James Stewart

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
James Stewart (photographed by Carl van Vechten , 1934)

James "Jimmy" Maitland Stewart (born May 20, 1908 in Indiana , Pennsylvania , † July 2, 1997 in Beverly Hills , California ) was an American actor who is considered one of the most successful stars in film history. Between 1934 and 1991, Stewart made nearly 100 film and television appearances.

He achieved his breakthrough in the late 1930s with Frank Capra's comedies Life Artist and Mr. Smith went to Washington . Stewart usually embodied the slightly insecure, down-to-earth and often idealistic "average American", for example as George Bailey in the Christmas classic Isn't Life Beautiful? . From the 1950s onwards he increasingly played character roles with dark facets, including in the westerns of Anthony Mann and John Ford . With Alfred Hitchcock , Stewart shot the classic films Cocktail for a Corpse , The Man Who Knew Too Much , The Window To The Courtyard and Vertigo - From The Realm of the Dead ; the latter two are among the most important crime films in film history.

In 1941 he won the Oscar for best leading actor for the screwball comedy The Night Before the Wedding , and in 1985 he received an honorary Oscar . He was also awarded two Golden Globes , the Honorary Golden Bear and the Presidential Medal of Freedom .

Early life

James Maitland Stewart was born on May 20, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania, the eldest of three children to Elizabeth Ruth Johnson (1875–1953) and Alexander Maitland Stewart (1871–1961). Stewart, whose father owned a third generation hardware store , had Scottish and Irish ancestry. His mother was a pianist and her son was also interested in music from an early age and played the accordion, among other things. Stewart was supposed to take over his father's hardware store after graduating from Mercersburg Academy in 1926 . However, Stewart, who had an interest in model airplanes and other constructs, studied architecture at Princeton University instead . Although he passed his final architectural exam in 1932, Stewart never practiced the profession.

The Oscar, which Stewart won in 1941, stood in the window of his father's hardware store for 25 years. In 1995 the James Stewart Museum opened in Stewart's native Indiana .

Even while still at school, Stewart found an interest in acting and was a member of school theater groups. Finally he was invited to the small theater company Falmouth Players , which was directed by the later director Joshua Logan - a college friend from Princeton. In the company he met the young actors Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan , who later had successful film careers in Hollywood like Stewart. Fonda remained one of Stewart's closest friends throughout his life. In the early 1930s, James Stewart - who then shared a room with Fonda - appeared in smaller roles on Broadway . After Hedda Hopper drew the attention of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film company to Stewart, Stewart received a typical seven-year contract in 1935.

Film career

1935–1940: Rise to star

At the beginning of his film career, in the mid-1930s, Stewart initially played smaller roles alongside established stars such as Spencer Tracy , Joan Crawford , Edward G. Robinson and Clark Gable and appeared in nine films in 1936, for example. Due to his boyish appearance and his portrayal of positive, lovable characters, the actor was soon committed to the image of the “good boy next door” and was seen in typical comedies and revue films. In 1936 he stood for the crime comedy ... and something called detective , the second film in the successful Thin Man series, third on the cast list behind William Powell and Myrna Loy . At the end of the film, Stewart turns out - surprisingly for the viewer - as a three-time murderer. Also in 1936 he played Jean Harlow's frustrated lover in the comedy His Secretary .

In 1938 Stewart started his successful collaboration with star director Frank Capra , who gave him one of the leading roles in his social comedy Lebenskünstler . Stewart falls in love with the daughter ( Jean Arthur ) of an eccentric family as a son from a wealthy, capitalist family. Lebenskünstler received an Oscar for best film of the year and was also a commercial success, with which Stewart made the leap to star. In the following year, 31-year-old James Stewart played the role with which he made his breakthrough for director Capra: In 1939, he was seen in the classic comedy Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as a naive-idealistic senator who was in Washington against corruption Political establishment rebels. Critics and audiences reacted very positively to the film and Stewart's portrayal, which is widely regarded as one of his best achievements. The climax of the film is a 24-hour, passionate permanent speech by the young Mr. Smith before the Senate, during which he defends his reputation and after which he finally collapses exhausted. In 1939 the actor also appeared for the first time in a western and played alongside Marlene Dietrich (as a saloon singer) in The Great Bluff, a deputy sheriff of integrity. The film became a huge hit. With these films he made the leap to the top stars in Hollywood, to which he belonged until the mid-1960s.

