To get some idea of how much Hollywood revered James Stewart, one could do worse than check out the quotes on the back jacket of author Marc Eliot’s 2006 biography of the actor, to which we are indebted both for yesterday’s quiz questions and today’s answers.
Wrote director Frank Capra: “Probably the best actor who’s ever hit the screen.” Actress Kim Novak: “He was not an actor…he was the real thing.” From the seen-’em-all tv host Johnny Carson: “He was one of the nicest, most unassuming persons I have ever known in my life.”
Now that you have some idea of what we are dealing with, here are the answers to the 10 questions posed in yesterday’s James Stewart Quiz. He was a rarity, an extraordinarily talented man who was at the same time a personal prince. Now to our answers.
1) Question: Stewart was famously past 40 by the time he got around to marrying his one and only wife, Gloria. Their romance had an unusually rocky beginning. Why? a) She was Jewish while Stewart was Protestant; b) She was immediately turned off by the way he picked his nose in public; c) She had a large police dog who took an instant dislike to the actor; or d) They argued frequently about politics.
1) Answer: c) Gloria Hatrick McLean had a large German police dog who took one look at Stewart, and charged. Figuring he first had to woo the dog to get to its owner, the actor took to serving the canine steaks from Chasen’s restaurant, “prattled baby talk to him. Praised him. It got to be pretty humilating.” But it worked. The couple was married on Aug. 9, 1949, and remained so until her death in 1994.
2) Question: Stewart’s onscreen populism is due to the fact that he was raised by a rural, working class family. a) True; or b) False?
2) Answer: b) False. As author Eliot writes: “Although Stewart was from a small town in western Pennsylvania…his lineage was, in fact, quite urban and sophisticated. Both sides of his family tree are rife with educated, self-made millionaires, beautiful women, perceptive land developers, adept businessmen…” Stewart’s father, Alexander, owned and operated a popular hometown hardware store.
3) Question: The actor loathed the studio system, and felt he was being financially exploited at every turn. a) True; or b) False?
3) Answer: b) False. Thanks to his powerful and canny agent Lew Wasserman, Stewart pioneered the way for a major star to consistently and lucratively work outside the studio system. But he actually liked the studio system overall, which discovered him and paid him well in his early years.
4) Question: Vertigo, the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock movie that provided Stewart the vehicle for his finest screen performance, was described by one powerful studio head as “a piece of crap.” Who is this misguided creature? a) Louis B. Mayer; 2) Darryl F. Zanuck; c) Harry Cohn; or 4) Jack Warner.
4) Answer: c) Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures. He was not especially known for his vast good taste.
5) Question: Although beloved by many, Stewart was never a top movie box office personality. a) True; or b) False?
5) Answer: b) False. Stewart was big box office. In 1955, trade journal Motion Picture Herald named Stewart the “king” of Hollywood because he earned the most money of any single actor in 1954. That was due largely to those profit-percentage movie deals arranged by agent Wasserman for Winchester ’73, Bend of the River, Thunder Bay, Harvey, The Glenn Miller Story and Rear Window.
6) Question: Didn’t the normally faithful Stewart admit to an affair with Rear Window costar Grace Kelly? a) True; or b) False.
6) Answer: a) False. Stewart admitted to being unusually attracted to Grace Kelly, who had the reputation of sleeping with her leading men without regard to either age or marital status. All the actor would say at the time was that he was a happily married man. Kelly and Mrs. Stewart later became friends and remained on friendly terms for the rest of Kelly’s life.
7) Question: In which of his movies did Stewart deal with homosexuality? a) 1939’s Destry Rides Again; b) 1948’s Rope; c) 1958’s Bell Book and Candle; or d) 1948’s On Our Merry Way.
7) Answer: b) Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film, Rope. Stewart plays Rupert Cadell, a school instructor to two young man (Farley Granger and John Dall), who elicits the truth about a murder the pair committed. Granger and Dall were gay, and their portrayals of the killers left little to the imagination. Stewart’s character was certainly ambiguous. The movie was not among Stewart’s favorites.
8) Question: Stewart won a best actor Oscar for 1940’s The Philadelphia Story, and was nominated for his work in four other titles. Which one of these did NOT earn the actor an Oscar nomination? a) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence; b) Mr. Smith Goes To Washington; c) It’s A Wonderful Life; d) Harvey; or e) Anatomy of a Murder?
8) Answer: a) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.
9) Question: Stewart’s most enduring holiday film, It’s A Wonderful Life, with Donna Reed (seen above), was an instant box office sensation when it first came out largely because audiences hungered for a challenging Christmas movie. a) True; or b) False.
9) Answer: b) False. When It’s A Wonderful Life first came out in 1946, it did not perform well at the box office. Hollywood considered it a flop. In fact, according to director Frank Capra’s son, the movie was not designed expressly as a Christmas or holiday picture. At the time, the movie put a dent in Stewart’s career.
10) Question: Stewart was never movie regarded as a movie sex symbol. a) True; or b) False?
10) Answer: a) True. While Stewart was widely regarded as a leading man, he was never a sex symbol the way Clark Gable and Cary Grant were. As author Eliot observes: “Just the opposite, in fact; he represented the very epitome of on-screen Puritanism Americana.”