James Stewart (1908-1997)
- Keye Luke, The Good Earth, 1935. After two years at MGM, Jim was thin enough if hardly credible for the Chinese peasant Chang in the only film with a credit for MGM’s in-house genius, Irving Thalberg. “The make-up took all morning. They put a bald cap on my head, yanked up my eyelids with spirit gum and trimmed my eyelashes. That was bad enough, but I was too tall, so they dug a trench which I walked in as I trudged alongside the film's star, Paul Muni. Then Muni started losing his balance and one time tripped and fell right down into the ditch. After three days of tests, Mayer finally called a halt and gave the part to a Chinaman - Keye Luke.”
- Wallace Beery, The Bad Man of Brimstone, 1937. Despite being 23 years younger, Stewart was first up for what became Beery’s titular outlaw. Beery was really The Bad Shot of Brimstone… accidentally shooting himself in the leg with blanks.
- Franchot Tone, Three Comrades, 1938. The comrades (not yet a dirty word in Hollywood) kept changing. Stewart was in the second mix in July 1937 (with Robert Taylor as a fellow post-WWI German soldier) and then back again in January 1938, opposite Spencer Tracy and Taylor. Final trio for F Scott Fitzgerald’s one and only screeenwriter credit was Taylor, Tone and Robert Young.
- William Holden, Arizona, 1939. First, Gary Cooper, then Stewart and Joel McCrea, proved that Holden, the new golden boy was, as an anonymous New York Times critic phrased it, not “yet sufficiently far from knee-pants to seem credible as [Jean Arthur’s] protective knight in armor.” He was 22, she 40.
- John Garfield, Saturday’s Children, 1939. Another odd choice - considering that Rims Rosson had been created on Broadway in 1927... by Humphrey Bogart!
- Gary Cooper, Sergeant York, 1940. On the reserve list (with Hank Fonda, bien sur) when Warners announced Coop as the war hero of 1918 - without a finished script, much less a director. After Fleming, Hathaway, Koster, Taurog, Vidor and Wyler passed, Howard Hawks proved quite satisfied with Coop.
- John Wayne, Reap The Wild Wind, 1941. All hands on deck - and fathoms below - for a boisterous CB DeMille adventure classic… with a last minute change of hero, Captain Jack Stuart. . Duke really owed his career to this film when an ear injury during the shoot had him rejected for WWII service. Unlike Stewart, for example (not to mention Clark Gable, Lee Marvin, Tyrone Power, etc).
- Brian Aherne, Smilin’ Through, 1940. Director Frank Borzage wanted Stewart (or Robert Taylor) to be, of all characters, Sir John Cartertet - played by Leslie Howard in the first, 1932, re-hash of (the first) Harrison Ford’s 1922 original. Jimmy quickly enlisted in the US Air Force. Probably because MGM saw him as a British knight. Co-star Jeannette MacDonald only cared about her other co-star - husband Gene Raymond.
- Victor Mature, My Darling Clementine, 1945. Back from WWII as a flying hero, Jim was none too sure if he should continue acting. It seemed so superficial after all he seen in the war. First project to interest Colonel Stewart was Doc Holliday opposite pal (and alleged lover) Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp. Fox boss Darryl Zannuck agreed. John Ford did not want Stewart. One of Ford’s biggest mistakes, said Fonda. Ford didn’t agree for another 15 years - when he made them his Two Rode Together.
- Lou Costello, The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap, 1946. Beggers belief but Chester Wooley, in this Abbott & Costello cowpoke farce, was first written for Stewart. Welcome home from the war, Jim!
- Van Johnson, The Romance of Rosy Ridge, 1946. Both Stewart and Gregory Peck avoided this hokum. Therefore, the romancers were Johnson and a debuting Janet Leigh in Rosy Ridge. Leigh was just great, the story was plain silly. Travellin’ Van brings peace to the post-war Unoinists and Confederates in the Missouri hills with his songs, harmonica, banjo and a punch or two.
- Van Johnson, High Barbaree, 1946. No war films, no flying films, no movies “based” on his war exploits. Jimmy refused MGM boss LB Mayer’s flying programmer. “You could bargain about parts - you didn’t have to take everything they offered - you could make deals.” And so his cockpit was filled by one of Metro’s newer lion cubs - opposite a future Stewart screen wife, June Allyson.