James Stewart receives his Oscar for The Night Before the Wedding (1941)

In 1940 comedy specialist Ernst Lubitsch Stewart starred in the romantic comedy Rendezvous after the store closes , where two colleagues who are deeply disliked eventually fall in love. Margaret Sullavan, Stewart's colleague from the Falmouth Players , played the second lead role in this Budapest-based classic comedy. In the same year James Stewart appeared as a newspaper reporter in George Cukor's screwball comedy The Night Before the Wedding , which was a huge hit with critics and audiences and had three leading stars with Stewart, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn . The film, which became a classic thanks to its sharp dialogues and perfect cast, and which resulted in numerous free remakes, won James Stewart the Oscar for Best Actor in 1941 . This award is often seen as compensation for the previous year, in which Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington had delivered what might be his best acting performance, but lost to Robert Donat .

Acting style and trademark

During this time, the 1.91 meter tall, slim actor also found his "screen figure", which he played in many of his subsequent films: a somewhat shy and sometimes confused or naive young man from the middle class, who is down to earth and personable at the same time serves as a figure of identification for the viewer. It was fitting that his compatriots often called him "Jimmy" Stewart rather than "James". At the same time, many of his characters, especially those from his Capra comedies, have a certain idealism . Stewart's trademark was his drawn-out speech ("drawl") and his unmistakable voice, which has been parodied many times. His fellow actor Cary Grant said of Stewart that Stewart was one of the first in the film business - even before Marlon Brando  - to have the ability to speak naturally, as in a real conversation. Stewart himself is said to have said about his acting style: “I don't act. I react. "

1941–1946: Used in World War II

Air Force Colonel James Stewart, 1940s

After Stewart had acted in three other - less important - films until 1941, he was drafted into the US Army on March 22, 1941 and started his military career as a bomber pilot with the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). In 1944 he took part in over 20 enemy flights as an operations officer with the 453rd Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force and returned to America highly decorated. The later acting colleague Walter Matthau served in the same unit . Stewart was then a reserve officer of the USAAF or United States Air Force (USAF) and ended his military career in the late 1960s with the rank of brigadier general . Stewart was the highest-ranking Hollywood star in the American armed forces . However, Stewart thought the Hollywood war films were unrealistic and therefore only appeared in two films of this genre.

Only after the end of the war did James Stewart return to Hollywood, where his seven-year contract with MGM had expired. He signed a contract with Liberty Films , one of the first independent production companies founded by directors Frank Capra and George Stevens . Later he was one of the first film stars to work as a freelance actor without a studio contract .

1946–1949: Return to Hollywood

In 1946 Stewart continued his successful collaboration with director Frank Capra and starred in his film Isn't life beautiful? one of his most famous roles. Ironically on Christmas Eve, Stewart's character George Bailey, the most popular citizen of the fictional city of Bedford Falls, loses courage and wants to commit suicide because of financial problems that threaten his existence. Together with an angel who is sent to George's rescue, the viewer learns in long flashbacks that Bailey has always selflessly sacrificed himself for others throughout his life and has put his own dreams back. Capra's parable tragic comedy disappointed at the box office, but over the years it has become one of the most popular James Stewart films and is considered a classic in film history. The life is wonderful, is not it? has been part of the standard Christmas television program for decades. Stewart himself also called Isn't Life Beautiful? as the favorite film from his work, as well as George Bailey as his favorite character.

In 1946 James Stewart co- hosted the 1946 Academy Awards with Bob Hope . Twelve years later he hosted the 1958 Academy Awards again together with David Niven , Jack Lemmon , Rosalind Russell and Bob Hope .

