller from 1997 until his own death. He died at age 89 on July 2, 1997 in Los Angeles due to cardiac arrest, leaving behind his two children.

The actor was laid to rest at a cemetery in his hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania. His contributions to cinema have not been forgotten. James Stewart remains one of classic Hollywood‘s most legendary stars, inspiring generations of actors with his natural charm, gravitas and brilliant performances.

In the words of director Frank Capra, "James Stewart was the man who embodied the American dream and wore it like a tailor-made suit. He was the American conscience."

Why We Love James Stewart

There are endless reasons why James Stewart remains one of Hollywood‘s most iconic and beloved stars:

  • His Acting Range: Stewart could play any role – from screwball comedy to psychological thriller – with authenticity. This incredible versatility is what enabled him to avoid being typecast.
  • That Golden Era Appeal: There was an old-fashioned charm and grace to both Stewart‘s on-screen presence and real-life persona that hearkens back to Hollywood‘s Golden Age.
  • His Patriotism: Stewart‘s military service during WWII only further cemented his place as a true American hero in the eyes of fans.
  • His Voice: With his trademark stuttering delivery, no one sounded quite like James Stewart. That distinct voice was as crucial to his persona as any physical attribute.
  • Timeless Films: So many of Stewart‘s films – like It‘s a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, and Vertigo – remain undisputed cinema classics decades after their release.

Clearly, James Stewart‘s legacy lives on through the ages thanks to his abundant talent and memorable performances. He epitomized Hollywood royalty at its finest.

5 Fascinating Facts About James Stewart

  1. Before becoming an actor, Stewart aspired to be a professional golfer or architect. He was skilled at golf and even played for Princeton‘s varsity team.
  2. Alfred Hitchcock considered Stewart his favorite leading man. The two collaborated on acclaimed films like Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958).
  3. Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar in 1941 for The Philadelphia Story despite being on screen for less than 25 minutes.
  4. His horse Pie, which he rode in many of his Western films, also made a cameo appearance in the 1946 Christmas classic It‘s a Wonderful Life.
  5. The American Film Institute has recognized multiple James Stewart roles on their "100 Greatest" lists, including It‘s a Wonderful Life‘s George Bailey (#9 hero) and Vertigo‘s John "Scottie" Ferguson (#18 villain).

Frequently Asked Questions

How many Oscars did James Stewart win?

Stewart won one competitive Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in The Philadelphia Story (1941). He later received an Honorary Oscar in 1985 recognizing his 50 years of unforgettable film roles.

What was James Stewart‘s most famous role?

While he played many iconic roles, Stewart‘s arguably most famous was as George Bailey in Frank Capra‘s beloved 1946 film It‘s a Wonderful Life.

Why did James Stewart enlist in WWII?

Stewart enlisted as a patriotic duty after receiving his draft notice in 1941, putting his thriving film career on hold to serve his country during wartime.

Was James Stewart a pilot?

Yes, Stewart was an avid aviation enthusiast who served as a bomber pilot during WWII and later flew recreationally well into his later years.

How are Jimmy Stewart and Kristen Stewart related?

They are not related – their shared last name is merely a coincidence. There are no familial ties between classic Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart and modern actress Kristen Stewart.

James Stewart was one of the brightest stars from Hollywood‘s Golden Age whose acting talent, charisma and principles made him a screen icon. His many legendary performances will be long remembered and treasured.