A WONDERFUL LIFE by Dr. Abidan Paul Shah
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on December 18, 2021)
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” Clarence to George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In our home, it is not Christmas until we have watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” at least twice on TV! I’m always touched by the character of George Bailey who sacrifices his dreams for others. However, the actor Jimmy Stewart who played the role was just as inspiring, if not more. Here are 5 little known “wonderful” facts about him:
- Jimmy Stewart grew up in the small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania. His father owned the Hardware store in town, passed down by his father. Jimmy once remarked, “My earliest memories are of hardware smells. The dry aroma of coiled rope. The sweet smell of linseed oil and baseball gloves. The acid tang of open nail kegs. When I open my nose, they all come back to me.” His small-town beginnings made him so likable by millions.
- Jimmy Stewart looked up to his dad. There were many instances when his father impacted him greatly, but one of the most influential was when a neighbor’s dog killed his dog, little Jimmy was almost ill with anger. He wanted to kill that dog. One night, his father took him behind their store and there was the dog tied in the alley. His dad gave him a rifle and “then stepped back for me to do my bloody work.” Jimmy saw the dog wagging his tail with his large brown eyes and “Suddenly the gun was too heavy for me to hold, and it dropped to the ground. The dog came up and licked my hand.” All three of them walked home without a word. “None was needed.” Jimmy always acknowledged the impact his dad made in his life.
- Jimmy Stewart chose to fight for his country. By the 1930s, World War 2 was brewing, and Jimmy was a Princeton graduate and a well-known actor. He could have easily gotten out of serving in the armed forces. He loved flying and transferred into the Air Corps, but they wouldn’t send him in harm’s way, because it would be a serious blow to morale to lose him in battle. He begged them and they reluctantly succumbed. He was so good that he became a squadron leader and led many bombing missions over Germany and France. During his years of service, he made many narrow misses and as a result, suffered from PTSD for years to come. He received many medals and retired at the rank of Brigadier General.
- Jimmy was dedicated to his wife Gloria. Other Hollywood stars at the time were going through their fourth and fifth marriages, but Jimmy Stewart was faithfully married to his wife for 45 years. Gloria had this to say about him: “Jimmy was working with some of the most glamorous women in the world. My constant fear I suppose was that he would find them more attractive than me and have an affair with one of them… I can honestly say that in all the years of our marriage Jimmy never once gave me cause for anxiety or jealousy. The more glamorous the leading lady he was starring opposite, the more attentive he’d be to me.”
- Jimmy had a spiritual side. His father was a strong Presbyterian. Although, he didn’t approve Jimmy’s going into show business, he was proud of him. When he came to visit him in Hollywood, he inquired, “Where do you go to church around here?” Jimmy stammered, “Well, I haven’t been going—there’s none around here.” His dad left for a little while and returned with four men – “You must not have looked very hard, Jim, because there’s a Presbyterian church just three blocks from here, and these are the elders. They’re building a new building now, and I told them you were a movie star and you would help them.”
In the movie, there is a scene where George is at the lowest point in his life and he prays, “God… God…dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God…” He later recollected that as he said those words, he felt the loneliness and the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and he broke down sobbing knowing that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless. Frank Capra, the director, knew that this was not an act, and there couldn’t be a second take. He captured it without coming near and spent extra time and money to enhance the frame for a closeup.
In a way, Jimmy Stewart was not playing the role of George Bailey; he was playing himself! This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the movie! Nothing could be more appropriate for where we are in this world. We need more Jimmy Stewarts. What a wonderful life!