In 1947, Stewart's films failed to gain acceptance at the box office, and Stewart himself was given inappropriate roles like the confident pollster from Stranger City . It was not until 1948 that he was able to build on his pre-war successes again with the crime drama Password 777 , directed by Henry Hathaway . As an initially cynical reporter, Stewart succeeds in proving the innocence of a man who is in prison for murder. Stewart, who until then had mostly made comedies, also played in darker films such as thrillers and westerns.

In 1948 James Stewart started his ten-year collaboration with the British director Alfred Hitchcock , who had established himself as a thriller specialist in Hollywood. The first joint film of the later successful duo was Cocktail for a Corpse , in which Stewart appeared as the former teacher of two students who have committed what appears to be the "perfect murder". A virtuoso camera work created the impression that the theatrical film had been staged without a single cut. Hitchcock himself later referred to this as a mistake ("films have to be cut"). Cocktail for a corpse was a failure, but is now more popular with film critics. With the drama The Stratton Story , in which he can be seen as a baseball player who suffers a hunting accident, James Stewart succeeded in 1949 another box office hit; the film was never shown on German-language television.

1950–1957: Change of roles and collaboration with Hitchcock and Mann

In the 1950s, Stewart was at the height of his career and was one of the most popular international film actors. Like no other star, he was successful across genres and appeared in comedies, thrillers, westerns and dramatic films. At the beginning of the decade, the comedy My Friend Harvey (1950) proved to be very successful , in which Stewart's adorable-quirky Elwood P. Dowd gets into trouble with his fellow men when he claims he is with a two-meter tall, invisible white rabbit named Harvey friends.

In 1950 Stewart resumed his work as a western actor in Delmer Daves' The Broken Arrow , the western that revolutionized and humanized the representation of Indians, and started a successful collaboration with genre specialist Anthony Mann , who first featured him in the classic Winchester '73 began. In the Anthony Mann Westerns, which he shot in the first half of the 1950s, Stewart, who until then had mainly played positive characters, also portrayed contradicting, revenge-seeking and less heroic characters. He appeared under Mann's direction in westerns such as Naked Violence (1953) or Over the Death Pass (1954), which cemented his position as one of the leading stars of this genre. After 1955, Stewart no longer wanted to work with Mann, with whom he had made seven successful films within a few years, including the biopic The Glenn Miller Story (1953) outside the western genre . Stewart accused Mann of the failure of The Clock Has Expired , a film that was particularly close to his heart because he was able to pursue his hobby, playing the accordion, in a film here.

1954 Stewart was hired again by Alfred Hitchcock, who used him in The Window to the Courtyard next to Grace Kelly . The photojournalist LB Jefferies, portrayed by Stewart, is dependent on a wheelchair after an accident caused by a leg in plaster of Paris and watches from his window what is going on in the backyard of his apartment complex. Based on his observations, Jeffries is convinced that one of the neighbors ( Raymond Burr ) murdered his wife, but initially meets with incomprehension with his suspicions. This flick was a great success for Stewart and Hitchcock and went down as one of the most important crime thrillers in film history.

Hitchcock and Stewart continue their successful collaboration in 1956 with the large-scale crime thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much . Stewart and his co-star Doris Day were seen here as an American couple who are innocently involved in a political plot. When the couple's young son is kidnapped, they both try to free the boy on their own. This film - a free remake of Hitchcock's 1934 film of the same name - became a huge success and originated the song Que Sera, Sera . Like other films by the director from this era, this one also combined an attractive, easily accessible criminal plot with a high level of formal brilliance.

James Stewart as Brigadier General (around 1960)

In 1957, star director Billy Wilder hired James Stewart for his film Lindbergh - My Flight Over the Ocean , which portrayed Charles Lindbergh's famous 1927 Atlantic crossing. The 49-year-old Stewart appeared here in the role of Charles Lindbergh, who was only half his age. Lindbergh had been an idol for young Stewart, an avid model airplane tinkerer. The film, which played long stretches in the tight cockpit of Lindbergh's machine, failed to make it to the box office, although Stewart's performance was praised.

