Happy 109th Birthday, James Stewart!

The great James Stewart was born 109 years ago today in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He remains one of the most popular actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age (and a favorite here at Cladrite Radio). Here are ten JS Did-You-Knows:

  • James Stewart was the first prominent actor to enlist in the military during World War II. He joined the Army eight months before Pearl Harbor and served overseas for 21 months, where, as a pilot with the 445th Bomb Group, 703rd squadron, he flew 20 combat missions and rose to the rank of colonel.
  • Stewart held the highest active military rank of any actor in history. After World War II, he continued serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, ultimately attaining the rank of brigadier general.
  • James Stewart attended Princeton University, where he graduated in 1932 with a degree in architecture.
  • Stewart was a member of Princeton’s Triangle Club, a musical-comedy theater group. A 1931 recording exists of Stewart performing the song Day After Day with the Princeton Triangle Club Dance Orchestra (regular listeners to Cladrite Radio have heard this recording).
  • Stewart played the accordion and hoped to do demonstrate his facility with the instrument in the 1957 picture Night Passage, but his playing was dubbed by a professional musician.
  • James Stewart wore the same hat in all of his westerns.
  • Stewart was very conservative, politically, supporting such presidential candidates as Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
  • James Stewart was originally in line to play Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest, but because Vertigo had not done well at the box office, director Alfred Hitchcock went with Cary Grant instead.
  • Stewart was a bachelor until age 41, but his marriage to former model Gloria Hatrick McLean was a happy one.
  • James Stewart’s Best Actor Oscar statuette (The Philadelphia Story, 1940) was on display in the window of his father’s hardware store for 25 years.
  • The word “Philadelphia” on that statuette was misspelled.

Happy birthday, Mr. Stewart, wherever you may be.

James Stewart

This story was first published in slightly different form in 2016.

Happy 112th Birthday, Henry Fonda!

Henry Fonda was born Henry Jaynes Fonda 112 years ago today in Grand Island, Nebraska. Here are 10 HF Did-You-Knows:

  • Fonda and James Stewart were roommates early in their careers, first in New York and later in Hollywood, and were both known as ladies’ men. Their political views were diametrically opposed—Fonda was liberal, Stewart conservative—and after a argument over Hollywood blacklisting threatened to end their friendship in 1947, the pair agreed never to discuss politics again.
  • As a young man in Omaha, Henry Fonda studied acting with Marlon Brando‘s mother, Dorothy.
  • Fonda’s first wife was actress Margaret Sullavan; the two separated after just two months of marriage.
  • Henry Fonda’s Dutch ancestors settled the still-extant town of Fonda, New York, in the early 1600s. Fonda also had English, Scottish, and Norwegian ancestry. The town of Fonda is situated 44 miles northwest of Albany, N.Y. and 54 miles southeast of Utica, N.Y.
  • Among Fonda’s hobbies were bee-keeping and building model airplanes.
  • Henry Fonda enlisted in the Navy in World War II, saying, “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio.” He was a recipient of the Bronze Star, the fourth highest award for bravery or meritorious service in conflict with the enemy.
  • Fonda holds the record for the longest gap between acting Oscar nominations: His first nomination was for The Grapes of Wrath in 1940, his second for On Golden Pond in 1981.
  • Though his movie career last more than 50 years, Henry Fonda continued to work in the theatre from time to time, as long as his health allowed it. From his debut on the Great White Way in 1929 to his final stage appearance in 1978, Fonda appeared in 16 Broadway productions.
  • Fonda was offered the role of George in the original Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? His agent turned it down without consulting him, and Fonda was furious.
  • Fonda won one Best Actor Academy Award (he was nominated another time), a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and one Tony award. He also won honorary lifetime achievement awards from the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Tonys and the American Film Institute.

Happy birthday, Mr. Fonda, wherever you may be!

Henry Fonda

This story originally appeared in a slightly different form in May 2016.

Happy 115th Birthday, Thelma Ritter!

