Wednesday, November 11, 2009
VETERAN'S DAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2009
Remembering all of the men and women who have served their country on this Veteran's Day.
And of all the actors who have served, I have especial admiration for James Stewart.
Stewart is the first American movie star to wear a uniform in World War 2. Not surprising when one considers his family's military background: both grandfathers fought in the American Civil War, and his father fought in the both the Spanish-American War and World War 1.
With the clouds of world war looming again, Stewart was eager to serve his country.
Although rejected after being drafted by the Army for failing height and weight requirements (Stewart was continually and notoriously caricatured as being "bean-pole" thin) for new recruits, Stewart, which hundreds of hours of flight experience under his belt earned while a civilian, tried to enlist in the Army Air Corp. He was accepted in 1941.
At the beginning of his military career, Stewart was assigned to perform as a pilot instructor. In 1943, Stewart saw combat when assigned to the 445th Bombardment Group, and through a series of missions, quickly rose through the ranks, ending the war as Colonel James Stewart. Stewart is one of the few who, in the span of four years, rose from private to colonel. And this had nothing to do with celebrity, but everything to do with his extraordinary leadership abilities.
Stewart stayed active in the Air Force reserves well after the war, becoming a Brigadier General in 1959.
Actor James Stewart's career is generally discussed by breaking his work down into either "pre-war" roles or "post war". It's a generalization that holds some merit, as the image built by many of the films he appeared in prior to World War 2 are of the "aw shucks" variety.
Intentionally, after the war, Stewart sought roles that he could sink his teeth into, and would change, but never erase, his public image. One of the first roles markedly different and breaking from past "typing" was Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE (1948). Stewart would play some of his most complex and disturbing characters in Hitchcock films, including VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.