STEWART, James “Jimmy”


STEWART, James “Jimmy”
(1908–1997)
   Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Jimmy Stewart probably remains the all time most beloved actor in Western cinema. Over a long career he made 17 Westerns, beginning with Destry Rides Again (1939) and ending with The Shootist(1976), a film in which he costarred with John Wayne. During his lifetime, Stewart was often compared with Wayne, but unlike Wayne, whose critical reputation has never been very high due to the outspoken political conservatism and nationalism of his last years, Stewart has maintained his popularity and appreciation for his artistic achievement is increasing. Stewart and his characters, instead of being considered the embodiment of some of the worst elements of the American character, seemed to share the frustrations as well as the dreams of ordinary filmgoers.
   After a career on the New York stage, during which he became close friends with fellow struggling actor Henry Fonda, Stewart signed his first Hollywood contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer in 1935. Through the years he starred in a wide variety of films besides Westerns, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). His first Western proved to be one of the best ever made, Destry Rides Again(1939), with Marlene Dietrichin the lead. But it was Stewart’s association with director Anthony Mann that led to his best efforts. The noir Western film Winchester ’73 (1950), as well as Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), and The Far Country(1954), earned a measure of critical acclaim few other Westerns have ever achieved.
   Other great Stewart Westerns include John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) in which Stewart plays an eastern lawyer who lives his life believing he was the one who shot the famed gunfighter many years ago only to find out that another (John Wayne) had fired simultaneously from the shadows yet had allowed the lawyer to enjoy the fame. The film serves as an excellent vehicle for comparing the acting styles of Stewart and costar Wayne. For Stewart’s long career on-screen, the American Film Institute awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1980. Stewart was also nominated for five Academy Awards and won one. Jimmy Stewart was one of the great American personalities for much of the 20th century. He lived a life of action beyond the sound stage, serving a full career in the U.S. Army and, later, Air Force, flying 25 missions over enemy territory in World War II and eventually rising to the rank of brigadier general in 1959.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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