James Stewart is perhaps one of Hollywood’s most famous actors from the Golden Years of movies. Born James Maitland Stewart, Jimmy was born on May 20, 1908, to Alexander Maitland Stewart and Elizabeth Ruth Jackson in Indiana, Pennsylvania. He had two younger sisters, Virginia and Mary. Their father, Alexander, had owned a hardware store, encouraging young Jimmy to take on the business. His mother, Elizabeth, was a talented pianist, and although Jimmy had taken an interest, he learned to play accordion instead, a gift from a friend. One hobby young Jimmy had was building model airplanes, since aviation was a passion of his and would be one of the defining characteristics of him.
He began his acting career in acting in 1932, appearing on Broadway. His first movie was in 1934, called ‘Art Trouble.’ Throughout the 1930’s Jimmy performed for MGM in a variety of movies. In 1935, following his desire for aviation, learned to fly airplanes. That, and being born to an extensive military family with ancestors who fought in battles as far back as the American Revolution, influenced him to join the United States Army Air Force in 1940. Initially, he was refused from service for being underweight (around 140lbs) at six-foot-three. When he was accepted into the USAAF, he was placed as a pilot trainer in smaller, twin-engine bombers, and later on in B-17s and B-24s. Later on, he and his unit saw combat over Germany towards the end of the war.
This military career influenced his later movies, such as ‘Strategic Air Command,’ a 1954 movie based loosely off of Jimmy’s life, when a former B-24 pilot is recalled into service with the Strategic Air Command, flying B-36s and later B-47s. Although this never actually happened to Jimmy, he was still in the Air Force Reserves until 1959, when he was finally retired. He died at the age of 89 in 1997.