Though most people nowadays probably know actor James “Jimmy” Stewart because of his leading role as George Bailey in the much-beloved Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, the truth is that he was incredibly prolific in his day.
He played cowboys opposite Henry Ford, he was one of Hitchcock’s top choices – starring in movies like Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much – and he even did a comedy or two (one of my all-time favorite movies, The Philadelphia Story, is a must see).
Stewart was also a veteran and someone who eschewed the harsh light of Hollywood whenever possible.
So, let’s take a look at these 6 other tidbits that might be new information for you!
6. He hated the colorization of It’s a Wonderful Life as much as everyone else.
Stewart wrote a letter to Congress in 1987 protesting that colorizing originally black and white films violated the creative vision of directors like Frank Capra, who never would have employed “the kind of obvious visual pun” of dressing Violet Bick in violet costumes.
He described the tinted versions as “a bath of Easter egg dye” and also lobbied against the practice in person.
5. He had a degree in architecture.
Stewart grew up in Indiana, Pennsylvania. His father owned a hardware store, and Stewart displayed artistic talent all through school – his interest in music helped him get accepted into Princeton, his father’s alma mater.
Stewart received a degree in architecture in 1932, but with the Great Depression in full swing, Stewart followed his interests into acting, joining a Massachusetts theater group (where he roomed with Henry Fonda).
He did a few short runs on Broadway before landing his first feature film, The Murder Man, which was released in 1935.
4. He published a book of poetry.
He authored Jimmy Stewart and His Poems in 1989, a small volume that contains not only poems, but anecdotes about how each was composed.
3. He was passionate about serving in WWII.
Stewart received a draft notice in 1940, and upon learning that he was five pounds under the minimum weight for enlistment, ate everything in sight until he qualified. He joined the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force), where he was a great asset, as he already had a pilot’s license.
The Air Corps tried to sideline him, keeping him stateside because of his high profile, but Stewart insisted on being sent into the action. In November, 1943, he was sent to England and flew over 20 combat missions over Germany.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Oak Leaf clusters, making him the most decorated actor to participate in the war.
2. There’s a statue of him in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
His hometown unveiled the piece of art in 1983, for Jimmy’s 75th birthday.
1. He wasn’t sure what to do with his Oscar.
He won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role in The Philadelphia Story (I told you!) in 1940. Afterwards, his father asked “I hear you won some kind of award. What was it, a plaque or something?” Stewart took his suggestion and displayed it at his father’s hardware store in PA.
It stayed in the same spot for 25 years.
If you have time, working your way through his catalogue is a great way to spend it (don’t miss Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance!).
What’s your favorite Stewart movie? We’d love to share our favs in the comments!