- Dane Clark, Moonrise, 1947. A tale of four directors… Writer and sometime helmer Garson Kanin tried to get the Theodore Strauss book for John Garfield. John Farrow beat him to the rights and planned it for Alan Ladd. Then, Stewart wanted to star - and direct. Finally, it became one of Frank Borzage’s masterpieces with Clark, a decidedly non-A player.
- Joseph Cotten, The Third Man, 1948. Stewart, Henry Fonda and Cary Grant were in the loop for Cotton’s lachrymose hero. All four were Hitchcock stars. Most suitable, therefore, for Carol Reed’s most Hitchcockian thriller. Including a great Hitch comedy moment as Cotten, fleeing his followers, arrives, accidentally, at the venue for his long-forgotten lecture date. Plus a final chase that Hitch would have envied. In, of all places, the Vienna sewers.
- Montgomery Clift, I Confess, 1952. Alfred Hitchcock had first been intrigued by Paul Anthelme’s 1902 play, Nos deux consciences/Our Two Conscience) in the 30s. Mrs Hitch, Alma Reville, got him interested in the project again in 1948, when they worked on the script and offered Johnson the lead - a Roman Catholic priest suspected of murder. Next? Hitch’s future regulars: Stewart and Cary Grant. Which is probably why Clift drank too much; Hitch got co-star Karl Malden to warn him off the sauce.
- David Knight, The Young Lovers, 1953. UK producer Anthony Havelock-Allan wanted Stewart. The Rank Organisation said there was no money for a US star. However, an US unknown would be fine... even if Knight was 19 years younger than Jim.
- James Mason, A Star Is Born, 1954.
- Tom Ewell, The Seven Year Itch, 1954. Marilyn would have eaten Jim alive! Although Ewell won a Tony for the Broadway role, director Billy Wilder could think only of Walter Mathau for the New Yorker bemused and bedazzled by his neighbour: Marilyn Monroe. Except Matthau was unknown. Hence some stupid notions from Wilder and Darryl Zanuck, until the head Fox saw sense. “If I’d read the script at the time we were casting the picture I’d never have recommended William Holden or anybody else except Tommy Ewell. No one I can think of can play this particular script… Holden would have been as big an error as Gary Cooper.” And he didn’t have to add that Stewart would have been, well, simply embarrassing. As he was, when far too old at 47 for the 25-year-old Charles Lindberg in Wilder’s Spirit of St Louis in 1956.
- Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
- Victor Mature, The Last Frontier, 1955. Anthony Mann tried directing hit Westerns without Stewart. And failed. Well, Mature is hardly the first Jimmy Stewart substitute that comes to mind. The great Western duo (Winchester ’73, Bend of The River, The Man From Laramie, etc) died when Mann stalked out of Night Passage, 1957. “But you’ll be letting Jim down,” said producer Aaron Rosenberg. Mann rasped: “I put up with making Thunder Bay and Strategic Air Command. I even did The Glenn Miller Story for Jim. But I will not make this trash.”
- Gregory Peck, Designing Women, 1956. “We had the costumes all ready,” recalled Jim, “final touches were being put on the script, the sets were built. One Monday morning, Grace Kelly came to (MGM production chief] Dore Schary and said: Mr Schary, I’m going to get married.” Jimmy, who adored Grace as much as his beloved Margaret Sullavan, regretted quitting the film when she left. “I let my heart rule my head.” Peck and Lauren Bacall were the newly designed couple but didn’t survive for the planned sequel: Designing Woman Goes To War
- John Wayne, The Wings of Eagles, 1956. John Ford’s biopic of Frank “Spig” Wead, US Navy pilot in WW1, who revitalized the Navy’s air operation between the wars. He also wrote Ford scripts (Air Nail, They Were Expendable, etc) until his 1947 death. (Ward Bond more or less played Ford). Wayne biographer Scott Eyman called it a story of personal heroism transmuted into professional heroism. Certainly among Duke’s Top Ten performances - much of it without his toupee.
