Remembering Hollywood Legend Jimmy Stewart
At Home on the Piano Bench
On August 17 the United States Postal Service released the latest stamp in its Legends of Hollywood Series. The honoree of this special stamp was Pennsylvania’s own legendary actor, Jimmy Stewart. Stewart, a native of Indiana, Pennsylvania died in 1997. He was a quintessential American film hero whose lanky physique, drawling speech and naturalistic acting style came to personify "Everyman." He starred in more than 80 movies. Stewart served as a pilot in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, winning multiple decorations.
In 1988 I had the opportunity of a lifetime to spend a few cherished moments with him.
On a cool, rainy spring morning in 1988 I walked into the lobby of The Madison Hotel in Washington, DC and saw sitting all alone on a piano bench a man wearing a dark trench coat and a hat. Thinking that the man resembled my favorite actor, Jimmy Stewart, I knew there was one way to find out - mention his hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania.
After mustering up the courage, I approached him and said “Mr. Stewart, it is a honor to meet you. I’m from Indiana, Pennsylvania.” As I started to come toward him, I could see the initial apprehension in his eyes, but when I mentioned Indiana, he smiled and stood up and shook my hand.
He took the time to talk with me - alone - for almost ten minutes. He talked about his 75th birthday party and the huge party his hometown held for him to celebrate and how he hoped he could come home again. He mentioned the people that he talked to on a frequent basis in Indiana.
Spending those few minutes with him, I sensed that he never really left his little small town in Pennsylvania. In the middle of that hotel lobby in Washington, DC, Jimmy Stewart was back home in Pennsylvania, talking to a total stranger about the memories of his hometown. I could sense what an enduring, pleasant impression his hometown of Indiana and native state of Pennsylvania left on him.
What an honor and distinction Pennsylvania has and what a fitting tribute the US Postal Service has given to Jimmy Stewart and his hometown. Indiana, Pennsylvania produced a man that is remembered today as a good, decent man, a war hero, and an actor who embodies honesty. The Washington Post remembered Jimmy Stewart as being “about enduring American values. He was about decency.” Can we really say that about any of the actors of today?
Through these few minutes alone with him I had the opportunity to see how his hometown of Indiana and his memories of Pennsylvania held a very special place in his heart.
My sentiments about Jimmy Stewart echo those of Dustin Hoffman, who at the American Film Institute Award Ceremony in 1980, said of Mr. Stewart: “You made my parents very happy. You made me very happy. I’m going to see to it that you make my children very happy.”
I would add: Indiana, Pennsylvania, you made Jimmy Stewart very happy.
By Clifford Frick, Administrative Director