The inimitable Thelma Ritter was born 115 years ago today in Brooklyn (natch), New York. She was a spectacular character actress, bringing a touch of magic to everything she appeared in with her portrayals of a very particular type of world-weary, wise and wisecracking New Yorker. Here are 10 TR Did-You-Knows:

  • Ritter began acting at an early age, appearing in high productions and stock theatre in the New York area before studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
  • Ritter found work on the stage in her early years, but took a hiatus from acting to raise her two children with former actor and advertising executive Joseph Moran. Ritter and Moran were married for 42 years until her death in 1969.
  • When money was tight early in their marriage, Ritter and Moran made a practice of entering the advertising slogan and jingle contests that were so prevalent at the time.
  • Once her children were of age, Ritter returned to stock theatre and also found work in radio, but it was her first motion picture role, a small part as a harried shopper in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), that sparked her ascent as an actress. She was 45 years old.
  • From 1953-1961, Ritter was nominated six times for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar without ever winning. Deborah Kerr was also nominated six times, but for Best Actress, and Glenn Close has been nominated three times each in those two categories. Like Ritter, Kerr never won an Oscar, and Close, too, has come up empty so far.
  • Four of Ritter’s Oscar nominations came in consecutive years—1950-53—a feat achieved by just four other actors: Jennifer Jones (1943-1946), Marlon Brando (1951-1954), Elizabeth Taylor (1957-1960) and Al Pacino (1972-1975).
  • Ritter did win a Tony in 1958 in the Best Actress (Musical) category for her work in the show New Girl in Town. She tied for the award with her costar, Gwen Verdon.
  • Though she was fourth-billed in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rear Window, under James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Wendell Corey, Ritter received the highest salary of any member of that picture’s cast: $25,694.
  • In addition to her work in the theatre, in picture and in radio, Ritter was active on television in the 1950s and early ’60s, on such programs as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, and The United States Steel Hour.
  • Director George Seaton helmed both Ritter’s first movie, the aforementioned Miracle on 34th Street, and her last, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968).

Happy birthday, Thelma Ritter, wherever you may be!

Thelma Ritter

Happy 108th Birthday, James Stewart!

The great James Stewart was born 108 years ago today in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He remains one of the most popular actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age (and a favorite here at Cladrite Radio). Here are ten trivia tidbits about James Stewart:

  1. James Stewart was the first prominent actor to enlist in the military during World War II. He joined the Army eight months before Pearl Harbor and served overseas for 21 months, where, as a pilot with the 445th Bomb Group, 703rd squadron, he flew 20 combat missions and rose to the rank of colonel.
  2. Stewart held the highest active military rank of any actor in history. After World War II, he continued serving in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, ultimately attaining the rank of brigadier general.
  3. James Stewart attended Princeton University, where he graduated in 1932 with a degree in architecture.
  4. Stewart was a member of Princeton’s Triangle Club, a musical-comedy theater group. A 1931 recording exists of Stewart performing the song “Day After Day” with the Princeton Triangle Club Dance Orchestra (regular listeners to Cladrite Radio have heard this recording).
  5. Stewart played the accordion and hoped to do demonstrate his facility with the instrument in the 1957 picture Night Passage, but his playing was dubbed by a professional musician.
  6. James Stewart wore the same hat in all of his westerns.
  7. Stewart was very conservative, politically, supporting such presidential candidates as Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
  8. James Stewart was originally in line to play Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest, but because Vertigo had not done well at the box office, director Alfred Hitchcock went with Cary Grant instead.
  9. Stewart was a bachelor until age 41, but his marriage to former model Gloria Hatrick McLean was a happy one.
  10. James Stewart’s Best Actor Oscar statuette (The Philadelphia Story, 1940) was on display in the window of his father’s hardware store for 25 years.
  11. The word “Philadelphia” on that statuette was misspelled.

Happy birthday, Mr. Stewart, wherever you may be.

James Stewart