- Gary Cooper, Man of the West, 1957. For Link, the purely existential hero in Jean-Luc Godard’s favourite Western - he called it the best film of ’58… above Touch of Evil and Vertigo!!) - director Anthony Mann obviously also mused over Stewart. After five films together. (Cooper matched this one. Boring). Also considered: Stewart Granger, whose real name was… James Stewart. It was Stewart who collected Cooper’s Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1961 when Coop was dying of cancer.
- Robert Mitchumn, The Hunters, 1957. Jim and Clark Gable were offered USAF Major Cleve Saville for what proved the fifth and final cinema film of actor-turned-director Dick Powell. He wanted a younger “Ice Man” and so Powell, the screen’s third Philip Marlowe (circa 1944), hired the eighth (circa 1975).
- Clark Gable, Teacher’s Pet, 1958. Both Jim and Cary Grant rejected the hardboiled newspaper editor masquerading as a wallpaper salesman in a journalism class run by - well, Deborah Kerr in 1957, but Doris Day opposite Gable.
- William Holden, The Horse Soldiers, 1959. With Holden and director John Ford’s usual star, John Wayne, collecting a cool $775,000 each plus 20% of the profits, Stewart seemed to have lucked out of an easy gold mine. Except the movie floppped.
- Cary Grant, North By Northwest, 1959. Stewart longed to be Thornhill and Alfred Hitchcock thought about it - for a second. He blamed the Vertigo flop on Jim (“He looked too old”) and only discussed what he first called The Man On Lincoln's Nose with Stewart, because Cary was unavailable. When Grant was free, Hitch hid the truth until Stewart had to start Bell, Book and Candle (Columbia's price for loaning Kim Novak to Hitchcock for Vertigo!). “Well, Jimmy, that’s our loss. We'll have to look for somebody else.”
- Bob Hope, The Facts of Life, 1959. When due for De Havilland and James Stewart in 1951, the 23rd (of 26) comedies by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank just did not percoloate. Together for a third time, Hope and Lucille Ball helped supply the missing sparkle. Wasn’t all fun… Ball bruised her leg and face in a fall, Hope smashed a finger, Don DeFore injured his back, director Melvin Frank broke an ankle and the publicist got the mumps. Quipped Hope: “This film should have been shot at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.”
Then, the soundstage caught fire.
- Gregory Peck, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962. Difficult to think of the same role, being offered to Stewart, Peck and Rock Hudson. Particularly, a role that was made for Peck. (Oscar agreed). Stewart must have been getting senile. He found the script “too liberal” - and film would be too controversial. What? After his Anatomy of a Murder, 1959.
- Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch, 1968.
- Yves Montand, Let's Make Love, 1960. Hollywood men queued up to spurn poor Marilyn Monroe. The very idea of Jimmy and Marilyn with that title shows how desperate the Fox situation was.
- Spencer Tracy, Judgment At Nuremberg, 1961. Tracy had discovered the scenarist, Abby Mann, then 28. He had a fascinating TV project, A Child Is Waiting, and then revealed the tale he’d penned for Tracy - based on Dan Heywood, the retired judge from “the backwoods of Maine, ” presiding over the military tribunal of four judges of Nazi Germany. (Claude Rains played him in the TVersion). Tracy gave it to Stanley Kramer (director of Spencer’slast four major films) and then... and then... the UA suits insisted on backwodsman Jimmy! Never, said Kramer.Tracy won yet anotherOscar nomination - and Mann won.
- Frank Sinatra, Four For Texas, 1963. Jim was talked of (so was Robert Mitchum) as Dean Martin’s partner before Sinatra strolled in and knocked the show into shape. Almost.
- John Wayne, The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965. Dated back to 1955 when Hal Wall is wanted John Sturgis directing Burt Lancaster… now everyone from Stewart to Charlton Heston were up for John Elder until Duke galloped in for $600,000, a third of the profits and and one-third ownership of the negative. With a month to go to the starting date, Duke told his producer son, Mike, and director Henry Hathaway about the egg-sized tumour in his left lung. “I’m gonna have the lung removed… tomorrow morning. Of course you’ll wanna recast - I suggest Kirk Douglas.” Hathaway had surved colon cancer and gave invaluable advice. “You’re gonna be as sore as hell - surgery is no piece of cake, expect to be tired and expect the recovery to take longer than you think.” Wayne was operated on September 17, 1964 on for six hours - twice, after edema set in. Producer Hal Wallis refused to recast. They would wait. Duke showed up for work on January 6, 1965.
