James Stewart

  1. Eric Linden, The Voice of Bugle Ann, 1935.    At  age 27,  Stewart was selected as the son of Lionel Barrymore, as the owner (and friend) of the titular fox-hound in a touching Ozarks tale of man’s best friend.  About man’s best friend.  Then, MGM switched to Linden, eyeing  Maureen O’Sullivan.
  2. 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.”
  3. Spencer Tracy, They Gave Him A Gun, 1936.      As relevant today as back then – the impact of war on the individual soldier. Stewart had been first in line for Franchot Tone’s Army buddy. Hidden among the seven scenarists – Richard Maibaum, who wrote 13 Jams Bond movies, from Dr No to Licence To Kill. Or from Sean Connery to Timothy Dalton.
  4. Dennis O’Keefe, The Bad Man of Brimstone, 1937.      Jim was first choice for Wallace Beery’s son in this sentimental and violent Western. Beery’s outlaw, Trigger Bill, was based on such real desperados as Doc Holliday, Blinky Jones and Dog Kelley. Beery was really The Worst Shot of Brimstone… accidentally shooting himself in the leg with blanks.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.
  7. John Garfield, Saturday’s Children, 1939.      Another odd choice – considering that Rims Rosson had been created on Broadway in 1927… by Humphrey Bogart!
  8. 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.
  9. 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). 
  10. Lew Ayres,The Golden Fleecing,1940.    MGM planned Stewart as the hapless insurance man – Henry Twinkle, no less – who must make sure that his $50,000 client stays alive. Not easy as he’s a hood and cops and gangs, both,  are trying to rub him out.

  11. 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. 
  12. Robert Young, The Canterville  Ghost, 1943. He’s one of “the  famous ghosts of England,” in fact, created by Oscar Wilde in1887: walled up by his father for cowardice in 1604, until some courage from a descendant sets him. MGM decided in 1939 that Jim would  be the kinfolk when GIs are billeted at Canterville Castle during WWII.  With Margaret Sullavan as Lady Jessica – played very much younger by kid star Margaret O’Brien in the eventual film, stole by a spectral  Charles Laughton in what the New York Times called “a lively and whimsical show of chicken-hearted pomposity in an over-stuffed costume.”
  13. 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 role to interest Colonel Stewart was the dying Doc Holliday opposite pal, indeed alleged lover, Henry Fonda (back from the US Navy) as Wyatt Earp. Passing on Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Tyrone Power and Vincent Price, head Fox Darryl Zannuck voted Jim . Rubbish, said director John Ford, or  more direct words to that effect.  “He couldn’t play the part.”  And Mature could?  Indeed, he did! Fonda still called it one of Ford’s biggest mistakes. Ford didn’t agree for another 15 years –  when the Two Rode Together for him. (Burt Reynolds and Tom  Selleck were picked for an 80s’ re-hash that never happened).
  14. 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!
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Joseph Cotten, The Third Man, 1948.   Jo Cotten, Orson Welles, director Carol Reed, Anton Karas’ zither score – they’re fixed in the collective imagination, as vividly as the classic post-war thriller. David O Selznick, however, is forgotten as the producer, a parody of his former Gone With The Wind glory, full of fatuous notions like Cary, Robert Mitchum (then in jail, becoming a mythical Hollywood hero after  his marijuana bust) or James Stewart   as Holly Martins and  Noel  Coward (!) for the titular Harry Lime (based on author Graham Greene’s superior in the UK Secret Intelligence Service: the infamous double agent Kim Philby). The Selznick version would have been forgotten in a week,  said US critic Roger Ebert, of his  favourite film – as flawless as the very best of Hitchcock
  19. 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  Van 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.
  20. 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.