With Vertigo - From the Realm of the Dead , Stewart's collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock ended in 1958 after ten years and four films. The melodramatic thriller depicts in haunting images the obsessive passion of the police inspector Scottie Ferguson, who falls in love with a mysterious woman ( Kim Novak ). At the time, the audience and the critics reacted with reserve to the dark, disturbing film, which indeed brought back its production costs, but was far less successful than the director's previous works. Vertigo has been rehabilitated over the years and is now generally regarded as an ingenious masterpiece, with which Hitchcock addressed his personal obsessions in encrypted form. According to François Truffaut , who conducted a lengthy interview with Hitchcock in the 1960s, the director secretly blamed his leading actor for the film's failure because the 50-year-old Stewart was no longer credible as a lover of the half-age Kim Novak. Stewart was keen to star in Hitchcock's next project The Invisible Third (1959), but the director hired Cary Grant instead .

1958–1970: Later film career

In the romantic comedy My Bride is Psychic (1958) Stewart was again seen at the side of Kim Novak. It was the last amateur role of the actor who, for reasons of age, decided not to make such films anymore. For James Stewart, the 1950s ended with the then provocative crime drama Anatomy of a Murder (1959) by Otto Preminger , in which he appeared as a committed lawyer. Stewart, whose performance was generally rated as outstanding, received his fifth and final Oscar nomination, but lost to Charlton Heston in Ben Hur , which was often viewed as a wrong decision.

In 1961, Stewart shot two rides together alongside Richard Widmark , the first of three films that the actor made with the famous western director John Ford , who had shaped the genre for decades. While this flick was received rather cautiously, Ford succeeded with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) a classic of the genre. James Stewart was seen in the role of the idealistic lawyer Stoddard, who wants to stop the sadistic villain Liberty Valance ( Lee Marvin ) with legal means, but ultimately depends on the help of the rough western man Tom Doniphon ( John Wayne ). The film, which was also one of the last black and white westerns from Hollywood, conjured up in a melancholy tone the end of the “wild west”, which had to give way to civilization in Doniphone's figure, represented by Stewart's Stoddard.

With the family-friendly comedy Mr. Hobbs Goes on Vacation (1962), Stewart achieved a great box office success alongside Maureen O'Hara . The father of the family, Mr. Hobbs, wants to spend a relaxing holiday by the sea with his family, but his nerves are stressed by permanent problems. In That Was the Wild West , a large-scale, episodic western epic, Stewart appeared as a westerner alongside a dozen other Hollywood stars in 1962. During the 1960s Stewart continued to appear regularly in western films and starred in John Ford's last western Cheyenne (1964), The Man from the Great River (1965), Bandolero (1968) or The Five Birds Free (1968) alongside Henry Fonda . According to the general tenor, however, the Hollywood western had already passed its zenith by this time.

James Stewart in January 1981

In 1965, James Stewart played the pilot of a transport plane in The Flight of the Phoenix , which had to make an emergency landing in the Sahara. This adventure drama was starring actors such as Richard Attenborough , Ernest Borgnine , Peter Finch , Hardy Krüger and ushered in the late phase of James Stewart's career, which was now almost 60 years old and, like most of the stars of his generation, from the late 1960s hardly had any box office successes.

1971–1991: retirement work

From the early 1970s, James Stewart was increasingly present as a television actor and played, for example, 1973/74 in the series Hawkins, the eponymous defense lawyer. In the late 1970s, his cinema career slowly came to an end with supporting roles in films such as The Last Sniper (1976) and Lost in the Bermuda Triangle (1977). Increasingly, he also took on roles in television films: He played together with Bette Davis in At the End of the Road (1983) an old married couple who are about to become incapacitated and who are planning to commit suicide together. He last stood in front of a camera in 1987 for the television series Torches in the Storm . For the cartoon Feivel, the mouse wanderer in the Wild West (1991) he dubbed the wild west dog Wylie, with whom the filmmakers lovingly parodied the legendary western star Stewart. This was Stewart's last film work.

