One of the most beloved performers in movie history was born on this date, May 20, back in 1908.
I made a similar statement elsewhere about Frank Capra, who directed Stewart in three of his most notable films, You Can't Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and It's a Wonderful Life (1946), as we celebrated his birthday this past Monday, but Jimmy Stewart has often served as introduction to the old movies for the classic fans of today.
Stewart can be credited with an even greater reach through his performances for Alfred Hitchcock in classics Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958) as well as his run of Westerns begun during the same period, such as Winchester '73 (1950), The Naked Spur (1953), The Man From Laramie (1955), and especially The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), on top of those earlier Capra classics.
And Jimmy Stewart's list of film credits extends even further than that. It is often his performance more than interest in the men he played which keeps biopics such as The Stratton Story (1949), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), and even The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), where he plays Charles Lindbergh, popular movies today. At this point I've run through so many classic Jimmy Stewart titles that it'd be irresponsible not to mention a few others which only fail in meeting the headings of the groups I've mentioned:
He's third billed after only William Powell and Myrna Loy in the second of the Thin Man movies, After the Thin Man (1936); he stars opposite Margaret Sullavan in the popular The Shop Around the Corner (1940) which would be remade as musical In the Good Old Summertime (1949) and more recently as You've Got Mail (1998); he won the Oscar for Best Actor in George Cukor's classic The Philadelphia Story (1940) where he starred alongside Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant; as Elwood P. Dowd in another Oscar nominated role in the charming Harvey (1950); he's the lead in Otto Preminger's mature courtroom set drama Anatomy of a Murder (1959) which garnered him yet another of his 5 total Oscar nominations (Just the 1 win, plus an Honorary Award in 1985); and many more.
Jimmy Stewart's complete list of films can be found on his IMDb page. If I slipped here and forgot to mention any of your favorites please feel free to share below.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) devotes Wednesday's day-time programming to Jimmy Stewart featuring him in a variety of roles, most (but still not all!) mentioned above. The complete Jimmy Stewart schedule on TCM Wednesday (2009 schedule):
- 6:30 am - Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
- 9:30 am - You Can't Take It With You (1938)
- 11:45 am - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
- 2:00 pm - Rear Window (1954)
- 4:00 pm - Vertigo (1958)
- 6:15 pm - Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
As if his film resume wasn't enough, Stewart also distinguished himself in his private life, especially through his World War II service. Over on things-and-other-stuff.com there is a more complete Jimmy Stewart biography by Kelly Ann Butterbaugh. The following is excerpted from that page:
Before taking on the duel role of husband and father, Stewart enlisted in the service of his country and defended it as a member of the air force during World War II. His notably thin six foot three and a half inch frame caused him to be denied admission to the air force at first when he came in five pounds under the recommended weight. His charm and logic won his way into service after he persuaded the admitting officer to ignore his weight examination. Stewart went on to fight the war in the front lines, earning himself the title of colonel as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross medal and seven battle stars. As a result, Stewart claims the title of highest ranking military actor in history with only the exception of former president Ronald Reagan.
In Stewart's obituary, originally published July 3, 1997, the New York Times writes, "One of Hollywood's most astute businessmen, he became a multimillionaire, with diversified investments including real estate, oil wells, a charter-plane company and membership on major corporate boards." Also noted are his appearances in commercials for Firestone, voice overs for Campbell's Soup in the late 80's and early 90's, and his 1989 bestselling book ''Jimmy Stewart and His Poems.''
Stewart's wife of nearly 45 years, Gloria, died in 1994. Stewart died a few years later, July 2, 1997, at the age of 89.