  21. James Mason, A Star Is Born, 1954.
  22. 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.
  23. Lance Fuller, Frontier Women, 1955.   Plan A was Marilyn Monroe and James Stewart. That proved too expensive (and silly) a dreamwish and their parts went to Floridian actress Cindy Carson (in her one and only movie) and Lance Fuller…as a guy called Catawampus Jones. A much better title!
  24. Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
  25. 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.”
  26. 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
  27. 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.
  28. Gary Cooper, Man of the West, 1957.    John Wayne was first up for Link, But Cooperwas the purely existential hero in Jean-Luc Godard’s favourite Western.He called  it the best film of ’58 – above Touch of Eviland Vertigo! Director Anthony Mann refused to think of Stewart. They’d fallen out after five films togetherMaybe that’s why Mann disregarded Granger… his real names was James Stewart. Coop matched the film.  Boring.Jim collected Cooper’s Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1961 when Coop was dying of  cancer.
  29. Robert Mitchumn, The Hunters, 1957.  Jim offered to be  USAF Colonel Dutch Imil in  the Korean War drama which proved the fifth and final cinema film of actor-turned-director Dick Powell… He  decided to go younger.  Egan and Robert Mitchum in place of Stewart and Clark Gable. Or to put it another way…  Powell,  the screen’s third Philip Marlowe (circa 1944), hired the eighth (circa 1975).
  30. Clark Gable, Teacher’s Pet, 1958.    Both Jim  and Gable said they were  too old to be chasing Doris Day  just a year after being her husband in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much! The age gap between them was 14 years.  It was 21 years for Gable and Day in this matrix for the three Doris-Rock Hudson rom-coms, Pillow Talk, etc.  Cary Grant also refused Doris  because  he was 18 years  older than her.  Didn’t stop them making That Touch of Mink four years later.   Deborah Kerr had also been  considered.

  31. 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 flopped.
  32. Cary Grant, North By Northwest, 1959.    James Stewart misread Alfred Hitchcock’s intentions when relating some of the plot to him during the previous Vertigo, and he thought he had the hero Roger O Thornhill in the bag. No way. Particularly when Hitch unfairly blamed the Vertigo flop on Jim being too old.  He also  rejected William Holden and “stone-faced:” Gregory Peck and ran to the cover  of his favourite leading man – for what some 007 analysts hail as the first James Bond film.  Oh, no, no, that was a previous  Hitch-Grant combo, Notorious, 1945.  Incidentally, at 50, Jim was four years  younger than Cary.
  33. 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.
  34. Yves Montand, Let’s Make Love, 1960.    Among the legions  rejecting Marilyn Monroe because she was past it – and she was trouble.,never on time. Stephen Boyd, Yul Brynner, Charlton Heston, William Holden, Rock Hudson and  old-timers Cary Cooper, Cary Grant, James Stewart all  fled  what was then  called (in their favour) The Billionaire.   Marilyn and Montand took the new title literally.
  35. 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.
  36. 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.
  37. Frank Sinatra, Four For Texas, 1963.    Before Frank Sinatra decided to make it with pally Dean Martin, James Stewart and Robert Mitchum were the studio’s ideas for Zach. Various critics called the mess a Clan Western. Not so. It was iust Frankie and Dino messing around. No Sammy Davis Jr, for example. And why not?  Because Sammy was the fastest draw in Hollywood.  And they weren’t.
  38. 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.
  39. 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.

  40. William Holden, The Wild Bunch, 1968.
  41. Ernest Borgnine, The Wild Bunch, 1968.
  42. Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch, 1968.

  43. 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.
  44. Burt Reynolds, Deliverance, 1971.  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 in Burt’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!”
  45. Don Porter, The Candidate, 1971.    Crocker Jarmon was intended fofr Jim, who felt the Senator was a derogatory view of  conservative politicians. Not at all, just an old timer (of either party) overstaying his time in politics, clinging to his privileges.   Then again, who would vote for? Stewart or Robert Redford? 

