James “Jimmy” Stewart starred in some of Hollywood’s most beloved and remembered films of all time.
His boyish charm, effortless relatable poise, and sheer talent will be forever engrained in Hollywood’s past.
However, there was much more to Jimmy than his roles in famous films. The man was multitalented, brave, and dedicated to his country.
Raised by a piano-playing mother and coming from a long line of military servicemen, Jimmy grew up cultivating many diverse passions. He was a talented accordion player, and he participated in football and track in high school. He went on to study architecture at Princeton and received a grant to study at the graduate level after impressing his professors with his thesis, but he found himself even more drawn to music and the arts.
He had a promising start in Hollywood, even winning an Academy Award in 1940, but when wartime hit, he knew that he had to serve his country.
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1. He Had Private And Commercial Pilot Licenses
In 1935, he got his private pilot license and often flew home to Pennsylvania to visit his parents. He got his commercial license in 1938.
2. He Was Initially Turned Away From The Military For Being Too Light
Drafted for the army in 1940, he was then rejected for coming in below the minimum weight requirement for his height. He used an MGM trainer to bulk up, reapplied, and was still underweight. He managed to get the enlistment officer to retest his stats, and he finally made the mark. He was inducted into the army in 1941 and eventually joined the Air Corps as a flier.
3. He Was The First Hollywood Star To Don A Uniform For WWII
His father and his grandfather were both military men, so Jimmy was eager to follow in their footsteps and serve his country.
4. He Helped Recruit 150,000 New Servicemen
Winning Your Wings, a short propaganda film starring James, was successful in getting many, many new recruits for the military.
5. He Was Roommates With Henry Fonda
In the summer of 1932, he lived on Cape Cod with Henry Fonda, Joshua Logan, and Myron McCormick while he performed with the University Players in West Falmouth, Massachusetts.
6. His Father Tried To Discourage Him From A Career In Hollywood
Even after early success on Broadway and on film, Jimmy’s father was still trying to convince him to leave the sinful world of Hollywood and come home to lead a decent life running the family’s hardware store, which had been handed down through generations.
7. His Celebrity Status Almost Kept Him From Combat Roles
Jimmy wanted to fight for his country, to go on actual missions overseas and battle like his father and grandfather had. At first, he was stationed at numerous training stations in the U.S. and worked as an instructor. However, when he expressed his desire to enter combat roles, his commander, who was five years Stewart’s junior, assigned him to the 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit.
8. He Started Out On Broadway
His Broadway debut in 1932, after his summer with the University Players, was in the play Carry Nation, which had a very short run. A few weeks later, he had two lines as a chauffeur in Goodbye Again and had the audience applauding after just a few minutes on stage.
9. He Wasn't The First Pick For "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"
He was a replacement for the intended star, Gary Cooper. This film earned him his first of five Academy Award nominations for Best Actor.
10. His Official Tally For Offensive Missions In WWII Was 20
Between 1943 and 1944, Jimmy flew on 20 missions in a handful of different roles. He assigned himself as a combat crewman even when he became a staff officer and was no longer required to fulfill a certain quota.
He flew with the Air Force again in the Vietnam war and finally retired in 1968 with a number of awards, including the United States Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross.
11. He Had A Brief Romance With Norma Shearer
He was under contract with MGM at the time, and head of production Irving Thalberg had only died two years prior. The romance with the Hollywood starlet, who happened to be Thalberg’s widow, was brief and tumultuous. He also had a brief romance with another Hollywood star, Ginger Rogers.
12. He Didn't Think He Deserved His Academy Award
Jimmy won the Academy Award for best actor in 1940 for The Philadelphia Story, which was the only one he ever won in his expansive, impressive career. He, however, didn’t think that he deserved it; he thought that his good friend Henry Fonda deserved the award for The Grapes Of Wrath.
13. He Gave His Award To His Father
His father owned a hardware store in his hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and he put the Academy Award statue on display in the window of the shop, along with many military awards and medals that had accumulated across generations of the family’s military service.
14. He Performed With A Magician During His Summers In High School
For two summers in high school, James interned and performed onstage with a professional magician. Other summer jobs included painting lines on the highways and working as a brick loader for a construction company in his hometown.
15. Esteemed Director Frank Capra Adored Him
After working with Jimmy on You Can’t Take It With You in 1938, Capra said of the young actor: “I think he’s probably the best actor who’s ever hit the screen.”
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