James Stewart Biography (1908-)

Born May 20, 1908, in Indiana, PA; son of Alexander Maitland (a hardware store owner) and Elizabeth Ruth (Jackson) Stewart; married Gloria Hatrick McLean,August 9, 1949; children: Kelly, Judy (twin daughters); (stepsons) Michael,Ronald. Addresses: AGENT--Chasin-Park-Citron Agency, 9255 Sunset Blvd., Suite 910, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

An affable and modest performer, actor James Stewart has achieved international fame for portraying the quintessential "ordinary man," a gawky hero whosestrengths are found amidst the throes of adversity. In a career spanning fivedecades, Stewart has worked with many of Hollywood's finest directors--including John Ford, Frank Capra, and Alfred Hitchcock--on numerous films that arenow considered classics, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, It's a Wonderful Life, Destry Rides Again, and Vertigo. As JosephMcBride noted in his June, 1976, American Film retrospective, Stewart's "ability to fit with ease into so many directors' worlds attests to the strength of his personality and also to its depth; within the Stewart 'image' there aremany Stewarts, but ultimately there is only one, underlying all of the roles." Michiko Kakutani described that one Stewart persona in a January 9, 1985 New York Times article. Jimmy Stewart, wrote Kakutani, radiates a "quality ofunadorned decency...that made him the ideal hero."

Stewart's off-screen life parallels those of some of his "Everyman" on screencreations. He was born in 1908 in tiny Indiana, Pennsylvania, the only childof a hardware store owner. He often recounts his most vivid childhood memory--cleaning the stalls of his father's horses, and learning not to be afraid of them. Stewart attended Princeton University and graduated with a degree inarchitecture in 1932. Unable to land a job due to the Depression, he acceptedwork in summer stock theatre with a Princeton friend, Joshua Logan. There hemet many struggling actors, including Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullavan, and Myron McCormick, and he decided to try his hand in the theatre. In 1932, Stewart and Fonda shared a room first in New York City and then in Hollywood, wheresuccess came gradually for both.

As his fame increased, Stewart provided little grist for Hollywood gossip-mills. He remained a scandal-free bachelor until the age of forty-one, then quietly married a divorced mother of two, Gloria Hatrick McLean. The marriage, which produced twin daughters, has endured for more than thirty-five years. Oneof the first Hollywood actors to be called for service in World War II, Stewart served honorably as a bomber pilot. He flew twenty missions over Germany,rising from a private to a full colonel. After the war, he continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve, eventually being promoted to brigadier general--the highest military postion ever achieved by an American entertainer. Conservative politically, Stewart supported the American involvement in Vietnam, remaining in favor of the commitment even when his stepson died in that conflict. Stewart's war and family experiences, his well-publicized devotion to pets,including Pie, the feisty horse he rode in most of his Westerns, served to unite him with many members of his audience.

Though his bumbling persona has often been a convenient target for mimics, Stewart has undergone considerable evolution throughout his performing career.Kakutani described this process in the New York Times: "The naifs and countryhicks he had become famous playing during the late 30s and 40s slowly gave way to more complicated, subtle roles: grizzled rustlers and bounty hunters ina series of westerns, and the clever, conflicted protagonists of such filmsas Rear Window, Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder. If, in Hitchcock's words, Mr. Stewart continued to stand for 'everyman in bizarre situations,' he had also matured into a new kind of representative hero--still earnest and well-meaning, but less sentimental and a good deal less innocent than he had been in his youth." More recently, Stewart has eschewed retirement for television andmovie roles--however small--that allow him to play "a grandfatherly version of what he always was--the regular guy," according to James Robert Parish andRonald L. Bowers in The MGM Stock Company: The Golden Era (Arlington House, 1973).

Stewart described his own reaction to his film roles in an October 20, 1983 Christian Science Monitor interview: "People have said-- and I've felt it at times--there's a certain vulnerability about a lot of my characters. Perhaps this creeps into so many of my pictures because I've tended to select this type of character, because of my feelings about life." Reflecting on the notionof a "typical" Stewart character, he added: "I see nothing wrong with that. Someone asked Spencer Tracy if he got tired of playing himself all the time. He said, 'Who do you want me to play, Humphrey Bogart?' I feel it's all rightto bring your own style to a character."

In a career of many varied roles, perhaps two performances remain representative of Jimmy Stewart's screen and stage presence. In It's a Wonderful Life, his own favorite film, Stewart plays George Bailey, a struggling small-town businessman whose dreams of a wider world are stymied by the myriad small setbacks of life. On the brink of suicide, George is rescued by a guardian angel who shows him what his town would have been like had he never been born. Though not a box-office success at its release, It's a Wonderful Life gained fanswhen it began to appear on television; it was one of the first films selectedfor the controversial "colorization" process in 1986. Stewart's other favorite, and somewhat representative, role is that of Elwood P. Dowd, a kindly tippler who keeps company with a six-foot-tall, invisible rabbit named Harvey. Stewart created the lead in Harvey on Broadway in 1947, starred in the film version in 1950, and has played in the comedy off and on ever since. "Whenevereverything else fails, I can always drag out ol' Harvey," he told the New York Daily News on October 23, 1977. "I've played in that so many times that white rabbit has become part of my life. Whenever I feel blue, I turn around andHarvey's always there."

Stewart's work has been honored by numerous prestigious awards, including lifetime achievement citations from the Cannes Film Festival and the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. On May 24, 1985, he was honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, this nation's highest civilian award. Reluctant to talk about his craft in the press, Stewart told American Film in June of 1976 that he looks upon acting as a skill, not an art. He concluded: "Part of the skill, I've always thought, is to make it so the acting doesn't show. As the skill develops, the acting...shows less, and believability come sneaking into the thing. This is the magic." Stewart brought this "magic" to more than seventy feature films, and, nearing the age of eighty, he continues to savor cameo roles. In The MGM Stock Company: The Golden Era, he is quoted as saying: "I am James Stewart, playing James Stewart. I couldn't mess arounddoing great characterizations. I play variations of myself."

Birth Details
May 20, 1908
Indiana, Pennsylvania, United States

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