Oscar Actors: Stewart, Jimmy–Making of a Star; Pay Before and After Military Service

The Making of a Star:

Jimmy Stewart rise to fame and stardom was slow but progressive and forward-moving.

In his debut screen role, The Murder Man (1935), he was billed ninth in the cast.

During the first phase of his career, he played second bananas to Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, and even Robert Taylor, all stars under contract to MGM, Hollywood’s top studio.

In most of these roles, he usually played the boyfriends (or friends or former beaus) of the leading males’ women.

Stewart received star billing for the first time in 1939 in the Western comedy, Destry Rides Again, opposite Marlene Dietrich, who was labeled “box-office poison” the two years before that. In the same year, he made the hugely successful movie, Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

However, After Destry Rides Again, Stewart was billed again second, to Margaret Sullavan in Lubitsch’s classic, The Shop Around the Corner.

In 1941, right after winning the Best Actor Oscar for The Philadelphia Story, Stewart’s reported Hollywood income was $12,000 a month.  The joke in the industry was that, as a private in the military, he got paid $21 a month, thus taking a huge pay cut of $11,979.

After the War, he worked out an original payment plan, later emulated by other actors, whereby he would receive a percentage of the net profits, instead of a flat paycheck of $250,000 per picture.  Stewart’s new financial strategy made him one of Hollywood’s highest paid entrepreneurial actors and businessmen, due to the fact that his pictures were very popular at the box-office.

Once he went to Hollywood, Stewart said that he didn’t miss much stage work, though he did have a number of theatrical comebacks.