James Maitland Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997) was an iconic American film/stage actor and Hollywood legend, known to most audiences as Jimmy Stewart. The actor’s distinctive voice and down-to-earth personality made him instantly recognizable. Over the course of his career, he starred in numerous films and stage productions, many of which are considered classics. He was widely known for portraying everyday, middle class characters with everyday life challenges.
Stewart was a intelligent, shy child who was interested in aviation, yet his father discouraged him from attending the U.S. Naval Academy, and instead, encouraged him to study at Princeton University. At Princeton, Stewart discovered his love of acting and began a career as a stage actor, however, he never abandoned his life-long love of aviation.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the U.S joining the fight in World War II, the prolific actor was drafted into the U.S. Army, but was later rejected because he was underweight for his height. (The 6′ 3″ actor weighed a mere 143 pounds at the time). Stewart worked with noted Hollywood trainer Don Loomis to put on the necessary weight, and successfully enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Corps. (Stewart was an accomplished pilot, who logged over 400 hours of flight time during the great Depression). Stewart’s military service spanned from 1941-1968 where he served in both World War II and the Vietnam War.
During his 27 year military career, Stewart attained the rank of two star major general and received many awards for his valor, including the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and the French Croix de Guerre. Stewart retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968.
After World War II, Stewart took some time to re-evaluate his career to choose between a career in aviation or acting. When the actor returned to Hollywood in 1945, Stewart became one of the first independently contracted actors, and had much more freedom to choose the roles he wanted to play for the remainder of his career. His first post-war film was Frank Capra’s iconic classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1945), opposite Donna Reed.
Throughout his enduring career in Hollywood, Stewart’s clean cut, everyman image was seen in such classics as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939), “The Philadelphia Story” (1940), “Harvey” (1950), as well as his longstanding collaboration with Director Alfred Hitchcock over several films. The revered actor worked in many genres. However, Stewart rarely spoke publicly about his military service and did not act in many military films.
His most well-known military flick was “Strategic Air Command” (1955), opposite June Allyson. However, Stewart is the most represented leading actor on the American Film Institute (AFI) lists, such as the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies and AFI’s 10 Top 10 lists. Moreover, he is also the most represented leading actor on the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time list presented by Entertainment Weekly Magazine. Furthermore, 10 of his films had been inducted into the United States National Film Registry as of 2007.
Jimmy Stewart is a decorated veteran and a Hollywood legend whom we salute for his service and contribution to the entertainment industry.