Jimmy Stewart was seen one night in 1933 in New York performing on stage as a female impersonator by an MGM talent scout. He was signed to a contract to come to California to work for the prestigious studio. Studio Head Louis B. Mayer expressed doubt when he first saw him,"He's so skinny! A beanpole." Efforts were made to put weight on him, the 133 pound actor was constantly sharing butterfingers candy bars with Ann Miller which seemed to fatten her up more than him.
If Mayer was unimpressed by his new star's physique, his behavior was a refreshing change compared to some of the prima donnas at MGM like the usually drunk Spencer Tracy, or the demanding to be alone all the time Greta Garbo. Stewart never complained about his salary or workload. Whatever the task be it screen tests or B-movies, he was always on time and knew his lines, although sometimes his trademark stammering lead to extra takes. If they loaned him to a lesser studio like Columbia, he was just happy to be working. Slowly, in the late thirties with great performances in Frank Capra movies like You Can't Take It With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington(1939), Stewart's star rose as did the respect for his talent. He became known as a swinging lady's man around town. Mayer was surprised and delighted by his Academy Award for the Philadelphia Story (1940) as well as his humble gesture of sending the Oscar statue home to Indiana, Pa. for his father to display in the Stewart family hardware store.
With the War breaking out in Europe moguls like Mayer were pressured by the US government to make films that were pro-British and anti-German. In exchange they were promised that the leading men in Hollywood would not be drafted. But Jimmy Stewart told Mayer that he intended to join the army. The Mogul, who was quite the actor himself tried to dissuade his growing asset from leaving. "Young Man, you will do so much more for the service men if you stay home and make films. They will need entertainment. James my boy, don't deprive them. And your salary, your contract, your MGM family, don't throw all that away." But despite being five pounds below the required weight Stewart insisted upon and received his induction to the armed forces (Due to the depression a lot of malnourished guys got in).
He would eventually transfer to the air corps and lead a thousand men into battle in the European theater, but the humble star began his military career as a buck private peeling potatoes. To join the service in in 1941, his MGM salary of $1500 was reduced by the army to $21 a week. Upon receiving his first payment Stewart immediately sent a check for two dollars and ten cents to his agent.
Stephen Schochet is the author and narrator of the audiobooks Fascinating Walt Disney and Tales Of Hollywood. The Saint Louis Post Dispatch says," these two elaborate productions are exceptionally entertaining." Hear realaudio samples of these great, unique gifts at www.hollywoodstories.com.