When I hear various discussions about “great American heroes,” I invariably toss Jimmy Stewart’s name in for consideration.
Until I watched the old BBC documentary series “World at War” I had no idea Stewart had been an officer, a pilot I think, in WWII. One episode was as about air battles, and at one point you start hearing that unmistakable voice speaking, before he’s on camera being interviewed. He halted his movie career to go to war, not knowing whether it could be picked up again.
Jimmy Stewart killed my daddy. It was a Thursday, there was a knock on the door, I said “Who is it?” and he answered, clear as a bell, “Jimmy Stewart… and I’m here to kill your daddy!” I answered “He’s in his bedroom. Go around back because the dog had a mess on the den floor.” To this day I feel some guilt, but mostly just hatred for Jimmy Stewart.
ETA: Oh, sorry, you meant the actor Jimmy Stewart. I thought you were talking about the serial-killing State Farm claims adjustor Jimmy Stewart from my childhood.
I agree, he was cool. I loved it when he’d let a profanity slip on the Carson show.
A former professor used to work for him- down the line a bit- in a men’s store that he owned and said he was unbelievably generous to his employees. Each Christmas he came by to wish them a merry Christmas and slip them several hundred dollars in cash even though he only set foot in the place about twice a year.
Stewart made colonel in the Army Air Forces, the highest rank of any actor-turned-soldier in World War II. His first movie upon his return was It’s a Wonderful Life.
Oddly enough, I just saw “Rear Window” for the first time last night, playing on the big screen at the Arclight. It was great, and I enjoyed him in it. I don’t know that I’d ever seen him in anything before, but I certainly respect his acting from what I’ve seen.
Nice to know he was a cool guy in real life, to boot.
I seem to recall hearing that, when he got his first Army paycheck after enlisting, he dutifully sent 10% to his agent.
Sampiro, was that a famous quote (or a riff on a famous quote), or did you just come up with that? I totally laughed.
I remember him being on Johnny Carson’s show, and performing a cheer from his college days (Yale?). He must have been about 75 at the time. That is cool.
Actually, after the war, he ended up a Brigadier General (one star) in the USAF Reserves.
He also flew 20 missions in B-24 bombers over Europe.
Jimmy Stewart will be remembered as a great American. He’s my favorite movie star of all time. From Wikipedia:
After the war, he continued in the reserves and rose to the rank of Brigadier General.
It gets better- Stewart tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps, but was turned down because he was deemed too skinny.
Many guys would have been delighted by rejection, while others would have shrugged and said “I tired,” before going back to a safe career in Hollywood. Instead, Stewart went on a muscle-building and weight gain regimen, and re-applied several weeks later. THIS time, he was accepted.
A great actor, and a great American. According to historian Garry Wills, when Reagan was just beginning his political career, a mutual friend joked, “No, no. Jimmy Stewart for Governor. Ronald Reagan for Best Friend.”
Make that “I tried.”
Oh, and here I was thinking Jimmy had pioneered the lolcat as well.
To be fair about it, the AAF was more heavily officer-driven than the more grounded army types, and Stewart didn’t really spend any real time as a Private - he was commissioned as a pilot. Aviation people coming in from scratch enlisted, started out as Privates/Cadets, and were commissioned upon completion of their training as 2nd Lieutenants, skipping all that Corporal/Sergeant stuff.
And the early AAF people started out as officers in the Signal Corps, Artillery, Engineers or Infantry, and took their aviation training as officers. In fact, Army aviation started out with balloons and such in the Signal Corps. Early in WWII. the AAF became a quasi-independent thing, with autonomy comparable to the non-flying army bits, and its’ own senior generals, including Spaatz, Arnold, LeMay…
Given the explosive turnover and growth in the AAF, lots of people went from Lt/Cpt to LTC/Col. He popped up in rank by taking leadership at the air group level. Rank just didn’t work the same for aviators as it did for ground pounders. A better comparison would be to look at the proportion of 2LT people going to Colonel.
It’s one thing for a smart natural leader to go from a junior pilot to a lead officer in a bomber groups, another entirely for a private to go from grunt to command of a regiment or battalion.
I’d be way more impressed by a real private serving in the ground components of the Army or Marine Corps going from Private to Colonel. Hell, Audy Murphy pretty much won nearly every medal out there, and it took him four years or so to go from Private to 1LT.
As an aside, Henry Ford made it to Captain(USN), and Ronald Reagan served as a Captain(Army). I don’t recall any other actors at flag rank in a substantial military track besides Stewart.
Jimmy Stewart was a fine man. He wrote some pretty bad poetry in his later years, which I recall him reciting on the Tonight Show.
Discipline was not his bag
But when you were with him things sure didn’t drag.
He’d dig up a rosebush just to spite me,
And when I’d grab him, he’d turn and bite me.
I wished he was my grandpa.
Then I saw him in his earlier days, and I could picture him in a more romantic light.
One of the coolest things about him was his marriage. From what I recall, he married a divorcee at a time when he was a Very Eligible Hollywood Bachelor, and his choice of wife was not viewed with as much applause as it might have been in a later era. If what I’ve read is true, theirs was a truly long and happy marriage, and he was devoted to Gloria until her death, and was never the same afterward. They had a real love story.
You don’t hear people say much negative about him; he seemed to have been that kind of man.
After he died, many Jimmy Stewart stories came to light.
One young actor was terrified of working with such a famous man. One day JS came to work with a box of tomatoes. “We got too many, anyone want some?” It sort of broke the ice.
After war he was promoting a movie and was flown to Franco’s Spain. The local agent for the film company reported he looked poorly after a rough flight from London. At the hotel the manager was very apologetic. It was hotel policy not to take actors as guests, due to the excitement it might cause for the other guests.
Jimmy took a seat as the man called around town looking for a room. After half an hour he handed the manager his Air Force ID card.
“Oh, GENERAL Stewart, well then everything is fine.”
Im n ur kokpit, bommin ur krowtz.
Why did Dana Carvey portray him as such a mean old guy? I can’t find it on YouTube, but I remember an SNL skit that had the “real ending” of It’s a Wonderful Life, wherein he leads an angry mob to Mr. Potter’s bank and personally kicks the old guy to death.
It was funny, but seemed almost blasphemous.