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James Stewart
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Birth Name: James M Stewart
Date of Birth: May 20, 1908
Birth Place: Indiana, Pennsylvania
James Stewart Photo

James Stewart is arguably the most loved actor ever to have appeared on screen. Certainly, he is the last of the great men who captured audience hearts in the throes of the Depression and became, in the words of Andrew Sarris, "the most complete actor-personality in the American cinema." Stewart's origins read like cliches; he was born in 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, the son of the local hardware store owner (his Oscar has permanently resided in the store, which has been in the family for generations). While studying architecture at Princeton (his father's alma mater), he met Joshua Logan, who convinced him to begin acting. Billy O'Grady, MGM's chief talent scout, saw his performance in a line of female impersonators and remembered him as "the only one who didn't ham it up." Bitten at last by the drama bug, Stewart moved with Logan to summer stock work with the University Players in Falmouth MA, joining future co-stars Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan. That summer a production had a pre-Broadway tryout at Falmouth and Stewart, as a chauffeur, had two lines: "Mrs. Mainwaring's car is waiting" and, after being delayed, "Mrs. Mainwaring's going to be sore as hell." It tore down the house and was noticed and written up by a visiting New York critic. Stewart and Fonda moved to New York, where Hedda Hopper recommended Jimmy for a screen test, resulting in a long-term MGM contract. From the first, Stewart's performances stood out: raw, edgy, full of nervous, boyish energy. Tall, skinny and not conventionally handsome, he nonetheless possessed an engaging, approachable charisma and a naturalistic warmth. While his rivals played with masculine understatement, Stewart mirrored the vital excesses of those most American of rising actresses--Crawford, Davis, Rogers, Hepburn. 5Audiences first took note of him as Eleanor Powell's leading man in 1936's "Born to Dance". Everyone at Metro at least had to "try" musicals; Stewart, singing--sort of--introduced Cole Porter's "Easy to Love". He was hopeless, but the public found him adorable. 5Most of Stewart's big breaks came away from MGM: George Stevens's "Vivacious Lady", at RKO with Ginger Rogers, and Frank Capra's "You Can't Take it With You", at Columbia (both 1938); David O. Selznick's "Made For Each Other" (1939), opposite Carole Lombard; Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (his greatest pre-WWII performance), with Jean Arthur, at Columbia; and "Destry Rides Again", taming Marlene Dietrich and the west at Universal (both 1939). MGM rallied with two winners, both co-starring Sullavan: Ernst Lubitsch's entrancing "The Shop Around the Corner" and Frank Borzage's haunting "The Mortal Storm" (both 1940). George Cukor's "The Philadelphia Story" followed. Stewart surprised the industry and himself, winning a best actor Oscar, despite being second lead to Cary Grant. At age 33, Stewart enlisted as private and rose to colonel in the Air Force, leading one thousand plane strikes against Germany; Stewart won the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. In his later years he gradually rose in rank in the reserves until he retired a brigadier general. After the war, Stewart contributed what is undoubtedly his best-known performance, in Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), a film and a performance full of postwar angst and visions of youthful dreams dashed yet also showing the compensations bound up with overlooked achievements. He would later deliver a speech before Congress protesting the film's colorization. 5Postwar audiences no longer wanted sentiment. Stewart vigorously changed his image, turning hard-bitten for "Call Northside 777" and working for Hitchcock in "Rope" (both 1948). He returned to Broadway to replace Frank Fay in the whimsical "Harvey" and, before filming the 1950 movie version, made the first two westerns of many that would follow, both of which were hugely popular. Stewart also turned in a heart-tugging performance as a clown in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1951). In 1952, Stewart's agent Leland Hayward successfully negotiated an agreement with Universal for Stewart to work on a percentage basis--a first for the sound era. Every star in the business stampeded to do the same, something which Stewart felt signified the last hurrah for the studio system. He still looks back on his "factory years", though, with clear nostalgia and gratitude. The next phase of Stewart's career saw some of his most complex roles, for directors such as Hitchcock, Preminger (1959's "Anatomy of a Murder" earned him a best actor award from the New York Critics - his second - and the Venice Film Festival), Ford, Aldrich and Anthony Mann. His famous gawky, stammering mannerisms took on an extra interest for being filtered through toughness, cynicism and world-weariness. Though there have been occasional flops, he has undoubtedly proved his ability to transcend bad material. Stewart married his wife Gloria in 1949 and had four children. In 1970, he revived "Harvey" on Broadway with Helen Hayes and has done occasional TV work, notably "The Jimmy Stewart Show" (1971-72) and 1983's powerful TV-movie "Right of Way", with Bette Davis. In 1990, he was honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center for lifetime achievement.

