Friday, July 29, 2011

Can't Help Lovin' That Man: James Stewart

Greetings all!
Here begins a new series, on the men Gee & I adore from afar - across time and space and TV screens. Mostly actors and musicians from the eras we love most, we'll share a bit about why we love them, and add plenty of pictures to give you the visual evidence to convince you that you should like them too!

First up, my all-time, tip-top favorite, makes-me-melt-everytime-he's-on-screen leading lad - Jimmy Stewart (Gee also loves him, just not to the extreme level that I do). I can't describe exactly why I love him so much without getting tounge-tied (or keyboard-tied, as it is) and stuttering a lot of nonsense, but the closest I can get to it is: Jimmy played wonderful characters that you had to believe shared a lot of their good qualities with real-life Jimmy. Not just because he played them so convincingly, but also because by all accounts people only had good things to say about him - it's been noted that biographies on him are somewhat dull, scandal-wise, as biographers were all unable to dig up anything that could shed a negative light on him. He's even quoted as saying "I am James Stewart, playing James Stewart. I couldn't mess around doing great characterizations. I play variations of myself." His characters, at least at the beginning of his career (which is when I love him most, I don't watch any of his later Western genre films), were usually of the everyman in a strange and/or trying situation variety, remaining earnest and well-meaning. In his older years, when he reflected on his career and characters, said "People have said... 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." Another quote of his, that I think can be applied to both his characters and his real-life self: "I'm the inarticulate man who tries. I don't really have all the answers, but for some reason, somehow, I make it." He also said, about people thinking that he typecasted himself, "I see nothing wrong with that. Someone asked Spencer Tracy if he gets tired of playing himself all the time. He said, 'Who do you want me to play, Humphrey Bogart?' I feel it's alright to bring your own style to a character."
He was known for being humble, kind, and personable. He was born in a small town in Indiana, the son of a hardware store owner, and as a kid he excelled at the accordion after his father received it as a gift from a houseguest. He dreamed of becoming an aviator, but his parents discouraged it, so instead of the U.S. Naval Academy, he enrolled at Princeton University in 1928 and studied architecture (as a side note, while at Princeton he was involved in many school activities, and among them, he was head cheerleader!!). He began acting in theatre as part of the University Players, which had previously included undiscovered Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan. He would later be roommates with Fonda while both were struggling actors, and they became best friends.
Fast-forward to 1934/35, when Jimmy moved to Hollywood and attracted the attention of an MGM talent scout. He signed a contract with MGM, and as we all know, he eventually made good and became immensely successful and well-loved.
Margaret Sullavan, whom he knew from his days with the University Players and whom he worked with most famously in The Shop Around the Corner (my favorite movie!), did a lot of crusading on behalf of Jimmy in the beginning of his career, when she had found success and he was still unknown. She pushed for him to be cast as her leading man in Next Time We Love, and spent a lot of time with him off-camera practicing scenes, helping his technique and confidence, and encouraging him to accept his unique mannerisms (his oft-parodied voice, his aw-shucks-ness, his boyish charm) that he previously felt a bit insecure about when on-camera. And thank goodness she did, because his strange but wonderful quirks are part of what made him so lovable and were arguably a large part of the scale of his success and enduring popularity.
Although he was a bit shy, he was a playboy (though a gentlemanly one, no doubt) during his days of bachelorhood (he married for the first and only time in 1949 to Gloria McLean, a former model) along with his pal Henry Fonda, and he did have a sense of humor - Joan Crawford is quoted as saying that he had "a droll sense of humor and a shy way of watching you to see if you react to that humor".
After becoming a huge star (and winning an Academy Award for Best Actor in The Philadelphia Story)  and having 28 movies under his belt, he was drafted for the war in late 1940, and became part of the Air Force. Though he returned to his work in Hollywood after the war, he didn't officially retire from the Air Force until 1968.
His first movie after he came back is perhaps his most famous, It's a Wonderful Life. President Harry Truman famously remarked after seeing the movie, "If Bess and I had a son, we'd want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart." For the rest of his career, although he did have the occasional flop, he remained immensely popular and had many more hits into the 1960s. His humble, guy-next-door personality, combined with his many iconic film roles, created such a lasting public adoration that when he received an honorary Oscar in 1985, the audience gave him a ten minute standing ovation, making the show run overtime (I can't even imagine what one does while at a podium for ten minutes while getting a standing ovation. First I imagine you smile and look thankful. Then you kind of settle into a smiley, aw shucks face. But after awhile it has to get a little awkward, and your cheeks probably begin to ache from smiling).

Wow. I totally did not intend to write that whole mini-biography.
The point is, although Jimmy wasn't typically good-looking (though I think he's super handsome), his personality and demeanor have me hooked. You may think I'm rather boring for loving such a good-guy type, but I've never been a fan of the brooding, angsty James Dean bad-boy persona. For me, it's all about the heart of gold.

Now for a few favorite Jimmy clips:

Singing in Born to Dance (1936) with Eleanor Powell! Cole Porter, who wrote the music, wanted Jimmy for the role despite his imperfect pipes, and you can see that although he is by no means a great singer, his performance is very endearing.

And here, a well-known clip of an elder Jimmy on Johnny Carson, reading a poem he wrote, "Beau", about his dog. It's funny at first, and then slowly becomes suddenly very touching and I, like Carson, actually had tears in my eyes at the end of the poem the first time I heard this!

And here's a link to watch The Shop Around the Corner in it's entirety (if not in perfect image quality) on Google Video, click on the image to be taken there:

And now for the pictures of wonderful Mr. Stewart!

A picture I love of Jimmy and Eleanor Powell, behind the scenes of Born to Dance

Jimmy and Ginger! From Vivacious Lady, I think. 
Jimmy in the Air Force during the war.  
Jimmy and Marlene Dietrich from the cowboy movie spoof Destry Rides Again.
Jimmy and Eleanor Powell again.
The Shop Around the Corner!

Jimmy and Walter Pidgeon play checkers.  

Jimmy and Ginger again. Perhaps from the brief period when they were dating?

From Seventh Heaven (1937). 

One of my favorites. A candid. 
This is a little awkward. 

Eleanor Powell with Jimmy again.
I hope if you weren't already a Jimmy fan, you are at least a little bit now!
- Emily

Sources for biography:
Film Reference 
My own accumulated Jimmy knowledge.


  1. Great post!!! I love James Stewart(especially his voice!)

    Love your choice of photos too :)

  2. You don't have to convince me! Who doesn't love Jimmy Stewart?

    I'm so excited because I haven't been able to see Vivacious Lady, since it isn't on DVD and it's going to be on TCM this month! I just have to remember to record it...

  3. That man was so handsome and charming!
    Thank you for this post<3

  4. As a kid in the '90s when cable tv is still booming in our country, I saw this old, black and white movie where a couple is dancing and then the gym floor opened and alas, there's a pool underneath. Of course, as a kid, I don't quite appreciate the story much (and I didn't even know the title of the movie) but boy I love that scene. Then fast forward twenty years later, just out of curiosity about one of the greatest classic movies, I tried to watch It's A Wonderful Life. And then, there it is, the gym pool scene. Memories came rushing back when I was a kid and I had goosebumps. I said, THIS IS THE MOVIE I'VE BEEN LOOKING FOR! I never thought I'll see that gym pool scene again. What struck me now was not that scene but the story. And boy, oh boy, that Jimmy Stewart is good-looking. Can I just say it's like love at second sight? So for a week now, I can say am now a James Stewart fan. Watched his movies and read about him. Admire the man for being God-fearing and for his love of family and love of country. And love him more for being charming and good looking *wink*