Even though he earned an architectural degree at Princeton and was very intelligent, Jimmy Stewart’s favourite method of relaxation on the set was to read Flash Gordon comic books. Away from the set he was, according to legend, considerably more active. His name has been linked, in fact, over the years before his marriage to no fewer than 263 of Hollywood’s glamour girls. How many of them were studio ordered publicity dates is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain; women absolutely adored him.
In 1949 he married Gloria Hatrick, a union that would last until her death in 1994. Although the occasional source claims he had an affair with Grace Kelly during the shooting of Rear Window in 1953, most agree that this was probably not the case. Of all the Hollywood leading men from the old studio system days, very few remained faithful to their spouses for any length of time, but Jimmy Stewart, it is generally conceded, was one of those who did. Widely admired western star Joel McCrea was another.
Gloria & Jimmy’s wedding day 1949
During the McCarthy witch hunts of the late 40s and early 50s Stewart wholeheartedly supported endeavors to blacklist suspected communists. In fact, Michael Munn’s 2004 biography, Jimmy Stewart: the Truth Behind the Legend claims he worked undercover for J Edgar Hoover to expose his movie friends and acquaintances, even Cary Grant and Frank Capra. Gloria Stewart was quoted as saying: ‘Jim went barefoot up the mountain and saw the burning bush…only God’s name was J Edgar Hoover’. That statement probably says more about James Stewart than any other.
Jimmy’s hero J Edgar Hoover
It was over this very issue that Jimmy’s lifelong pal Henry Fonda fell out with him in the early fifties. Fonda had joined Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Huston and others in signing a petition to the government, requesting that it end its despicable investigations into the movie industry. Stewart and Fonda disagreed heatedly and at length about this. It was years before they renewed their friendship and only then on condition that any mention of politics was strictly taboo. In 1970, when the Daily News asked Jimmy if he agreed with John Wayne that communists still posed a threat to America, he let the cat out of the bag when he answered: ‘I don’t think that there’s any question that the communists are behind a great deal of unrest in the United States. In addition, I feel they are still a potential danger in show business’. Some ideas, it seems, even bad ones, die hard.
In World War Two Jimmy served with distinction in the USAAF as a combat pilot over Europe, rising to the rank of colonel by war’s end. He was a self-confessed ‘hawk’ and decades later actively supported the Vietnam War and other right-wing issues. Two years before his retirement from the US Air Force Reserve (as a brigadier-general no less) he even gained permission to fly on a B-52 raid over North Vietnam as an observer.
Brigadier General James Stewart USAAF
When asked about teenagers who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War he was vitriolic in his reply: ‘I hate them! I absolutely hate them! Whether right or wrong, their country was at war, and their country asked them to serve, and they refused and ran away. Cowards, that’s what they were’. Their country asked them to serve? The draft doesn’t ask anyone. In 1969 his boy Ronald was killed in Vietnam while serving as an officer in the US Marine Corps. Jimmy, like many Americans who lost sons in that war, understandably could never allow himself to entertain even the possibility that his boy had died for a false cause.
A truly disturbing aspect of Stewart’s nature, however, was his apparent dislike of black people. This was not that uncommon in the Hollywood of his era. With the exception of Gregory Peck’s home (and a few others), it was possible to attend a hundred Beverly Hills parties in those days and never meet a single black person, not even an affluent one such as Sidney Poitier. Stewart preferred the status quo and any move to alter it, whether through championing co-existence, even feminism, caused him extreme concern.
In 1971 he shocked NBC by demanding that black actor Hal Williams be removed from his TV program The Jimmy Stewart Show. ‘Blacks are bossing white people all over the country’, raged Stewart to NBC producer Hal Kanter. ‘And now we’re going to have the same damn thing on prime time television? A black is going to be lecturing me with millions of people watching? No way. I get casting approval and Williams is out’. Back in 1961, while Jimmy was shooting The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, rumors of him racially slurring fellow actor Woody Strode were smoothed over by director John Ford. Everybody assumed it was a storm in a teacup. Well, everybody but Woody, anyway.