Dean Martin: Best of the Celebrity Roasts
The Universal Story (1996)
Hollywood Remembers: Fonda on Fonda (1992)
An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991)
Memories of Hollywood (1990)
Hollywood's Golden Era: Leading Men (1989)
Academy Awards: Oscar's Best (trailers) (1987)
Air Force One: The Planes and the Presidents (1986)
North And South, Book 2 (1986)
Adventures: Past, Present and Future Featurettes (1985)
Warbird Immortals (1984)
Right of Way (1983)
AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards: Frank Capra (1982)
War in the Sky (1982)
The Green Horizon (1981)
The Magic of Lassie (1979)
The Big Sleep (1978)
Airport '77 (1977)
The Shootist (1976)
That's Entertainment! (1974)
That's Entertainment, Part 1 (Special LV Edition) (1974)
Candidate for Murder (1974)
Murder in the Slave Trade (1974)
Murder on the 13th Floor (1974)
Great American West (1973)
Blood Feud (1973)
Die, Darling, Die (1973)
Hawkins on Murder (1973)
A Life for a Life (1973)
Murder in Movieland (1973)
Fools' Parade (1971)
Directed by John Ford (1971)
Fool's Parade (1971)
The Cheyenne Social Club (1970)
Bandolero! (1968)
Firecreek (1968)
The Rare Breed (1966)
Dear Brigitte (1965)
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
Shenandoah (1965)
Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
How the West Was Won (1963)
Take Her, She's Mine (1963)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962)
Flashing Spikes (1962)
Two Rode Together (1961)
X-15 (1961)
The Mountain Road (1960)
Hollywood Bloopers (195?)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
The FBI Story (1959)
Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
Vertigo (1958)
The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
Night Passage (1957)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
The Far Country (1955)
The Man from Laramie (1955)
Strategic Air Command (1955)
The Glenn Miller Story (1954)
Rear Window (1954)
The Naked Spur (1953)
Thunder Bay (1953)
Bend of the River (1952)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Carbine Williams (1952)
No Highway in the Sky (1951)
Broken Arrow (1950)
Harvey (1950)
The Jackpot (1950)
Winchester '73 (1950)
Blood Brothers (1950)
The Stratton Story (1949)
Malaya (1949)
Rope (1948)
Call Northside 777 (1948)
On Our Merry Way (1948)
You Gotta Stay Happy (1948)
Magic Town (1947)
The Return of Video Yesterbloop (1947)
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Thunderbolt (1945)
Sentimental Journey / Memphis Belle (1944)
Winning Your Wings (1942)
Pot O' Gold (1941)
Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
Come Live with Me (1941)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
The Mortal Storm (1940)
No Time for Comedy (1940)
Destry Rides Again (1939)
Made for Each Other (1939)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Ice Follies of 1939 (1939)
It's a Wonderful World (1939)
Ice Follies (1939)
Land of Liberty (1939)
Vivacious Lady (1938)
You Can't Take It with You (1938)
Of Human Hearts (1938)
The Shopworn Angel (1938)
The Last Gangster (1937)
Navy Blue and Gold (1937)
The Seventh Heaven (1937)
After the Thin Man (1936)
Born to Dance (1936)
The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)
Rose Marie (1936)
Wife vs. Secretary (1936)
Next Time We Love (1936)
Small Town Girl (1936)
Speed (1936)
The Murder Man (1935)

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