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Hollywood Goes to War: Jimmy Stewart

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 7, 2023 3:00 am

Hollywood Goes to War: Jimmy Stewart

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 7, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, despite all his Hollywood fame and acting acclaim, Jimmy Stewart always said his greatest honor of his life was serving his country in WWII. Dr. Roger McGrath is here to tell the story.

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Order yours in the Starbucks app. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show. And this next story combines military history and cultural history. And tells the story of an actor we all know, Jimmy Stewart.

In 1946, by the way, he starred in It's a Wonderful Life. But only a year before and years before, he was serving in World War II. And in a dangerous job, a pilot running missions over Europe.

Bombing the heck out of the place. Here to tell the story of how Jimmy Stewart got there, about his life, is historian and regular contributor here at Our American Stories. Roger McGrath himself, a former Marine.

Here's McGrath. Jimmy Stewart was one of the most beloved actors in the history of Hollywood. Early in his career, he had the look of the boy next door. Guileless and innocent, honest and sincere. He matured into an everyman character. A regular guy dealing with daily life and the love and heartbreak of romantic relationships. Ultimately, he was the heroic figure.

Often standing alone against great odds and demonstrating courage and wisdom. Whether portraying a young man, a struggling husband, or the western hero. Jimmy Stewart always seemed like simply one of us. The quintessential American guy.

In real life, that's exactly what he was. James Stewart is born in May 1908 in Indiana. Not the state, but a small town of 6,000 people in western Pennsylvania, some 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.

The town of Indiana is surrounded by farms and coal mines. Stewart's father is a Spanish-American war veteran who runs a family hardware store established by his Civil War veteran father. Stewart's mother is a talented pianist who fills the Stewart household with music.

Jimmy learns to play an accordion, which a customer leaves at the hardware store in payment for a bill. Both sides of the family have a long record of military service since immigrating to the American colonies from Scotland and Ireland. Stewart becomes fascinated with aviation at a young age and loves building model airplanes instead of doing homework. His father decides he must buckle down and get into Mercersburg Academy, a prep school in south central Pennsylvania. Mercersburg is dedicated to preparing young men for college, especially the Ivy League schools. Stewart studies hard at Mercersburg, but also competes as a high jumper on the track team, is a member of several school clubs, and appears in school plays.

He thrives at the school despite coming down with scarlet fever and suffering a kidney infection, making the tall, skinny teenager even skinnier and causing a delight in his graduation. When Charles Lindbergh makes his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in late May 1927, Jimmy Stewart is home from school and listening to reports of the flight on the radio. Stewart tracks Lindbergh's progress on a map over the Atlantic, over Ireland and Britain, and right into Lindbergh's landing in Paris. Charles Lindbergh is Stewart's hero. Stewart wants to become a pilot upon graduation from Mercersburg, but his father insists on college. Stewart has accepted for admission to Princeton and begins classes at the prestigious Ivy League school in the fall of 1928. Stewart switches majors several times before settling on architecture. However, he's most passionate about appearing in school plays.

He acts, he sings, he plays the accordion. Led by Josh Logan, who is destined to become a Hollywood screenwriter and director, the Princeton boys take their plays on the road during the summer. Although of very different temperaments and personalities, Logan and Stewart become fast friends. After graduation from Princeton, Stewart devotes himself to the stage, appearing in ever bigger roles and usually receiving critical acclaim.

He shares an apartment in New York City with another young actor, Henry Fonda. Despite contrasting personalities and different political views, Stewart, a staunch Republican, and Fonda, a devoted Democrat, they become lifelong friends. Hollywood talent scout Bill Grady, who first sees Stewart act with the Princeton troupe, gets MGM to sign Stewart to a contract in 1935. Stewart appears in his first Hollywood movie that year, Murder Man, starring Spencer Tracy. In 1936, Stewart is in nine movies, including as the male lead opposite Margaret Sullivan in Next Time We Love. Sullivan is at the peak of her career, and she had insisted that Stewart be her male lead.

They have known each other for years, going back to her brief marriage to Henry Fonda. Sullivan recognizes Stewart's natural charm and quaint mannerisms, and helps him use those characteristics effectively on the screen. Audiences love the Jimmy Stewart persona. Stewart's last film of 1936, After the Thin Man, has him in an uncharacteristic role. He plays a murderer.

The husband-wife team of William Powell and Myrna Loy track him down. The role demonstrates Stewart can play more than lovable, homespun types. Stewart appears in only three movies in 1937, but one of them is a block office and critical smash success, Navy Blue and Gold. Stewart is in the role of a football player at the Naval Academy. He has arrived at Annapolis through the enlisted ranks. He's in Everyman, striving to improve himself and rise in life. Playing off the football theme, the New York Times declares Stewart's performance makes him a triple threat man in the MGM backfield. And you're listening to historian Roger McGrath.