Woody Strode & John Wayne in
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
After 1978 Stewart suffered from health problems, including heart disease, skin cancer, deafness and senility. The death of his beloved Gloria in 1994 after 44 years of marriage affected him deeply. Like most of us he was far from perfect, but as a movie actor on the silver screen he gave enormous pleasure to a lot of people over a very long time. In July 1997 his health failed completely. ‘I am going to be with Gloria now’, were his last words.
No surprise, as with John Wayne, Walt Disney, William Frawley (Mertz) or Donald Trump, those who have a Conservative or Republican outlook or right wing views are racist.
Just look at how conveniently the far right has fit into the Conservative movement or Republican party.
Maybe not politically correct but we know that Right Wing Politics and Racism go togeher like White Sheets and a Klan rally!
As an Australian I think I speak for the majority of my countrymen and women when I say we were flabbergasted when Donald Trump and the Republicans won the election. Admittedly, Hilary’s track record was spud ordinary, so he did not have a lot to beat. Personally, I think it came down to the fact that there was no black candidate that election, so a great many black Americans chose not to vote for either candidate. They appear not to have made the same mistake next time around. There is racism in every country on the planet, some more than others. I just don’t get it. My wife and I have a half dozen part-Aboriginal grandkids and we love them dearly.
Aren’t the Democrats the party of Slavery, Segregation and Welfare?
I have no idea, Robert. Politics is anathema to me, I’m afraid.
I’m neither Republican or Democrat, they’re both corporate sycophants, but, really? So you’re unaware that in the 1860’s the parties gradually began to switch platforms, culminating in 1936 with the party platforms we recognize today? This was due to varying opinions on federal powers and western expansion among other things, but for the sake of not being ignorant you might want to educate yourself before you use your inaccurate statement regarding the history of party platforms.
Regarding welfare; while welfare (as we think of it) began in 1935 under FDR, a democrat, he defeated H. Hoover in a landslide in 1932 due to the Great Depression, after which the majority of the country supported federal assistance to citizens and businesses.
They were a long time ago, that proud distinction now belongs to the republican party.
I’m not affiliated with either party but Hillary had the popular vote. The electoral college won the presidency for Trump
Neither one of those two were great for the U.S ,in my opinion. As you can tell, I’m totally not a Trump worshipper like so many are… even my family
I vote most for local. I know for a fact my vote probably wouldn’t make that much difference anyway
Don’t believe it. None of it is true.
And that, of course, is your prerogative, Matthew.
I was telling him not to believe it and for good reason. It’s bullshit.
1. Stewart also signed the very same petition Fonda, Bogart, Bacall, Kelly, Henreid, Kaye and several others signed against HUAC. Here is VARIETY. The names are listed in alphabetical order.
2. The Jimmy Stewart/Woody Strode incident was properly explained. Stewart himself used the anecdote several times including once in 1969 in an interview which can be found on youtube.
3. Woody Strode only mentions Stewart a couple of times in his autobiography and only as an aside. He doesn’t mention any issues with him on THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.
4. Hal Williams has never spoken of his time on Stewart’s series from what I can find, but the other Hal, Hal Kantor. The odd thing is that Donald Dewey’s book is the ONLY time Kantor said that Stewart had issues with black people. Dewey’s book came out in 1996 when Stewart was still alive. Kantor wrote his autobiography AFTER Stewart died and gave several interviews AFTER Stewart died. He NEVER, NOT ONCE, in either his book or those interviews ever mentioned anything about Stewart having a black man fired. In fact, Kantor blamed the end of the show on Stewart’s increasing indifference. Why would he tell Dewey in 1996 that Stewart was uncomfortable with blacks but then give a completely different account in 1997 and afterward?
5. If Stewart was uncomfortable around black people than Sammy Davis Jr, Altovise Gore, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong certainly didn’t detect it.
6. Want to hear Stewart describe his first visit to LA? “I gradually learned L.A. was heavily segregated. Blacks usually sat in the back of the bus. You’d never see them in the big department stores. At MGM there was a separate entrance and lunchroom for the black labourers and maids. It was the dark side of the American dream.” That’s a quote from a book called YOU AIN’T HEARD NOTHIN’ YET by James Bawden.
7. There are also several radio broadcasts for NATIONAL BROTHERHOOD WEEK in which Stewart talks about tolerance for people no matter their color or religious background.
