Richard Kiley narrates this account of the life and career of James Maitland Stewart, son of Indiana, Pennsylvania, Presbyterian hardware store owners, who would go on to study the accordion and piano, dabble in the theatre, earn his pilot license, rise to the rank of rank of Brigadier General in the United States Air Force Reserve, and earn his fame as film star James or "Jimmy" Stewart.
James would attend Mercersburg Academy Prep School, but a year after he enrolls in an Architecture curriculum at Princeton University his family and neighbors become affected by the onset of the Great Depression, a situation complicated by the destruction of his family's hardware business by a fire, also in 1929, which his father would eventually rebuild.
An interest in acting, but not as a potential vocation, leads James to join the Princeton Triangle Club, which, in turn, leads him to join University Players, an intercollegiate summer stock company in West Falmouth, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, under the direction of Joshua Logan, where James meets fellow actors Margaret Sullavan and Henry Fonda, with whom he would become lifelong friends, and subsequently share living quarters in NYC and Hollywood with Henry Fonda during their early years before fame.
Margaret, Henry and James would reach Broadway, in a production of "Carrie Nation," regarding Abolition, in the years approaching the 1933 repeal, which would date the Play into oblivion.
In 1934, James joins Margaret and Henry in Hollywood, which introduces James to a forthcoming MGM Studio contract, and the birth of his film career. His working association with Margaret Sullavan is considered pleasant, but because she has been married to and divorced from buddy Henry by now, they do not socialize off the set. Nor does James ever speak with reporters of his close friendships with other actresses, as Ginger Rogers or Loretta Young, and nor do they, other than for him to comment about their fine proclivity to dancing.
Like his father before him, who had enlisted in the service in WWI, and ancestors before them, who had served in every American-involved war since the Revolution, James forgoes his critically acclaimed and popularly beloved film career, on hiatus, to enlist in the U.S. Air Force during WWII. When safely returning to the studio, James insists that nothing be mentioned of his decorated service when promoting films.
His one marriage endures for nearly 45 from 1949 to 1994, to Gloria Hatrick, affording James to adopt her two sons, Michael and Ronald McLean, and with Gloria to welcome twin daughters, Judy and Kelly. Tragedy would later strike the close and loving family when son Ronald would lose his life in the service in Vietnam, during which time James would operate a secret air-strike, which would never be reported during his lifetime.
Co-star June Allyson describes James as "An icon and an institution, exactly the same on-screen and off-screen," Carol Burnett as "One who didn't consider himself a movie star, but was one of the greatest movie stars," Charlton Heston as "Quintessential American and one of its best actors," Bill Mumy as "Someone to listen to, not because you have to, but because you want to."
Interview Guests for this episode consist of Shirlee Mae Adams Fonda (Henry's widow), Actresses June Allyson and Carol Burnett, Actors Peter Fonda, Charlton Heston and Bill Mumy, Film Producer Frank Capra, Jr., and Biographers Donald Dewey and Tony Thomas.
Archive footage includes James Stewart with Co-stars Irving Bacon, Robert Gist, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, John Howard, Todd Karns, Kim Novak, Eleanor Powell, Donna Reed, Margaret Sullavan and Henry Travers in speaking parts.
Film Clips include a screen glimpse of James through the years, in scenes from "The Murder Man" (1935), "Next Time We Love" (1936), "You Can't Take It with You" (1938), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "Call Northside 777" (1948), "The Stratton Story" (1949), "Broken Arrow" (1950), "The Jackpot" (1950), "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), "The Glenn Miller Story" (1954), "Rear Window" (1954), "Vertigo" (1958), "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" (1962), "Dear Brigitte" (1965), and "Right of Way" (1983) (TV).
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