Stewart, Jimmy: How Director Anthony Mann Changed his Screen Image

If John Ford was the most important director in John Wayne and Henry Fonda’s careers, no single director played such pivotal function in Jimmy Stewart’s. 

Anthony Mann directed the largest number of Stewart’s films, nine (out of 80 pictures or so), turning Stewart into the third major star of the Western genre, next to Wayne and Gary Cooper, in the l950s. 

Two of the nine movies were popular biopictures: The Glenn Miller Story and Strategic Air Command, the life story of Lt. Colonel Robert Holland. 

Early on in his career, Stewart worked with Frank Capra on three crucial (all classic) films: You Can’t Take It with You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life, and was responsible for defining and shaping the early, pre-WWWII Stewart screen persona. 

Later on in his career , Stewart worked with Alfred Hitchcock, who used him to great effect in four movies, including Rear Window and Vertigo, films that brought completely different aspects of his image than Capra’s films.  These Hitchcock movies were such blockbusters that they contributed to Stewart’s box-office popularity much more than his Westerns for Mann.

Hitchcock’s other favorite actor was Cary Grant, whom he directed in two l940s classic thrillers, Suspicion and Notorious, and brought out of semi-retirement in the l950s with To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest, the latter featuring one of Grant’s most memorable roles. 

Cary Grant, like Stewart, did his best work in the late l930s, and then in the l950s.  Indeed, he was cast most effectively by Hawks in a series of zany comedies, such as Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, and I Was a Male War Bride  Significantly, Hawks excelled in directing two radically different genres: Westerns and comedies.  And in each, he had a favorite star: Grant in comedies, and Wayne in Westerns.