Back Story of The Wonderful Life

December 18, 2015

Most of us remember actor Jimmy Stewart in his role as suicidal bank president in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Around the country, replaying that old classic movie is a Christmas tradition for many American families.

In real life, he graduated from Princeton University with a degree in architecture, a field in which he would never work. God had other roles in mind for this great man.

Patriot Jimmy Stewart left his Hollywood career to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps. At the outset of the draft, he

James Maitland Stewart (1908-1997) | B-24 Pilot, Flight Instructor & Patriot
James Maitland Stewart (1908-1997) | B-24 Pilot, Flight Instructor & Patriot

was turned away due to his being under-weight for the Army. Citizen Stewart worked to gain weight, engorging himself with all manner of food to make himself eligible for military service. He was the first of the entertainment industry to get into WWII military service.

Citizen Stewart worked to gain weight, engorging himself with all manner of food to make himself eligible for military service. At at time when other movie actors would run from military service, this citizen wanted desperately to serve his country. His desire was to be a pilot, but  by the time he successfully enlisted, he was too old for flight training. However, years earlier he learned to fly and bought an airplane. As a serious civilian pilot, he worked to earn his commercial pilot license. His aviator qualifications overcame the age handicap; Stewart went on to be a very effective B-24 Liberator bomber pilot and leader rising to the rank of Colonel during the war. After the war he continued to serve in the U.S. Air Force Reserve where he rose to the rank of Brigadier General.

Over his professional acting career, he starred in 80 films, yet it’s his role as George Bailey I wish to highlight.

That barroom scene where George Bailey wept with tears as he prayed will have more meaning to you after you view this short movie clip of that famous scene and you read what Jimmy Stewart said about his tears.

As Paul Harvey would have said, here’s the rest of the story.

“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.”

Those tears were real. Frank Capra did not shoot the scene a second time to capture George Bailey’s emotions. Instead, he reframed that scene – zoomed in as youngsters say – creating a grainy appearance to only that scene.

Jimmy Stewart was many things: airplane pilot, war hero, a famous actor, ardent Republican – and, he was more. Jimmy was a devout Christian, a member of the Presbyterian denomination.

God bless the memory of James Maitland Stewart. God bless America. God Bless Texas. God bless the reader of this blog.

Merry Christmas, my fellow Americans.

John White

Rockwall, Texas

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