From the beginning of James Stewart’s career in 1935 through his final theatrical project in 1991, he appeared in over 100 films, television programs and shorts. Through the course of this illustrious career, he appeared in many landmark and critically acclaimed films, including such classics as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Spirit of St. Louis and Vertigo. His roles in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Harvey, and Anatomy of a Murder earned him Academy Award nominations (he won for Philadelphia Story). Stewart’s career defied the boundaries of genre and trend, and he made his mark in screwball comedies, suspense thrillers, westerns, biographies and family films.
Born May 20, 1908, in Indiana, Pennsylvania, James Maitland Stewart was the son of Elizabeth Ruth (née Jackson) and Alexander Maitland Stewart, who owned a hardware store. James, who was to take over the family business attended Princeton University and was a college friend of Henry Fonda. The two would be life long friends.
President Harry S. Truman once stated that “If Bess and I ever had a son, we would have wanted him to be just like Jimmy Stewart.” One of the best loved actors of his generation within the Hollywood community and with his fans, Jimmy Stewart had the guy next door ability to pull you in. His “Aww shucks” way of life was just that. he wasn’t acting, that WAS Jimmy Stewart.
Some of his romantic liasons early in his career were Ginger Rogers and Norma Shearer. He remained single until the age of 41, marrying former model Gloria Hatrick McLean (1918-1994) on 9 August 1949. As Stewart loved to recount in self-mockery, “I, I, I pitched the big question to her last night and to my surprise she, she, she said yes!”. Stewart adopted her two sons, Michael and Ronald, and together they had twin daughters, Judy and Kelly, on 7 May 1951. They remained devotedly married until her death on 16 February 1994, due to lung cancer.
Stewart died at the age of 89 on 2 July 1997, at his home in Beverly Hills, of cardiac arrest and a pulmonary embolism following a long illness from respiratory problems. He had also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. His death came just one day after fellow screen legend and The Big Sleepco-star Robert Mitchum had died of lung cancer and emphysema. Stewart is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
“America lost a national treasure today,” President Bill Clinton said on the day Stewart died. “Jimmy Stewart was a great actor, a gentleman and a patriot.”