The life of Jimmy Stewart continues here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to politics to innovation, culture and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Controlled substances like Adderall are not available through the Hers platform. This is Our American Stories, and we continue with the story of Jimmy Stewart. The year is 1937. After graduating from Princeton, Stewart devotes himself to acting, where he becomes soon a triple threat man in the MGM backfield. Here's McGrath with more of Jimmy Stewart's story. The triple threat man appears in 10 movies in 1938 and 39, mostly as the male lead in movie after movie. He delivers performances that receive critical acclaim.

He's called one of the most knowing and engaging young actors appearing on the screen and one of the finest actors of the screen's young roster. Stewart plays a male lead in Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You, which wins the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1938. He receives his first nomination for Best Actor with his performance in another Capra directed film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Stewart follows that with another smash success, Destry Rides Again. By 1940, Jimmy Stewart is well established as one of Hollywood's major stars. He appears in four movies that year, including two Hollywood classics, The Shop Around the Corner and The Philadelphia Story. For his performance in the latter, he receives the Academy Award for Best Actor. Stewart's at the top of Hollywood now.

Fame, money, women in the best roles are his. He makes two more movies that are released early in 1941 and then walks away from Hollywood and into an Army recruiting office. He has a pilot's license and a degree from Princeton University and tells the recruiter he wants to join the Army Air Corps. However, Stewart feels his physical. He seems to be in great shape.

What can be wrong? Standing six foot three and weighing only 138, he's underweight. The 33 year old movie star goes into hard training.

For him, it means eating high caloric foods and drinking vanilla malts. In March 1941, shortly after receiving his Oscar for Best Actor, Stewart reports for his second physical. I was ready to take him in a studio car, says Bill Grady, now a casting director, but he refused to let me take him in the limousine. He went by bus instead. I tailed after him. I waited. And when a medical officer came out, I asked him if Jimmy had made it. The officer told me he had made it by one ounce. What the officer didn't know was that Jim was so determined to make the wait that he hadn't been to the bathroom for 36 hours.

It had been torture, but it had put him over. Stewart soon emerges, gleefully shouting to Grady, I'm in, I'm in. By the end of March, the Oscar winning movie star is Private James Stewart and is sent for a week of processing at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. Already a civilian pilot, he is shipped to Moffett Field at the southern end of San Francisco Bay for training with the Army Air Corps. He excels in basic training and has made a squad leader. After a month, he learns that when he finishes basic training, he will be assigned to a film unit at Wright Field in Ohio. Stewart also learns that Louis Mayer, MGM mogul, had pulled strings in Washington to have Stewart assigned to a motion picture unit.

Mayer wants his star safe and sound. Stewart is outraged and meets with the commanding officer, Colonel E.B. Lyon. Stewart hands his pilot's license and his logbook to the colonel and tells him he wants to fly and fly in combat if it comes to that. Colonel Lyon says he will intercede in Stewart's behalf.

However, Lyon tells Stewart the problem is not only overcoming Louis Mayer's influence in Washington, but Stewart's age. Stewart is turning 33, which is normally too old for an air cadet. Lyon's strong appeal wins the day and Stewart is soon in pilot training. Stewart excels in all phases of flight training and passes his final check right by the middle of November 1941. The movie star is now a certified Army Air Corps pilot. In December, he's commissioned a second lieutenant.

It's also in December, but the Japanese launch their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States is now in the war and Stewart is ready to do his duty. In his Army Air Corps uniform, Stewart serves as a presenter at the Academy Awards in February 1942 and hands the Oscar for Best Actor to Gary Cooper for his role in Sergeant York. During the spring of 1942, Stewart has to resist several attempts to make him a public affairs officer.

Many in the Air Corps feel he would be of greater value at making public appearances than flying in combat. After repeated requests, he is assigned to bomber training, qualifying as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot by February 1943. Against his wishes, he's kept stateside as a flight instructor, flying both the B-17 and the B-24 Liberator until November 1943, when, as Captain James Stewart, he ships overseas as the CO of a squadron of Liberators in the 445th Bomb Group. They are based at Tippenham, 100 miles northeast of London. Navigator Steve Kirkpatrick describes Stewart as, "...a damn good commanding officer.

I always had a feeling he would never ask you to do something he wouldn't do himself." Stewart's first mission comes on December 13, 1943. He's part of a flight of several hundred B-24s that bomb submarine pens at the German port of Kiel. Stewart's B-24 suffers more than a dozen hits from flak, but no one is wounded and the plane, though full of holes, flies well enough to drop their bombs and turn for home. Stewart's second mission is on December 20.