- Richard Widmark, The Way West, 1967. In the late 50s, producer Harold Hecht first envisaged Jimmy, Burt Lancaster on the 1843 wagon trail to Oregon, rescued by Gary Cooper. However, Coop was ill and dead by 1961.
- Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show, 1971. Committed to his first TV series, The (extremely lightweight) Jimmy Stewart Show, meant he felt unable to join director Peter Bogdanovich's second (and best) film. John Ford veteran Ben Johnson collected an Oscar as Sam The Lion, while Stewart improved his tele-image in Hawkins on Murder, based on his 1959 Anatomy of a Murder character.
- Burt Reynolds, Deliverance, 1972.Yeah, great script, but mighty dangerous river…All the early choices - Brando, Stewart, Henry Fonda - refused to be Lewis Medlock after bad reports about the dangerous Chattooga River River inBurt’s home state of Georgia. Only one star told UK director John Boorman the truth. And that was his pal, Lee Marvin. “We’re all too old!”
- Peter Finch, Network, 1976. After tenuous thoughts about real TV News anchors (John Chancellor and the venerable Walter Cronkite), the film’s Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky wrote to Newman. “You and a very small handful of other actors are the only ones I can think of with the range for this part.” The others were Cary Grant, old pals Henry Fonda and Stewart, Gene Hackman, Sterling Hayden and Robert Montgomery - for the “mad prophet of the airwaves,” Howard Beale. (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”). Finchey won the first posthumous acting Oscar. Ironically, the second was also for an Aussie, Heath Ledger, for The Dark Knight... 33 years later.
- Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond, 1981.
The stage-screen director Joshua Logan tried to buy Ernest Thompson’s play as Jim’s last hurrah… But Josh’s God-daughter Jane Fonda outbid them for her Dad. And it won Hank his Oscar. Jim could not have been happier. They had been close pals, allegedly lovers, since 1932 - except for a 1948-54 rift when Stewart was hoodwinked by flattery into working for the FBI boss J Edgar Hoover. He wanted names of Communists (Jim didn’t have any, and even helped suspected Edward G Robinson get work). Jim was more into stopping organised crime which Hoover was powerless to do, being blackmailed by the Mafia with photos of his gay and transvestite activities. Stewart hoped for a similar big finish with the first HBO movie, Right of Way (an elderly couple deciding on suicide) - ruined by Bette Davis having it cut to suit her performance alone. Stewart and his wife were devastated. He never complained about Bette’s manipulations, just that she was “challenging.”
- John McIntire, Honkytonk Man, 1982. Although a year younger than McIntire's 75, Stewart said he had no wish to pay grandfathers just yet... “All the scripts I read feature some grouchy old grandfather and I think, ‘Golly, I wonder who they’re thinking to get for that part,’ and then I realise it’s me. I don’t want to be a grouchy grandfather. I want something more interesting than that.”
- Burt Lancaster, Field of Dreams, 1989. Obvious casting for what Kevin Costner considered his generation's It's A Wonderful Life. Jim was in poor health. Lancaster, himself, a questionable insurance risk for Old Gringo, filled in, superbly. Writer-director Phil Alden Robinson still found room for Jimmy via a Harvey clip on TV.
- Tommy Lee Jones, Lonesome Dove, TV, 1989. “Why do I let the horses go?” Like director John Carpenter, Peter Bogdanovich dreamt of combining Duke, Hank and Jimmy in one Western. He got The Last Picture Show author Larry McMurtry to write it in 1972: Streets of Laredo. “Waall, I felt like we were being kinda lampooned.” Rubbish! And that sounded like a malicious John Ford warning Wayne off it. “Jimmy boy,” Wayne told him, they’re trying to make three old fogies out of us.” The script begat a book and that begat a golden, classic mini-series. “We would have loved to have made a film together. If he’d come up with a better script, we could have done something.” Like Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones did…! “In my head,” said Bogdanovich, “Jimmy and Duke had to be better.” Hardly.