8. Peter Fonda thought the Hal Williams story was crap and didn’t believe his father would be friends with a racist. Stewart’s daughter, Kelly said “My father didn’t have very many black people in his life, but he wasn’t a racist.”
I wouldn’t go by those stories about Stewart and J. Edgar Hoover either. Michael Munn is not a reliable source and there are articles which call into question many of his claims, especially those in which he says he met several of his subjects. David Niven’s son was especially critical.
You appear to be more familiar with this topic than me, Matthew. If I have reiterated views not considered to be unbiased I apologise. I can only research, assess and arrive at conclusions, whether they be correct or incorrect. Thankyou for clarifying several issues.
I hope I wasn’t rude or anything.
I used to think there was validity in all the stories of racism. I struggled with that for a while.
I stumbled across the anecdotes I provided by accident.
You’re correct, sir, Jimmy Stewart wasn’t a racist.
The incident involving John Ford and Woody Strode was instigated by Ford who was well known for encouraging discord among the actors on his films. Ford embarrassed Jimmy in an incident (retold by Jimmy in interviews and also in the biography on Jimmy Stewart, “Pieces of Time,” by Gary Fishgall) involving Strode’s costuming on a movie set purposely. Ford was also known for belittling John Wayne, which Jimmy objected to.
I wish it weren’t but something tells me that some of it is.
As far as the racist info, sorry I’m going to have to disagree
But like you say, it’s my choice
The truth came out about John Wayne
I had a feeling about him anyway
The complete opposite was Eddie Albert…..like Stewart a decorated veteran of WW2, also like Stewart he didn’t actually have to be there- Stewart could have sat the war out making propoganda movies, and Eddie Albert was way to old. Nevertheless, as a Naval reservist Albert ended up earning a bronze star by pulling US Marines off the beach at Tarawa Attol under heavy fire. Albert, who went on to star in one of my favourite (anti)war movies, Robert Altmann’s ‘Attack’, as the cowardly Captain Cooney, had a problem in that he was a bit of a lefty with a Mexican wife…. …as a result he ended up on the blacklist whereas Jimmy Stewart became the all American hero. This takes nothing away from Stewart- despite his opinions he didn’t have to fly those missions over Europe, but the treatment by the industry of two war heroes based in their opinions couldn’t have been more different.
Great comments, Nick, and I could not agree with you more. Lew Ayres was another hero treated badly by the studios and the media. He was a conscientious objector who volunteered as a medic and was conspicuously brave throughout. I LOVE Eddie Albert! A real hero who saved lives. His Hollywood problems were not helped by the fact he was ‘servicing’ Jack Warner’s wife – and Jack caught them en flagrante. Warner said later that he did not so much object to Eddie having sex with his wife, but the fact that he did not stop what he was doing when confronted by her husband was a bit rich! Nice to hear from you Nick.
John Wayne had Hispanic wives.
And slave owners had black mistresses. Do you think that means they weren’t racist? Besides, John Wayne’s verified and widely publicized racist quotes from 1971’s Playboy Magazine interview were directly about Black people. We don’t know completely what he thought about other ethnicities. Most bigots aren’t racist towards only one ethnicity, and often say most people from the ethnicities they hate are bad but say “some are good” (Trump, for example), but racism is irrational anyway so who knows what he thought of Hispanics in general.
Eddie Albert had a thriving film career in the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s (e.g. Green Acres)and beyond.
good job on this james stewart article from way back. Very informative. Thank you Mr. Royle.
Thankyou. Your kind words are greatly appreciated. Regards.
Everyone in Hollywood is racist, it’s no different today. They all lecture everybody about racism but they are the most racist mofos going
I agree with you, John. Racism is, sadly, alive and well in most communities, nowhere more so than in Hollywood.
Hal Williams and Woody Strode were both quoted by Michael Munn as saying that Stewart was a racist.
Evidently, Stewart treated Woody shabbily on the set of ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ in 1962.
Of course one would have to be racist to support the illegal US invasion and carpet bombing of Vietnam. There is no doubt Stewart was a racist.
Just read Dwayne Epstein’s interview of Woody Strode. Nary an unkind word for Mr Stewart.
Maybe Woody chose to let sleeping dogs lie, Robert. Perhaps, Epstein edited his responses. Who knows?
Hal Williams has publicly stated that he had nothing but respect for Jimmy. Class act!.
