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Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart was a highly acclaimed American movie actor. He is considered to be a cultural icon. He was nominated for five Academy Awards during his career, winning one in competition and one for lifetime achievement.

Early years

James Maitland "Jimmy" Stewart was born on May 20, 1908, in Indiana, Pennsylvania. His parents were Alexander and Elizabeth Jackson Stewart; they were devout Presbyterians. His father ran a prosperous hardware store that had been in the family for generations.

As a young man, Jimmy dreamed of being a pilot, but he left the dream behind for Princeton University to study architecture. He also got involved with the University Players and graduated in 1932, with a bachelor of arts degree.

In the fall of 1932, Jimmy moved to New York City, and shared an apartment with a rising actor, Henry Fonda, and director/playwright Joshua Logan. He performed in a handful of Broadway plays, including Page Miss Glory in 1934, and Yellow Jack, the same year.

The lure of Hollywood

Stewart attracted the interest of MGM studios, and in 1935, he signed a contract with them. His debut in Hollywood looked shaky when his first film, The Murder Man, received poor reviews. He received his first subsantial part in After the Thin Man in 1936, when he played a psychotic killer. He was cast in the leading role of Next Time We Love with Margaret Sullivan, who rehearsed extensively with him. With that film, Stewart found his footing in Tinseltown.

In 1938, Stewart was loaned to Columbia Pictures to star in You Canít Take It With You, directed by Frank Capra and co-starring Jean Arthur. Thus began a successful partnersip with the director. The film went on to win the 1939 Best Picture Academy Award.

That year, the trio teamed up again for the political comedy-drama, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Stewart replaced Gary Cooper, the intended star for the film. Stewart was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance; it would be the first of five nominations. He did not win the award that year, but he would for his role in the 1940 film, The Philadelphia Story. He starred opposite Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, as a fast-talking reporter.

Military service

When Stewart enlisted in the Army Air Corps in March 1941, he believed that war lay on the horizon. His enlistment coincided with the end of his contract with MGM, and would mark a changing point in his career.

Stewart began as a private and worked his way up to colonel. He flew numerous missions over enemy territory and was awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Stewart remained in the Air Force Reserves after the war, and attained the rank of brigadier general by the time he retired in 1968. The only actor to achieve a higher rank was President Ronald Reagan, with whom Stewart was good friends.

Marriage and back to Hollywood

After World War II was over, 41-year-old Stewart married former model Gloria McLean, in 1949. The couple had twin girls in 1951, and Stewart adopted Gloriaís two boys from her previous marriage. The couple remained devoted to each other until her death, in 1994. One of the boys, Ronald McLean, was killed in action in 1969, while serving in the Vietnam War.

When Stewart returned to Hollywood in 1945, he did not renew his contract with MGM; instead, he signed with MCA talent agency. That made him one of the first independently contracted actors, and it gave him the freedom to choose his roles. He was able to work without limits, and remained that way for the remainder of his career.

In 1946, he collaborated with Frank Capra for their third and final production. Itís a Wonderful Life achieved only moderate box-office success, but netted five Academy Awards, including Stewartís third Best Actor nomination. That film has since defined his persona, and has become a sentimental Christmas classic.

Two films with Jimmy Stewart appeared in 1948. The first was Call Northside 777, in which he played a reporter. The other was Rope, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In 1950, he played an ex-cavalry officer in Broken Arrow.

Stewart was nominated for his fourth Best Actor Academy Award in 1950, for his role in Harvey, in which his best friend was an invisible, six-foot-tall rabbit. During the 1950s he took on more challenging roles by moving into westerns and suspense movies. He starred in the 1950 box-office smash, Winchester '73, directed by Anthony Mann.

Other Stewart-Mann westerns included Bend of the River in 1952, The Naked Spur (1953), The Far Country (1954), and in 1955, The Man from Laramie. Stewart also worked on non-westerns with Mann, including The Glenn Miller Story in 1953, for which he was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award.

The second collaboration to define his work in the 1950s was with Alfred Hitchcock. He had already worked with the great suspense director on Rope and they collaborated three more times. The next film was the 1954 hit, Rear Window. He also starred in a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

The last film the duo worked on was Vertigo, in 1958. Stewart finished out the 50s with a masterful turn as a country lawyer for the defense in a sensational trial in Anatomy of a Murder in 1959. He was nominated for his fifth and final Oscar for his role in that film.

Stewart teamed up with John Wayne for three westerns. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and How The West Was Won, both directed by John Ford, were released in 1962. The last film also was Wayneís last, The Shootist, released in 1976.

The small screen

Stewart transitioned from cinema to television. He introduced his own comedy program, The Jimmy Stewart Show (1971-72), then followed it up with the mystery show, Hawkins. Neither venture lasted for long. Stewart appeared on Johnny Carsonís The Tonight Show several times, and in 1989, he published a collection of his own poetry in Jimmy Stewart and His Poems.

The veteran actor retired to spend more time with his family, but found he was suffering from several health problems, including heart disease, skin cancer, deafness, and dementia. He came out of retirement in 1991 to lend his voice to the animated film, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, as Sheriff Wyle Burp.

Laying down the script

Jimmy Stewart died on July 2, 1997, of a pulmonary embolism. His remains were interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

The movie icon has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was recognized with the Golden Globe lifetime achievement award in 1965, and was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame, in 1972. Other lifetime achievement awards include the Screen Actors Guild in 1969, American Film Institute in 1980, and the Lincoln Center in 1990.

To celebrate his 75th birthday in 1983, a statue of Jimmy Stewart was erected in front of the courthouse in his hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania. In 1995, the Jimmy Stewart Museum also was opened in Indiana.

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Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient Jimmy Stewart
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Stewart, Potter
Stewart's father was an attorney and served as Cincinnati's mayor. Stewart also pursued a legal career, graduating from Yale University in 1937 with his undergraduate degree and, in 1941, with his law degree. He practiced law briefly in New York ...
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