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 101st Birthday, Gregory Peck!

Gregory Peck was born Eldred Gregory Peck 101 years ago in La Jolla, California. Here are 10 GP Did-You-Knows:

  • Peck’s father, a druggist in San Diego, and his mother divorced when Peck was just five years old, and he was sent to live with his grandmother, who took him to the movies every week. He studied pre-med UC-Berkeley and there became interested in acting. While at UC Berkeley, Peck was a houseboy for the school’s chapter of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. (Atta boy, Greg!)
  • After graduating from UC-Berkeley, Peck moved to NYC to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse. He debuted on Broadway in 1942 in an Emlyn Williams play, The Morning Star. By 1943, he’d returned to Southern California, where he made his motion picture debut in the RKO film Days of Glory (1944).
  • Stardom came quickly for Peck, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his second film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). In all, he was nominated as Best Actor five times, finally winning the Academy Award in 1963 for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Peck was the first California native to earn the Best Actor nod.
  • Mockingbird was Peck’s favorite among his pictures, and he said of Atticus, “I can honestly say that in twenty years of making movies I never had a part that came close to being the real me until Atticus Finch.”
  • Peck, along with Dorothy McGuire, Mel Ferrer and David O. Selznick, was one of the founders of the La Jolla Playhouse. His busy schedule didn’t allow him to return to Broadway, but the Playhouse allowed him to occasionally scratch his itch to work in live theatre.
  • In 1969, Peck was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Peck, a liberal Democrat, strongly considered challenging Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, when Reagan ran for reelection in 1970, but decided against it at the last minute despite strong encouragement from state and national Democratic officials.
  • In 1980, Peck volunteered to be TV spokesperson for the then-struggling Chrysler Corporation out of concern for the 600,000 jobs that would be lost if the company went under.
  • In 1997, Peck was a presenter at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) awards ceremony. “It just seems silly to me,” he said at the time, “that something so right and simple has to be fought for at all.” Peck was also a vocal supporter of AIDS fund-raising efforts.
  • Peck was close friend to Michael Jackson for the final quarter-century of the pop star’s life, often going horseback riding with Jackson at the singer’s Neverland Ranch.

Happy birthday, Gregory Peck, wherever you may be!

Gregory Peck