  46. Peter Finch, Network, 1976.    
    I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore   Both director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky came from the golden age of US TV – and pulled no punches in detailing where the medium was going (down the drain. Indeed, their fictional USB fourth network became, well, Fox…).  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 Paul Newman. “You and a very small handful of other actors are the are the only ones I can think of with the range for this part” Howard Beale, the “mad prophet of the airwaves. The others were: Henry Fonda (“it’s too hysterical”), Glenn Ford,  Cary Grant, Gene Hackman, William Holden (he played news exec  Max Schumacher, instead), Walter  Matthau, Paul Newman, James Stewart  was appalled by the script’s bad language! Plus George C Scott , who refused because he had once been “offended” by Lumet! (Yet his final film was Lumet’s  Gloria, 1998).   Lumet had just the one name – and this proved to be Finchy’s farewell, winning the fist posthumous Best Actor Oscar. Lumet was with Peter when he died. They were in the Beverly Hills Hotel, awaiting  a joint interview,  when  Finch collapsed and died soon after in hospital, never regaining consciousness from his heart attack – for the  “mad prophet of the airwaves, 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.

  47. EG Marshall, Billy Jack Goes To Washington, 1976.  Not quite as dreadful as it sounds. But not good enough for a released (apart from two 1977 dates, LA and Milwaukee). For his fourth and final Billy Jack movie, Tom Laughlin  “re-made” the Capra classic and had the nerve to ask J Stewart to play the 1938 Claude Rains role of the adored (but crooked) Sentaor Joe Paine. Jim may have felt  the need to join The Big Sleep re-make the following year, but this one was far too sacrosanct for him to touch.
  48. Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City, 1979.  Jim was surprisingly among Paris auteur Louis Malle’s choices (Henry Fonda, James Mason Robert Mitchum, Laurence Olivier,) for the aging numbers runner (“a cellmate of Bugsy Siegel”) involved with Susan Sarandon as an oyster-bar waitress and an ex-Betty Grable lookalike. Made after the chagrin of losing his 20-year-old dream project, Victory, Malle’s little gem won five Oscar nominations in 1982. The bookies expected Burt to collect his second Academy Award.  Except Jane Fonda had been, drumming up support for her co-star  in…
  49. 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.”
  50. John McIntire, Honkytonk Man, 1982.    Directing and headlining, Clint Eastwood tried to rope in Stewart as Grandpa in  the Depresion piece. Jim passed him to McIntire.  (They‘d  made various films together including Anthony Mann’s The Far Country, Winchester 73 and John Ford’s 1960 Two Rode Together). Although a year younger than McIntire’s 75, Stewart 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.”
  51. 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.

  52. 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 and not keen on playing somone who dies. “ ‘Oh, gosh,” said director Phil Alden Robinson, “I would’ve told him he doesn’t die. Sort of. So, my next choice was Burt because Burt had been an athlete in his youth. I thought that was important to believe this guy could’ve had a shot at the big leagues.” Although too much of an insurance risk for Old Gringothe year before.  Lancaster filled in, superbly. “He was fun, he was sweet,” recalled actor Timothy  Busfield.  Those golden age guys – they show up, sit in the chair all day. They do their job and they go home.”   “Burt was not in good health that summer,” PAG told  Deadline’s Geoff Boucher.  “One of his first scenes was in his office, relating his dream of just once facing a big-league pitcher. The set was hot, it was late, he was tired, the lines were long, and he struggled with them. It was a two-and-a-half minute take, and we did nine of them. The first was pretty good, but it was as if it had taken all the effort he had. Takes two through eight were marked “n.g.”, or “incomplete.”  I was despairing of ever getting it the way I’d hoped, but on the ninth take, he summoned the magic from who-knows-where, and he was perfect. That voice, those eyes, his gestures, humor, pain and intelligence, it was all there. I watched from the left side of the camera, and I swear it was like an hallucination. I did not see the boom mic over his head, the lights and flags just out of frame, the crew hovering around. I saw only a close-up of a movie star on a large screen, mesmerising an audience. It’s the only time I’ve ever experienced that on a set.”  (PAG still found room for Jimmy via a Harvey clip on TV).





 Birth year: 1908Death year: 1997Other name: Casting Calls:  52