News Articles

7/3/97 ANALYSIS Jimmy Stewart’s life, work spoke of ‘what we could be’

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–Have you ever known anyone who didn’t like Jimmy Stewart? A true phenomenon — a colonel in the Air Force (he won the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross), a celebrity who stayed married to the same woman more than 44 years (Gloria passed away in 1993), a Christian gentleman (and Presbyterian church member), loyal friend, savvy businessman (one of the first actors to garner a percentage of the film’s profits), and perhaps the most universally beloved movie star of all time.
Where John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant and even “Sarah Lee” had their detractors, “nobody doesn’t like” James Stewart, who died July 2 at age 89.
A friend of mine briefly worked as a cook for the Stewart household. She assured me the Jimmy Stewart we see on the screen is the same man at home. That statement can’t be made for many of Hollywood’s constellation.
The quintessential “Everyman” — determined, steadfast, patriotic, responsible, tenderhearted, affectionate and always aware that his words and actions affect others. His work and his life remind us of what we could be — what we should be, what we can be. He helped give this world a wonderful life.
You’ll be disappointed in very few of Jimmy Stewart’s 75-plus films, but here are some of his very best:
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Stewart plays a man considering suicide who is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like if he had never been born. Full of Christian symbolism, and perhaps the most important film ever, It’s a Wonderful Life reinforces the belief that our compassion and responsibility do make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). A fine portrayal of a young senator out to fight graft and indifference. Is there now, has there ever been or will there ever be a politician who truly wants to serve others? I believe there has been. So did James Stewart. Here is a tribute to those few.
THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940). Stewart won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as a tabloid writer covering a society girl’s wedding.
DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939). A mild-mannered sheriff tames a town without the use of guns. When a story is told well, it remains timeless.
CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948). Riveting, semi-documentary-styled account of a newsman trying to prove the innocence of a convicted killer.
ROPE (1948). An unusual movie, more like a play, about two preppies who kill another student — for the fun of it. Don’t worry, Stewart isn’t one of the bad guys. Could he ever be?
HARVEY (1950). Due to Stewart’s warm, affectionate portrayal of Elwood P. Dowd, by the end of the film you’ll believe in invisible six-foot rabbits as well.
BROKEN ARROW (1950). A tougher Stewart trying to promote peace between the white man and the native American.
BEND IN THE RIVER (1952). Grand Oregon backdrops and the rugged Stewart performance highlight this robust western about a guide leading a wagon train through the wilderness, where he must battle Indians and a former friend turned outlaw.
THE GLENN MILLER STORY (1954). Disarming, if not always factual, treatment of the legendary band leader.
REAR WINDOW (1954). One of Hitchcock’s best. A convalescing photographer witnesses the murder of a neighbor. Witty dialogue, mounting suspense and Grace Kelly!
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956). Once again, Stewart witnesses a murder and is plunged into a world of intrigue. Stewart and his co-star, Doris Day, are so believable, the audience can’t help being caught up in the suspense.
THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS (1957). Stewart chronicles Lindbergh’s crossing of the Atlantic. A virtuoso performance. Stewart shares several scenes with just a fly!
VERTIGO (1958). Hitchcock’s powerful imagery and Stewart’s remarkable performance focus on obsession and hidden fears.
ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959). A controversial film of its day as it dealt with rape and spousal abuse. Clever dialogue, outstanding performance from Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and a jazzy score by Duke Ellington highlight this prime courtroom drama.
THE F.B.I. STORY (1959). A deferential, episodic look at the forming of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION (1962). Roger Hobbs takes a vacation with the family. A lot more humor and warmth than all the National Lampoon films combined.
THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965). After crash-landing in the Arabian desert, the captain and passengers must reconstruct a plane from the wreckage.
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962). A John Ford horse opera about an Eastern dude (Stewart) who brings law and order to the West — with a little help from John Wayne.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright