Icon of the Hollywood Golden Age: Get To Know, Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart through the years. AP Photo.

Jimmy Stewart started his life about as far away from Hollywood as one can, in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Having been born on May 20, 1908, he lived a very simple life with his parents Alexander and Elizabeth Stewart and two sisters, Mary and Virginia.

He attended Indiana Normal School all while planning to work at the hardware store that his grandfather grounded and passed down to his father. After attending  Indiana Normal School he graduated from Princeton University with an architecture degree. However, at the time, the United States was in the midst of the great depression, and he Stewart feared that the job landscape wouldn’t be fruitful. So, he started working with a friend on a Broadway play with the Falmouth Players. He followed them to New York where he started off in small parts on Broadway before eventually landing lead roles.

MGM & Hollywood:

In 1935 James Stwart was offered a contract by MGM Studio and his film career began, just like that. In the 1930s alone he was in twenty films working with Ginger Rogers, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and many more. With almost no limit to what his easy-going persona could portray, he was cast in westerns, musicals, dramas, comedies alike. He caught the attention of director Frank Capra while in Navy Blue and Gold and was cast in You Can’t Take It with You, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Shortly after he was Next, he was in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the film that earned him his first Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor. While he did not win, he received the New York Critics Award. Later, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Philadelphia Story starring next to Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in 1940. Just as his career started budding, he enlisted in the United States Army.

 Many of Stewart’s family members served in the army before him and he wanted to do the same. He was ranked a colonel by the end of WWII in the Army Air Corps, having seen 20 combat missions. He was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Croix de Guerre. Post- WWII, he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves and ranked Brigadier General. He was awarded a Medal of Freedom by President Reagan.

Post-war, as Hollywood hoped, he returned to film making. His first film was It’s A Wonderful Life, which wasn’t an immediate success but has since become one of the most beloved Christmas films.

In the fifties, he continued making films with some of the best in Hollywood such as Anthony Mann, Alfred Hitchcock, Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, Otto Preminger, and Billy Wilder. Stewart was the top male actor in the box office in 1955 and reminded in the top five for many years. His film Harvey earned him another Academy Award nomination. Harvey is considered by many to be his defining role.

He continued filming movies and later had his own tv show, The Jimmy Stewart Show. He was also awarded the American Film Institute Award for Lifetime Achievement.

He later began a career as a poet after reading a poem on the Jonny Carson Show. His book of poems is still well-loved.

Private life:

In 1949, Stewart married Gloria Hatick McLean. They had two daughters Judy and Kelly. Gloria had two sons, Michael and Ronald. When, after forty-five years of marriage his wife Gloria passed, he retired from the public eye. Jimmy Stewart died on July 2, 1997, of pulmonary embolism. He will forever be remembered as one of Hollywood’s best from the Golden Age.

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