The Favorite Son of Indiana, Pa.

Rick Sebak notes the ongoing connection between beloved actor Jimmy Stewart and his hometown.



photo: shutterstock
 

The actor Jimmy Stewart could be considered a skinny cousin to Santa Claus. They’re both legendary good guys — and if you forget about either of them for most of the year, chances are, you will be reminded of them in December. Stewart traditionally shows up in TV broadcasts of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a beloved movie that celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.        

Unlike Santa with his North Pole origins, however, James Stewart was born up the road in Indiana, Pa., where a museum now documents his careers as a Hollywood actor and an Army Air Force pilot during World War II. There’s an impressive, 9-foot-tall bronze statue of Stewart next door to the museum in front of the Indiana County Courthouse, a good indication of how much his hometown reveres him as a favorite son.

Since 2009, you’ll also hear Jimmy’s voice at several street corners in the borough, telling you when the walk signal is on.
(Technically, the voice is that of famous impressionist Rich Little, but the Stewart-esque admonition to “take your time” is a nice touch.)

Born James Maitland Stewart on May 20, 1908, the movie star was the son of Elizabeth and Alexander Stewart. Jimmy’s grandfather established the J.M. Stewart & Co. Hardware Store (also known as the “Big Warehouse”) on Philadelphia Street in downtown Indiana; Jimmy’s father ran that same three-storied store until his death in 1961.

While studying architecture at Princeton University, Stewart started performing at magic shows and theatrical productions, played accordion and met Josh Logan, who invited him to spend a summer on Cape Cod with a theatrical group called the University Players.

Stewart went on to New York City and began getting parts in Broadway shows, eventually getting noticed by talent scouts. In the mid-1930s, he got a screen test that led to his signing on with MGM as a contract player in the old studio system. From 1935 until 1939, he made 29 movies including “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” “Destry Rides Again” and “The Philadelphia Story,” for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1941. (Jimmy sent his Oscar statue to his father, who famously displayed it in the front window of the hardware store for many years.)

In 1941, Jimmy Stewart enlisted in the Army. As a pilot in the Air Corps, he flew at least 20 missions over cities in Germany in a B-24 bomber; he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as the French Croix de Guerre for his efforts. He stayed in the Air Force Reserve for many years, rising to the rank of Brigadier General.

After the war, Stewart wasn’t sure if he’d go back to acting or not — but Frank Capra had a role for him, and he returned to Hollywood to make “It’s A Wonderful Life.” He often confessed it was his favorite of all his movies. Stewart would continue acting in his inimitable style for many years, making more westerns, the unusual classic “Harvey,” and several Hitchcock thrillers, including “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.” At the Jimmy Stewart Museum, the docents will tell you that he made a total of 81 major motion pictures.

Jimmy Stewart made his last visit to Indiana in May 1983 for his 75th birthday — when the statue was unveiled (even though the final bronze casting was not yet finished). He died in 1997 at age 89 at his home in Beverly Hills. The front door from that house, as well as many photos taken there, are on display at the museum in Indiana. 
 

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance.
The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

Tracing the story of the chain back to its roots — which, surprisingly, are not in Pittsburgh.
In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

After making films focused on Pittsburgh, Sokolow is rising through the ranks of U.S. women documentarians.
Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Salem’s offers accessible and delicious meals for Pittsburghers of all stripes.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

1,000 Points Earns Crosby His Own Primanti Bros. Sandwich

1,000 Points Earns Crosby His Own Primanti Bros. Sandwich

Unlike previous Penguins-inspired sandwiches, Crosby’s “The Captain” could be on the menu for years to come.
Pittsburghers Get Fewer Robocalls Than The National Average

Pittsburghers Get Fewer Robocalls Than The National Average

Next time you get a call from a telemarketer, just be thankful you don’t live in Atlanta.
Four Pittsburgh Chefs Honored on James Beard Long List

Four Pittsburgh Chefs Honored on James Beard Long List

The four are semifinalists for James Beard Foundation Awards, considered the most prestigious of the nation's culinary honors.
Is Pittsburgh About to Become the Next Detroit?

Is Pittsburgh About to Become the Next Detroit?

No offense to the motor city, but auto companies are eyeing the steel city to develop the next generation of driverless vehicles.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance.
The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

Tracing the story of the chain back to its roots — which, surprisingly, are not in Pittsburgh.
In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

After making films focused on Pittsburgh, Sokolow is rising through the ranks of U.S. women documentarians.
Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Salem’s offers accessible and delicious meals for Pittsburghers of all stripes.
Pittsburgh Penguins Share Tips for Parenting on Ice

Pittsburgh Penguins Share Tips for Parenting on Ice

In a year when youth-hockey participation is expected to increase, Pittsburgh Penguins players weigh in on the role of the hockey parent.
Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

There’s a magical, snowy landscape right in your backyard.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


1,000 Points Earns Crosby His Own Primanti Bros. Sandwich

1,000 Points Earns Crosby His Own Primanti Bros. Sandwich

Unlike previous Penguins-inspired sandwiches, Crosby’s “The Captain” could be on the menu for years to come.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Union Standard Will Open This Weekend

Union Standard Will Open This Weekend

The highly anticipated restaurant from Derek Stevens opens is located in the Union Trust building Downtown.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Social House 7 Is Okay ... But There's This Really Weird Thing About It

Social House 7 Is Okay ... But There's This Really Weird Thing About It

While it's not among Downtown's best, Social House 7 is a fine place for a drink and a bite — but we're stuck on a bizarre element of the décor.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Love Affair Between Pittsburgh & Keisel is a Two-Way Street

Love Affair Between Pittsburgh & Keisel is a Two-Way Street

Where else but Pittsburgh would a football player, two years removed from his playing days, be able to raise about $85,000 in one night for the staging of an event that involves the gathering of a crowd to watch a man shave?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Check out the chic decor from Pittsburgh-based artist and designer Janice Nelson.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Great Wall Crumbles, Fist Fight Whiffs

Great Wall Crumbles, Fist Fight Whiffs

Reviews of "The Great Wall" and "Fist Fight," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Our Favorite Unique Centerpiece (That’s Not Flowers)

Our Favorite Unique Centerpiece (That’s Not Flowers)

This couple’s centerpiece from our Real Pittsburgh Weddings shines brighter than the traditional table bouquet.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
The Candle Lab Ready To Make Its Debut in Lawrenceville

The Candle Lab Ready To Make Its Debut in Lawrenceville

The Columbus-based store, where you can customize your own candle fragrance, is expected to open in March.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at ‘Fences’

Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at ‘Fences’

An art director from Warner Bros. Studios will visit La Roche College to talk about the Oscar-nominated film with ties to Pittsburgh.

Comments