Jimmy lived a long life and, from what I have read, most people seemed to like and respect him. His extreme right wing politics apparently caused a rift between him and his good friend Henry Fonda, but even that was eventually patched up. Just how many of his women were lovers and how many merely studio publicity dates is anyone’s guess, but he appears to have stayed faithful to Gloria once they tied the knot.
Racism is no friend to any of us!
But as sins go, it’s become the “flavor of the month”. It seems that if we can label some person or idea as “racist”, it somehow serves to remove all validity and negate all merit.
The aruthor rightly points out that in the era where Mr Stewart came up, his views were far from extraordinary! To learn from the past and to improve upon it will not be possible if an attitude of “he was a racist …hence of no value” is allowed to prevail.
Well put, John. I hope I did not give the impression that I write people off because of a singular flaw in their makeup. Not my intention at all. Two of my closest friends are openly racist and both know how I thoroughly cannot abide it, yet we are still friends. No doubt I have character traits they cannot stand too. Nobody is perfect. Indeed, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda were at opposite ends of the spectrum politically, but ultimately renewed their lifelong friendship in spite of their differences.
Flavor of the month? Racism is a serious offense. Back when he was on top it was even more serious.
History if filled with people who accomplished great things. That the did great evil also is enough to condemn them. There is nothing Stewart ever did that outweighs the evil he was party to. A great actor is not that important, a great actor can be replaced easily enough. Even if the replacement is not as great, if he doesn’t do great evil it’s still a good deal.
Pretty judgey there, aren’t you?
Michael Swanson’s February 22, 2020 comment “A ‘character flaw” is far different from being a RACIST, which is LEARNED behavior.” Was “spot on”.
Author Donald Dewey in his book “James Stewart, A Biography” 1996, paints a damming picture of Stewart’s father & hometown of Indiana, Pa.
Dewey spent considerable time on Indiana, Pa. – A town with a branch of the Ku Klux Klan & where the local paper actually printed directions to a Klan rally. My understanding was Stewart’s father, Alex, who operated the town hardware store, was actively involved with the KKK… Learned behavior indeed –
As to Stewart’s “Don Juan” reputation. Read when he was new to MGM Louis B. Mayer was so concerned about his orientation that he demanded Stewart go to a bordello! It was reported back to him that Stewart passed with “flying colors”.
Also read when Stewart & Fonda were starting out on the New York stage, both agreed to be “serviced” by producer Josh Logan (Joshua Lockwood Logan III) before they were given parts. Known for quite some time that the “Casting Couch” has always applied to both genders.
Shame such an obviously intellegent man couldn’t overcome childhood engrained behaviors….
Hi. Your article just changed EVERYTHING I used to feel concerning Mr. “All-American Boy” James Stewart. To know that he was–contrary to his aw-shucks persona on TV and the silver screen–a flaming BIGOT and HAWK in the EXACT SAME MOLD as J. Edgar Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump hurts more than I could ever have words for….another icon bites the dust; I will NEVER look at It’s A Wonderful Life, Under The Big Top or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in the same way (if at all) ever again as long as I live. THANKS for opening my eyes.
It seems that these days many of the Hollywood myths are being exploded, usually by tell-all biographies by people who were at one time or another part of the industry. Sadly, the studios painted images for their stars that scarcely ANYONE could hope to live up to in reality. Jimmy Stewart was just like the rest of us. Basically, he was probably an OK guy, but he did have character flaws (who doesn’t). No doubt, there are die-hard fans who still accept the studio blurb as total truth and bitterly resent any writing that strays away from that. I thank you for reading my article in the spirit it was intended, and that was to simply paint as REAL a portrait of the individual as possible, based on the recollections of his peers.
A ‘character flaw” is far different from being a RACIST, which is LEARNED behavior.
I take your point, Michael. Thank you.
Thank you for your detailed information
My pleasure, Regine. Thank you.
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Kind comments. Thank you.
It’s difficult to find well-informed people about this subject,
but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!
Kind of you to say so, Wilfred. We research very thoroughly.
You can definitely see your enthusiasm within the work
you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
All the time go after your heart.
Thank you very much. Sometimes people read things without really thinking about them. If I can get anyone to think about issues that are important it can only be a good thing. Take care.