This pastel portrait of Jimmy was done by Jeffery
Fain and appears here with his permission.
JAMES MAITLAND STEWART was born to a hardware
store owner and his wife on May 20, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He studied
architecture at (then all-male) Princeton
University where he served on the cheerleading squad during his junior
year and played the accordion for the Triangle Club, a student acting group.
He was also involved with the University Players and graduated in 1932
with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After doing some summer stock and other
barnstorming stage work, he went to Hollywood and signed a contract with
MGM. After playing bit roles in
everything from murder mysteries to musicals, his first big films came
in 1938 with two romantic comedies: VIVACIOUS LADY co-starring Ginger
Rogers, and the Oscar-winning Best Picture of the year, YOU CAN'T TAKE
IT WITH YOU with Jean Arthur.
The following year, Stewart appeared in five films including the comedy-western
DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) with Marlene
Dietrich, and he received his first-ever Oscar nomination as Best Actor
for Frank Capra's MR.
SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON with Jean
Arthur and Claude Rains. Though Robert
Donat took the prize that year for GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS, in 1940 Stewart
won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in THE
PHILADELPHIA STORY with Cary Grant and
He would be nominated three more times over the course of his career for
his performances in IT'S A WONDERFUL
LIFE (1946), HARVEY (1950), and ANATOMY OF MURDER (1959). In 1984 Stewart
was presented a honorary statuette by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences for his high ideals both on and off the screen.
Colonel Jimmy on the cover of LIFE Magazine in 1945.
In 1941 (before the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor), Stewart enlisted in the Army Air Corp where, as a bomber pilot
and squadron commander, he lead a number of strikes against Germany during
World War II and rose to the rank of colonel. For his service he won both
the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. After he returned to
Hollywood and started off with the boxoffice disappointment IT'S
A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), Stewart began to change his "Capra"
image making CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948) and Hitchcock's
ROPE the same year. Other notable performances of this later period in
his career include Cecil
B. DeMille's THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952) with Charlton
Heston, as well as Hitchcock's
masterpiece thrillers VERTIGO (1958) with Kim Novak and REAR WINDOW (1954)
with Grace Kelly. Stewart
also made a number of westerns with his favorite gray-felt hat, his favorite
horse, Pi, and a variety of directors. He made five westerns with director
Anthony Mann, starting with WINCHESTER '73 (1950) and was thrice teamed
with legendary Hollywood cowboy John Wayne,
first in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) and HOW THE WEST
WAS WON (1962), both directed by John
Ford, and later in Wayne's final film
THE SHOOTIST (1976) directed by Don Seigel.
In 1949 Stewart married his wife Gloria Hatrick
McLean, the mother of two sons by a previous marriage, and subsequently
had two twin daughters, Judy and Kelly. He and Gloria were married almost
forty-five years, ending with her death in February 1994. Stewart lent
his voice to a theatrical motion picture for the last time in 1991's animated
classic AN AMERICAN TAIL: FIEVEL GOES WEST and he was honored by the Film
Society of Lincoln Center for lifetime achievement in 1990. After two years
of consistently declining health, Stewart died in Beverly Hills, California
on July 2, 1997.
Biographical information from Cinemania '95.