Stewart's grave in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery

On the occasion of his 50th anniversary as a film actor, Stewart received an honorary Oscar in 1985, which was presented to him by his long-time friend Cary Grant (“For his 50 years full of remarkable performances, for his high ideals on and off the screen, with respect and Affection from his colleagues. "). Between 1935 and 1980 Stewart had acted in 78 films.

Private life

James Stewart was considered one of Hollywood's most sought-after bachelors for years and had a relationship with Olivia de Havilland in the early 1940s . In 1949, at the age of 41, Stewart married the widowed Gloria Hatrick McLean, daughter-in-law of the owner of the Hope Diamond , Evalyn Walsh McLean, who had died two years earlier . Gloria brought her two children Ronald and Michael into the marriage, who were adopted by Stewart. Ronald Stewart died as a soldier in the Vietnam War in 1969 . The marriage also resulted in the twins Kelly and Judy. Stewart's wife, Gloria, with whom he had been married for 45 years, died of lung cancer in 1994 at the age of 75.

James Stewart was known as a conservative Republican who supported Richard Nixon and above all Ronald Reagan in public appearances. His friend Henry Fonda , on the other hand, was a liberal Democrat . After an argument, they both decided to stop discussing politics. Stewart accepted the honorary Oscar for another friend, the terminally ill Gary Cooper . From the early 1950s, James Stewart wore a toupee in public and in his films .

After the death of his wife, Stewart spent the last years of his life withdrawn and no longer attended any public appointments. He died at his Beverly Hills home on July 2, 1997, at the age of 89. The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism and cardiovascular failure after a long respiratory disease. Stewart found his final resting place in the private Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale , California, where other greats from film, television and music are interred.

The tomb is Ps 91.11  EU :

"For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways."

"God has commanded his angels to guard you wherever you go."

Dubbing voice

Between 1948 and 1991 Siegmar Schneider (1916–1995) was the standard speaker for James Stewart and based his dubbing work on the star's characteristic, often hesitant and slightly stuttering style. Almost all of Stewart's classics were dubbed by Schneider, whose voice is commonly associated with the star. However, Stewart was also spoken by Hans Nielsen , Peter Pasetti , Eckart Dux and Wolfgang Lukschy . For later dubbed versions Sigmar Solbach was used, who, among other things, dubbed several of the early Stewart films from the 1930s and oriented himself on Siegmar Schneider's work.

In Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo - From the Realm of the Dead , Stewart was dubbed a total of three times: 1958 for the world premiere by Siegmar Schneider, 1984 for the revival by Schneider (the original dubbed version was no longer available) and 1997, when the film was shown in a restored version , by Sigmar Solbach.


James Stewart in a photo by Carl Van Vechten (1934)

TV appearances (selection)


Star on the "Walk of Fame"


  • Donald Dewey: James Stewart. A life for the film. (OT: James Stewart. A Biography ). Henschel (Dornier Medienholding), Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-89487-270-5 .
  • Adolf Heinzlmeier : James Stewart. The man from Laramie. in: Adolf Heinzlmeier, Berndt Schulz, Karsten Witte: The immortals of the cinema. Volume 2: The glamor and myth of the stars of the 40s and 50s. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1980, ISBN 3-596-23658-4 , pp. 97-103.
  • Tony Thomas : A Wonderful Life. The Films and Career of James Stewart. Citadel Press, Secaucus (NJ) 1988, ISBN 0-8065-1081-1 .
  • Howard Thompson: James Stewart. His films - his life. Heyne, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-453-86003-9 .
  • Starr Smith: Jimmy Stewart, bomber pilot. St. Paul, Minnesota: Zenith Press, 2005, ISBN 0-7603-2199-X .

Web links

Commons : James Stewart  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Jay Boyar: Jimmy Stewart: The Biggest Little Man . Orlando Sentinel, July 6, 1997.
  2. ^ Heiko R. Blum : James Stewart . Prism, 1984
  3. Klaus Nerger: James "Jimmy" Maitland Stewart . Retrieved December 15, 2014.