The target for the day is the German industrial city of Bremen. Stewart's squadron is to hit an oil refinery in a shipbuilding facility. This time, on the way to the target, Stewart's plane is not only flying through flak, but is also attacked by German fighters, the ME-109 and the ME-110. It looks dire until American P-47 Thunderbolts chase off the Messerschmitts, but not before one made a pass so close that Stewart says he can count the rivets in her belly. The squadron's missions continue and the losses begin stacking up. B-24s are shot down by German fighters, knocked out of the sky by flak, ditch an English channel when limping on, crash into each other, and explode when fumes from leaking gas tanks ignite. Leaking gas in the B-24s is such a problem that bomb bay doors are frequently opened to allow fumes to escape. On Stewart's tenth mission, late in February 1944, he nearly escapes death.

The target for the day is a Messerschmitt factory deep inside Germany near Nuremberg. Anti-aircraft fire is especially concentrated and accurate. Stewart's liberator is taking hits, rocking, rolling, and shaking, when a tremendous explosion lifts the plane and fills the cockpit with smoke. A blast of icy air hits Stewart.

He looks down and sees a jagged hole that a basketball could pass through, inches from his left foot. He has a perfect view of the German landscape 20,000 feet below. Suddenly, anti-aircraft fire stops and German fighters, the Focke-Wulf 190, appear. A B-24 on Stewart's right is riddled with bullets and has a wing blown off. It flips over and, nose down, plummets toward the ground. Only one parachute is seen. Then on Stewart's left, a second B-24 is hit, and it too begins a death dive to the earth.

The fighters disappear, and the anti-aircraft fire returns. And you're listening to Roger McGrath. When we come back, more of the remarkable story of Jimmy Stewart, here on Our American Stories. exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share powerful perspectives from people living with the debilitating muscle weakness and fatigue caused by this rare disorder. Each episode will uncover the reality of life with Myasthenia Gravis. From early signs and symptoms to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and finding care, every person with MG has a story to tell. By featuring these real-life experiences, this podcast hopes to inspire the MG community, educate others about this rare condition, and let those living with it know that they are not alone. Listen to Untold Stories, Life with Myasthenia Gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Experience the power and design of the all-new, all-electric 2023 Nissan Ariya.

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Contact your dealer for local inventory information. Hi, I'm Kristen Bell. Getting help for my anxiety made me feel like myself again, but we have all sorts of reasons for putting off taking care of ourselves. I thought I could just keep pushing through my depression symptoms.

Let's push through dinner with the in-laws, not life. I don't want medication to change who I am. Understood, but what if it helps you feel like yourself again? I hoped my depression would just go away after a while.

Same, but for me, it was kind of like wishing away my taxes. I've thought about trying medication for my anxiety before, but I don't know where to start. I've got you. Through HERS, you can get a prescription 100% online if a medical professional determines it's right for you. And through the HERS app, you can message them at any time. There shouldn't be a stigma about taking medication for anxiety. Start your free assessment today at 4hrs.com slash care. That's 4hrs.com slash C-A-R-E. Prescriptions require an online consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if appropriate. Restrictions apply. See website for details and important safety information. Subscription required.

Controlled substances like Adderall are not available through the HERS platform. And we continue with our American stories. When we last left off, we were in the middle of Jimmy Stewart's 10th mission in February of 1944. Stewart is witnessing his unit of B-24 Liberators getting picked off in the sky by Nazi fighters.

Here again is Roger McGrath. A Liberator flown by Mac Williams, one of Stewart's oldest, most reliable pilots, takes a direct hit near the cockpit. Stewart thinks Williams must be dead and expects to see the plane nose over and plummet downward. To Stewart's astonishment, after rocking and shaking, the B-24 returns to straight and level flight.

Williams, or his co-pilot, must be alive. Despite all the damage, Stewart's plane has suffered. The engines continue to hum, and Stewart feels blessed relief when he finally reaches the English Channel.

Landing at Tippenham will not be easy, though. The plane's hydraulic system has been shot away. As Stewart approaches the field, the landing gear has to be hand-cranked down in control surfaces and brakes, muscled by cables without any hydraulic assist.

Stewart takes Tippenham's longest runway and needs every inch of it before the Liberator screeches to a halt. John Robinson, a crewman in Stewart's squadron, describes what the plane looks like. A tail of the ship was sticking up in the air, and the nose was sticking up in front. Just in front of the wing, at the flight deck, the airplane had cracked open like an egg.

The runway had aluminum scars where the plane had been dragged. Jimmy Stewart stood by the end of the airplane's left wing tip. As I walked up to him, he looked up at me and said, Sergeant, somebody sure could get hurt in one of those damn things. As squadron CO, Stewart also has to write letters to parents and wives of those in his command who die or are missing in action. It takes a great toll on Stewart. Although he has tried not to, these are men he has grown close to.

