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July 7, 2009

Jimmy Stewart and God

The actor discussed his faith and 'It's a Wonderful Life' in 1977 article

Remember the scene near the end of It's a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart, playing the role of George Bailey, breaks down in a pub, crying out to God in utter despair? (Watch the scene here; fast-forward to the 5:30 mark.)

Apparently Stewart wasn't really acting; those tears were real.

In this 1977 article that Stewart wrote for Guideposts, the actor recalls that George "is unaware that most of the people in town are arduously praying for him. In this scene, at the lowest point in George Bailey's life, Frank Capra was shooting a long shot of me slumped in despair. In agony I raise my eyes and following the script, plead, '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...'

"As I said those words, I felt the loneliness and hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless had reduced me to tears."

In the article, Stewart further discusses the making of the film, his faith, and how his dad held him accountable to attend church once he moved to LA from little Indiana, Pennsylvania. A good read about a fine man and a classic movie.

(Hat tip to Eric David.)


Nice to read about Jimmy Stewart. My mother had the pleasure of having him as a boss when he came to the Pentagon as an Air Force General working with public affairs.

James Stewart might have been a Christian but he was also a huge racist who had poor Hal Williams fired from his NBC show in 1971 just because the guy was black.

I read the whole article in Guidepost. I was emotionally touched reading this and knowing that Jimmy Stewart was a Christian. He truly had a wonderful life.

Commenting back to Linda-
If Jimmy Stewart was a racist he was not a Christian.
"Love your neighbor as yourself."
Love, the greatest commandment.
One can take a label and slap it on anything or anyone. It's the content -- the condition and manifestation of the heart -- that declares the truth of a person.
If a person has been wounded, lied to, mis-taught and trained to fear to the point of racism, that is the very person who needs the balm of Gilead, the healing love of Christ, without discrimination. I speak as a black woman who has experienced racism -- it is a monstrous evil that can be overcome only by perfect love, "which casts out fear."

Stewart was NOT a racist. There are several events related in the book "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" by Michael Munn that dismiss these accusations. For instance, there is one event that happened during the filming of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)" where a support actor referred to Woody Strode as "a n***er". Lee Marvin told to the author: "...He [the support actor] cried out, "Where is the n***er?" I could see Duke [John Wayne] was about the tear this guy's head off, but Jimmy [Stewart] got there first. I didn't know the guy could get so angry. He grabbed this actor by the shirt, tearing it, and he had to kind of get control of himself. But he was simmering - boiling. And he said, "Don't ever use that word around me again, or I might do something our director will regret because he'll have to replace you with an actor who's not all broken up and reshoot a helluva lot of expensive scenes." I liked Jimmy Stewart before that incident, but after it, I liked him a whole lot more."

I wouldn't believe Michael Munn (a hack journalist who specializes in sensational "biographies" of long-dead stars) because in his biography of Stewart he quotes Woody Strode saying the star WAS a racist, and then quotes Strode in his biography of John Wayne as saying he wasn't.

One of Stewart's best friends in Hollywood, Leonard Gershe, admitted the actor was just as racist as his father Alex was before him.

This is a purported excerpt from Munn's book.

NBC producer Hal Kanter was shocked when Stewart insisted on firing black actor Hal Williams from The Jimmy Stewart Show. Kanter recalled, "One day somebody comes running into my office and says you better get down and see Jimmy, he is absolutely furious. I go down to his dressing room, and he's really hot. The problem was he had just found out that we were casting Hal Williams and he related that to a script for a show in which there was a cop lashing into the professor character. 'Blacks are bossing white people all over the country,' he says to me angrily, 'and now we're going to have the same damn thing on prime time television? A black is going to be lecturing me with millions of people watching? No way. I get casting approval and Williams is out.' I couldn't believe it. Aside from everything else, he'd screwed up the shows, because Williams had been hired to play an FBI agent on another episode. But his anger about the thing was frightening. He acted chagrined when I told him about the mix up he'd made, but both of us knew that he'd let one cat out of the bag that he would have preferred not to. He didn't have an easy relationship with blacks even as fictional characters." Others had seen the cat at least in the bag for some time. Director John Ford had picked on Stewart's Achilles heel during the filming of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Readers of interviews over the years may have been struck by everything from his descriptions of the antics of "dusky" housekeepers before World War II, to his complaints during the 1960s and 1970s that motion pictures had fallen under the influence of special interest audiences, among them "teenagers and colored people." Beverly Hills friend Leonard Gershe recalled, "I don't think there's any question that Jimmy was uncomfortable with black people. But I wouldn't lay it all on Indiana, either. This is Beverly Hills, USA. It is possible to go to dinner parties for years and, except for maybe Gregory Peck's home, never run into a black person, even the rich ones like Sidney Poitier and Quincy Jones. When you consider that Jimmy has spent almost his entire life in either Indiana or Beverly Hills, and is of a certain generation, you're not talking about someone who figures to be particularly sensitive to race. Like a lot of people with his kind of mentality, any kind of militancy, like the civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s, made him very uneasy, were just another threat to the way he was used to living, like admitting women to Princeton."

