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James Stewart
James stewart hawkins 1973.JPG
Stewart in 1973
James Maitland Stewart

May 20, 1908
Died July 2, 1997 (aged 89)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Cause of death Pulmonary thrombosis
Other names Jimmy Stewart
Years active 19351991
Spouse(s) Gloria Hatrick (1949 – 1994)
Awards NYFCC Award for Best Actor
1939 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
1959 Anatomy of a Murder

James Maitland Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997) was one of the most famous American movie and stage actors of all times. In his career, he starred in many movies considered classics and was nominated for five Oscars, winning one in competition and one life achievement.

He also had an important military career, and made it to the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Air Force. Stewart became so familiar to the American public that he was most usually referred to by them as "Jimmy" Stewart. He was named the third Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.

Early life and career

James Stewart in After the Thin Man trailer
After the Thin Man (1936)

James was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He was descended from veterans of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War. The eldest of three children, young Jimmy was expected to one day inherit his father's hardware store and continue a business that had been in the family for three generations. His mother was an excellent pianist, but his father discouraged Stewart's request for music lessons. When his father once accepted a gift of an accordion from a guest, Stewart quickly learned to play the instrument, which became a fixture offstage during his acting career. As the family grew, music continued to be an important part of family life.

Stewart attended Mercersburg Academy prep school, graduating in 1928. He was active in a variety of activities. He played on the football and track teams, was art editor of the yearbook, and a member of the choir club, glee club, and the Literary Society. During his first summer break, Stewart returned to his hometown to work as a brick loader for a local construction company and on highway and road construction jobs where he painted lines on the roads. Over the following two summers, he took a job as an assistant with a professional magician. He made his first appearance onstage at in the play The Wolves.

A shy child, Stewart spent much of his after-school time in the basement working on model airplanes, mechanical drawing, and chemistry—all with a dream of going into aviation. It was a dream greatly enhanced by the legendary 1927 flight of Charles Lindbergh, whose progress 19-year-old Stewart, then stricken with scarlet fever, was avidly following from home, before starring in the movie role as Lindbergh 30 years later.

However, he abandoned visions of being a pilot when his father insisted that instead of the United States Naval Academy he attend Princeton University. Stewart enrolled at Princeton in 1928 as a member of the class of 1932. He excelled at studying architecture, and was awarded a scholarship for graduate studies, but he gradually became attracted to the school's drama and music clubs.

His acting and accordion talents at Princeton led him to be invited to the University Players, a company in West Falmouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Stewart performed in bit parts in the Players' productions in Cape Cod during the summer of 1932, after he graduated.

Military service

Maj. Jimmy Stewart
Major Jimmy Stewart in 1943

Stewart's family on both sides had deep military roots, as both grandfathers had fought in the Civil War, and his father had served during both the Spanish–American War and World War I. Stewart considered his father to be the biggest influence on his life, so it was not surprising that, when another war came, he too was willing to serve. Members of his family had previously been in the infantry, but Stewart chose to become a flier.

An early interest in flying led Stewart to gain his private pilot certificate in 1935 and commercial pilot license in 1938. He often flew cross-country to visit his parents in Pennsylvania, navigating by the railroad tracks. Nearly two years before the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Stewart had accumulated over 400 hours of flying time.

Considered a highly proficient pilot, he entered a cross-country race as a co-pilot in 1939. Stewart saw the need for trained war pilots, and joined with other Hollywood celebrities to invest in Thunderbird Field, a pilot-training school in Glendale, Arizona. This airfield became part of the United States Army Air Forces training establishment and trained more than 10,000 pilots during World War II.

In October 1940, Stewart was drafted into the United States Army but was rejected for failing to meet the weight requirements for his height for new recruits—Stewart was 5 pounds (2.3 kg) under the standard. Later Stewart again attempted to enlist in the Air Corps, this time passing the weigh-in, with the result that Stewart enlisted and was inducted in the Army on March 22, 1941. He became the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II.

Stewart often did his part in publicizing and promoting military service in general and the United States Air Force in particular. In 1963, for example, as part of the plot in an episode of the popular television sitcom My Three Sons, Stewart appeared as himself in his brigadier-general's uniform to address high-school students about the importance of science in society and about the many accomplishments of the select group being educated at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Five years later, after 27 years of service, Stewart officially retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968. Stewart received a number of awards during his military service and upon his retirement was also awarded the United States Air Force Distinguished Service Medal. On May 23, 1985, President Ronald Reagan awarded Stewart the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Postwar career

Guardian angel clarence
Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life (1946), the film is widely considered a Christmas classic

After the war, Stewart took time off to reassess his career. For his first film in five years, Stewart appeared in It's a Wonderful Life (1946). The role was Stewart's first since returning from service in World War II, Stewart appeared as George Bailey, an upstanding small-town man who becomes increasingly frustrated by his ordinary existence and financial troubles.

It's a Wonderful Life was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Stewart's third Best Actor nomination. In the decades since the film's release, it grew to define Stewart's film persona and is widely considered as a sentimental Christmas film classic and, according to the American Film Institute, one of the 100 best American movies ever made. In an interview with Michael Parkinson in 1973, Stewart declared that out of all the movies he had made, It's a Wonderful Life was his favorite.

Later career

Vertigo 1958 trailer embrace
With Kim Novak in Vertigo, 1958

After 1978, Stewart went into semi-retirement from acting. He donated his papers, films, and other records to Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library in 1983. Stewart had many investments and he became a multimillionaire. In the 1980s and '90s, he did voiceover work for commercials for Campbell's Soups.

The re-release of his Hitchcock films gained Stewart renewed recognition. Rear Window and Vertigo were particularly praised by film critics, which helped bring these pictures to the attention of younger movie-goers. He was presented with an Academy Honorary Award by in 1985, "for his 50 years of memorable performances, for his high ideals both on and off the screen.

In 1991, James Stewart voiced the character of Sheriff Wylie Burp in the movie An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, which was his last film role. Shortly before his 80th birthday, he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. "As someone who 'believed in hard work and love of country, love of family and love of community.'"

Personal life

Stewart was married to Gloria Hatrick McLean from 1949 till her death in 1994

Stewart was described by his peers as a kind, soft-spoken man and a true professional. After World War II, Stewart settled down, at age 41, marrying former model Gloria Hatrick McLean on August 9, 1949. The couple remained married until her death in 1994.

His signature charity event, "The Jimmy Stewart Relay Marathon Race", held each year since 1982, has raised millions of dollars for the Child and Family Development Center at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. He was a lifelong supporter of Scouting, having been a Second Class Scout when he was a youth, an adult Scout leader, and a recipient of the prestigious Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). An award for Boy Scouts, "The James M. Stewart Good Citizenship Award" has been presented since May 17, 2003.


Jimmy Stewart grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California
James Stewart's grave

On July 2, 1997, Stewart died at the age of 89 at his home in Beverly Hills, California. President Bill Clinton commented that America had lost a "national treasure ... a great actor, a gentleman and a patriot". Over 3,000 mourners, mostly celebrities, attended Stewart's memorial service, which included a firing of three volleys for his service in the Army Air Forces and the U.S. Air Force. Stewart's remains are interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

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