There is hope for some of the missing. When an airplane is shot down, everyone in the formation looks to see if men bail out and shoots open. Unlike the Japanese in the Pacific Theater of the war, German fighter pilots allow their enemy airmen in parachutes to float to the earth. Those floating down even report German pilots flying by and saluting them.

This gives Stewart some measure of comfort. During March 1944, Jimmy Stewart, now Major Stewart, begins flying in a specially equipped B-24 Liberator called a Pathfinder. A Pathfinder is equipped with radar and all the latest electronics and theoretically can conduct precision bombing even when the target is obscured by clouds. Late in March, flying a Pathfinder, Stewart leads 200 bombers to an aircraft manufacturing plant north of Berlin.

However, the undercast is pea soup thick and the bombardier tells Stewart, even with the plane's special equipment, hitting the plant will be unlikely. Rather than waste the bombs of 200 Liberators, Stewart orders the flight to follow him to the day's secondary target, Berlin. This will be the first time any of Stewart's boys get to hit Big B, as they call Berlin. Despite heavy flak, they drop 6,000 incendiaries and 600 bombs on the German capital. During April, Stewart is made operations officer of the 453rd Bomb Group, which is stationed at Old Buckingham, only six miles from the 445th at Tippenham. Now he has a responsibility for organizing and briefing four squadrons for their missions. Although he continues to fly, he now sweats out most missions at Old Buckingham Base. He may not be facing German fighters in flak, but watching the flight crews take off and fearing some will not return, gnaws at him every waking moment.

He says, all my efforts, all my prayers couldn't stand between them and their fates, and I grieved over them. Mechanical and electrical problems and fuel leaks plague the B-24 Liberator throughout the war. After repairs, it's always good to take a plane up for a check ride. Stewart takes one particularly troublesome B-24 up for a check ride himself. With Captain Handy Low in the co-pilot's seat with a clipboard and lists the systems to test, Major Stewart takes off from Old Buckingham and turns south towards Tippenham. As Stewart approaches his old base, Low says a wry smile comes upon the Major's face.

Again and again, Stewart buzzes the tower at Tippenham. Men pour out of base buildings to watch the wild man, who is soon identified as Major James Stewart. The 453rd is busy in May as preparations begin for the Normandy invasion. Stewart climbs into the cockpit and leads two missions himself. In June, he's promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and in July, he becomes the operational officer for the 2nd Combat Wing. He's now coordinating the missions of several bomb groups.

Nonetheless, he still flies missions himself. In December, he becomes Chief of Staff of the 2nd Combat Wing. In March, 1945, he's promoted to Colonel and becomes commanding officer of the 2nd Combat Wing. By then, he has flown 20 combat missions and twice been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and four times with the Air Medal. He also receives the Croix de guerre with palm from the French Air Force. By the end of August, 1945, Colonel James Stewart is back in the United States.

Friends say he has aged 10 years and has developed a hard edge. He remains in the Reserves and is promoted to Brigadier General in 1959, making him the highest ranking actor in American history. He flies as an observer in a B-52 during a bombing mission in Vietnam in 1966.

Two years later, he retires after 27 years of service. Most Americans today know nothing about James Stewart, decorated World War II pilot. He is only Jimmy Stewart, movie star. He continues to be after the war, starting with It's a Wonderful Life in 1946.

And later, such classics as Winchester 73, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Spirit of St. Louis, and Anatomy of a Murder. The American Film Institute names him the third greatest male star of all time. Despite all this, Hollywood fame, acting acclaim, Stewart always said his greatest honor of his life was serving his country in World War II, where he said, I met the most wonderful assortment of guys you'd ever want to know during those four years in the service. I came to know what went on in their minds and hearts. I shared their hopes and fears and privations as an enlisted man.

And I tried with all my might to lead and protect them when I became an officer. And what a story and a special thanks to Greg Hengler for all the great work he does bringing this story to you. And a special thanks also to Roger McGrath, author of Gunfighters, Heilman and Vigilante's Violence on the Frontier, a U.S. Marine and former history professor at UCLA, and a regular here on our show, The Life of Jimmy Stewart, his story and his greatest starring role ever as a war hero here on Our American Stories. For each person living with myasthenia gravis or M.G., their journey with this rare condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from I Heart Radio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with M.G. Host Martine Hackett will share these powerful perspectives from real people with M.G. so their experiences can help inspire the M.G. community and educate others about this rare condition. Listen to find strength and community on the M.G.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-07 04:15:18 / 2023-07-07 04:27:37 / 12

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