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James Stewart

James Stewart

James Maitland "Jimmy" Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997) was an American actor and military pilot. Known for his distinctive drawl and everyman screen persona, Stewart's film career spanned 80 films from 1935 to 1991. With the strong morality he portrayed both on and off the screen, he epitomized the "American ideal" in the mid-twentieth century. In 1999, the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked him third on its list of the greatest American male actors.Born and raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Stewart started acting while at Princeton University. After graduating in 1932, he began a career as a stage actor, appearing on Broadway and in summer stock productions. In 1935, he landed his first supporting role in a movie and in 1938 he had his breakthrough in Frank Capra's ensemble comedy You Can't Take It with You. The following year, Stewart garnered his first of five Academy Award nominations for his portrayal of an idealized and virtuous man who becomes a senator in Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). He won the Academy Award for Best Actor, the only competitive Oscar of his career, for his work in the comedy The Philadelphia Story (1940), which also starred Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. A licensed amateur pilot, Stewart enlisted in the Army Air Forces soon after the US entered the Second World War in 1941. After action in Europe, he attained the rank of colonel and received several awards for his service. He was promoted to brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve in 1959, and retired in 1968 at which time he was awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal. There are several claims that President Ronald Reagan promoted Stewart to the honorary rank of major general in May 1985 at the same time as awarding his Medal of Freedom, but this is unsupported by evidence, as there was no legislative authorization for such a promotion, the record of the Medal of Freedom presentation at the Reagan Library contains no mention of a promotion, and the video of the presentation contains no promotion. President Reagan also recounted at a White House briefing that he was corrected by Stewart himself after Reagan incorrectly insisted he was a major general at a campaign event.Stewart's first postwar role was as George Bailey in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Although the film was not a major success upon release, he earned an Oscar nomination and the film has become a Christmas classic, as well as one of his most well known roles. In the 1950s, Stewart played darker, more morally ambiguous characters in movies directed by Anthony Mann, including Winchester '73 (1950), The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and The Naked Spur (1953), and by Alfred Hitchcock in Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958). His other films in the 1950s included the Broadway adaptation Harvey (1950) and the courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder (1959), both of which landed him Oscar nominations. For the latter he won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor from the Venice Film Festival. He was one of the most popular film stars of the '50s, with most of his films becoming box office successes. Stewart's later Westerns included The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) with John Wayne and Cheyenne Autumn (1964), both directed by John Ford. He appeared in many popular family comedies during the 1960s. After brief ventures into television acting, Stewart semi-retired by the 1980s. He received many honorary awards, including an Academy Honorary Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, both in 1985. Stewart remained unmarried until his 40s and was dubbed "The Great American Bachelor" by the press. In 1949, he married former model Gloria Hatrick McLean. They had twin daughters, and he adopted her two sons from her previous marriage. The marriage lasted until McLean's death in 1994; Stewart died of a pulmonary embolism three years later.
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