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An Oscar For Jimmy Stewart

Young Jimmy Stewart liked magic, and he played the accordion growing up in the town of Indiana, PA. He debuted as an actor for a show put on by the Boy Scouts.

In 1932 he graduated from Princeton with a degree in architecture, but found his future as an actor. On Broadway Jimmy Stewart roomed with his close friend Henry Fonda, despite their divergent views on politics. Stewart was a conservative who lived an exemplary private life.

He was an unlikely bet for Hollywood, being so tall, so shy, and someone who spoke slowly and with a drawl. Director Frank Capra seized on these qualities, however, and the two turned out some of Hollywood’s greatest films together.

When World War II exploded, Stewart enrolled as a private and served as a bomber pilot who flew 20 missions over Germany. He retired from the service in 1968 as a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve. Stewart had become the highest ranking entertainer in the United States military.

As his motion picture career matured, Stewart essayed a wide variety of roles in different genres for important directors, particularly Alfred Hitchcock.

James Stewart was nominated for Oscars in Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Harvey (1951), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — all timeless, classic motion pictures.

The film that won Stewart his only Academy Award was The Philadelphia Story (1940), which also starred Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. In the voting, Stewart himself cast his own vote for his friend Henry Fonda’s performance in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)!

Stewart remembered rehearsing a scene with Cary Grant, the one where he was to knock on Grant’s door. He was supposed to be inebriated. So to get in the mood, Stewart downed a few mood-altering beverages.

“It was time to do the scene,” Stewart explained decades later. “Cary said to the director, George Cukor, ‘George, why don’t we just go ahead? If you don’t like it, we’ll do it again.’ So we started the scene. As I was walking, it hit me that I’d had too much to drink. So, as I explained things to Cary, I hiccupped. In answer to the hiccup, Cary said — out of the clear blue sky — ‘Excuse me.’ Well, I sort of said, ‘Ummmm?’ It was very difficult for me to keep a straight face, because his ad-libbed response had been so beautifully done. Cary had an almost perfect humor.”

Grant was generous about Stewart, too, saying, “Jimmy simply mesmerized me on the screen. (Next to him) I felt like a triangle player in the orchestra who keeps watching the conductor, and then, when he finally gets the baton signal, he misses his triangle.”

A great American, Jimmy Stewart — for his long and distinguished career, he is remembered, renowned, and beloved.