I am impressed by the commenters here that have stood up against racism. I don't see that happen often. Thank you.

Stewart's struggle w/ prejudice could have been his "thorn in the flesh". Only Christ is perfect. I knew a retired pastor who served as a hospital chaplain in CA. He visited Stewart's room a number of times while the actor was a patient. He told me Jimmy would always initiate prayer and Bible reading. When I asked him if he thought Stewart was a Christian, he said, "Yes, I believe so." He wasn't one to say such a thing lightly.

To the many erroneous comments made here about Jimmy Stewart's so called racism, I say bunk! Having grown up and lived in So. Cal for many years and having witnessed and been affected by these liberals in hollywood and CA period, I can safetly say that because it was a well known fact that both John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart were strong conservatives and that the liberal leftists have tried to denigrate both these well loved Americans and have failed miserably, so they try their last avenue of hate filled lies...racism. For the stories mentioned here claiming racism, I have heard many other stories that that proclaim the opposite. Those people that I have heard telling the stories of anti-racism of both of these men were told by the persons directly involved in the situation, therefore I believe their story over the lying hollywood/media liberals whos agenda is to tear down anyone or institution that shows love of God and Country...America the Beautiful. When in doubt always go to original sources!

I just want to know why Stewart fired Williams from his show.

He DIDN'T have Williams fired from his show. Even Hal Williams himself said that James Stewart did NOT have him fired. Can't get much more proven than THAT.

Hmmm...I don't know waht to believe about Jimmy Stewart.It
wouldn't surprise me if he were a racist(Walter Brennan and Chill Wills,of Stewart's generation,were MAJOR white suprema-cists),but I've seen conflicting reports re. Stewart's role in the firing of Hal Williams from "The Jimmy Stewart Show,"
so I don't know Stewart's racial ideas for certain.He was,however,born in rural Indiana in 1894(I believe)and grew up during intense anti-African American sentiments often flared into violence,so he MAY have shared his era's racism,but for the nonce,I can't say with certitude that he did.

The idea that Jimmy Stewart was racist seems to be more of an accusation than fact. In wikipedia, they even said "He was controversially fired from The Jimmy Stewart Show in 1971 at the insistence of its star, James Stewart". Now, the important word is controversially. This, in this text was meant to conjecture that There was rumors of this, but not proven. If it was proven, they would not use controversially.

Plus, there are first hand accounts that Jimmy Stewart was a hardcore Christian. And, he is from Pennsylvannia in a town called Indiana, not Indiana, two different places.

Ok, so some say it was common to be racist, even if they are fervent Christian. That may be so, but if he did do it in a racist manner, it would have been in more press, Jimmy Stewart would have lost a lot of his popularity and finally, it is up to God to make the final decision to judge him, not us.

Only someone who has never been the victim of a multi-generational holocaust like "jim crow" racism in this country could have such glib attitudes about racism. It does matter that these white men "heroes" of film and legend were racist. It speaks volumes to where this country was during the era of these men and their fame. Re-writing history because it makes you more comfortable with idolizing Stewart, Wayne, etc. is wrong. Admitting their faults as human beings is ok and still allows you to honor their memory. As for me personally, I could never honor the memory of someone who supported the vile national disgrace that is slavery, jim crow and racisim in the USA; no matter how much I liked them as an actor, athlete, plumber or postal worker!

I wish I could have met Jimmy Stewart but I do have and watch his movies. He is a favorite actor of mine and I think he must have been an awesome person.

I was born and raised in Indiana, Pa... As a boy I remember that the Stewarts use to have a General Store where S&T bank now sits across from the new Indiana Courthouse. There were coopers,wagons a vet and all kinds of neat things in there for you to see. They would gladly accept your money regardless of color.
Anyway...Its known that Jimmy Stewart was as racist as his father Alex who was involved as a leader in the local KKK chapter preventing blacks from working in the mines. Theirs is a sordid history regardess of what he did on the west coast, how he's memorialized by someone who doesn't know the difference between Indiana, Pa and Indiana. or the pithy little museum now holds his relics and a Masonic lodge on the 6th floor ( Snuck up there when I was a kid when it used to be the library)