The Jimmy Stewart Museum: News

Act 2, Scene 2 - Autumn 1999

The Radio Career of Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart has said that radio was his favorite medium after the movies. His radio career spanned seven decades, from his performance in only one scene of Yellow Jack in 1934 to his It's a Thankful Life Thanksgiving special which aired on November 22, 1990. Perhaps the radio show Jimmy Stewart appeared on most frequently was the Lux Radio Theatre. His first appearance on that program was in June 1937.

Week after week CBS' showcase program played to audiences of 36 million. In the course of some 900 programs, the show established a radio genre with Cecil B. DeMille at its center. Overcoming the problem of compressing feature-length films into a one hour radio show, the program spread to over 65 stations in the United States and 29 in Canada. In addition to bringing in the Hollywood stars, the program also developed its own company of players. James Stewart appeared in a number of Lux Theatre productions, including Destry Rides Again, It's a Wonderful Life and Winchester '73.

Screen Guild Theatre ran back to back with Lux Radio Theatre and they were similar in drawing Hollywood stars to repeat film roles for radio. For a Lux appearance, an actor might earn as much as $5,000; for a Screen Guild role, the performers donated their salaries to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, primarily for the support of the Motion Picture Country Home for retired actors.

MGM's promotional program Good News of 1938 was frequently hosted by James Stewart. Various MGM stars with pictures about to be released appeared as guests on the show to promote their films and MGM in general. The regulars on the program included Fanny Brice, Ray Bolger and Frank Morgan. Identified variously as The Maxwell House Hours, The Maxwell House MGM Hours, Film Stars on Parade and Good News of 1938, the show, according to Variety, had a substantial budget for talent - $25,000 per episode.

Jimmy Stewart enlisted in the Army Air Corps in March 1941. Before being shipped overseas, Stewart appeared in a number of radio programs in support of the war effort. In December 1941, he served as host for the radio program We Hold These Truths. The program was a tribute to the Bill of Rights on its 150th birthday, and the program drew the largest audience in the then history of radio, over sixty million people. At the end, much in the manner of Jefferson Smith, Stewart gave an impassioned speech for American democracy. Cpl. James Stewart then introduced the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Lt. James Stewart hosted The Chase and Sanborn Hour, broadcast from the Army Air Force Base at Stockton Field, California. The show was designed to promote enlistments in various branches of the military.

Letter at Midnight ran from February to July 1942. Lt. James Stewart appeared on this program which depicted the bravery and courage of an American soldier writing to the folks back home and describing his reasons for fighting the enemy.

The Your Air Force - This is War documentary appeared on April 4, 1942 with Lt. James Stewart. In July 1942 Jimmy Stewart appeared in uniform for the Lux Radio Theatre presentation of The Philadelphia Story. Also during the summer of 1942, Jimmy Stewart narrated documentaries for the Office of War Information.

Stewart's first post war radio appearance was the Lux Radio Theatre version of Destry Rides Again. He had declined MGM's offer of a new contract after the war and remained independent. He also stayed unemployed for several months. Fortunately for him, radio was there to supply some roles while he waited for a screen part. The job offer finally came from Frank Capra for It's a Wonderful Life.

On April 4, 1948, the Theatre Guild of the Air, broadcast The Philadelphia Story, sponsored by the U. S. Steel Company as a homecoming performance for James Stewart. The program was broadcast from Pittsburgh with 8,000 people in the audience. Over 30,000 had requested tickets. His hometown of Indiana took the opportunity to honor their native son, making him Honorary Superintendent of Police.

Another philanthropic appearance was A Christmas Program which first aired on Christmas Eve 1948 from the Presbyterian Church of Brentwood. This program became an annual event, and was a fundraiser for the church.

There were also a number of variety shows that Stewart appeared on beginning with the Kraft Music Hall in 1937. Bing Crosby's variety show, Bob Hope's, and of course, The Jack Benny Show followed.

The Stewart and Benny families were neighbors in Beverly Hills and Stewart performed on Benny's radio show and later appeared with his wife Gloria on his television program. Radio appearances such as these provided Stewart the opportunity to publicize his latest films.

By 1953, in addition to working on Universal films, Stewart was also employed by a Universal subsidiary, Revue Productions, in radio. In a last ditch effort to stave off television, NBC radio began broadcasting a weekly western, The Six Shooter, one of the most impressive series in broadcasting history.

The Six Shooter pilot aired April 13, 1952. The series began on September 20, 1953 and ran until June 24, 1954. The Six Shooter is still being broadcast today on various radio stations across the country. As played by Stewart, Britt Ponset was an easy-going, soft-spoken and slow-to-draw cowboy who drifted into town, patched things up and moved on. Memorable from the show was the narrator's opening description of Britt Ponset: "The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged; his skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl. People call them both The Six Shooter."

A replica of a 1932 Crosley Radio graces an end table in the "parlor" of the Museum's Indiana Gallery. As you visit that corner, you can almost hear the broadcast from KDKA Pittsburgh. But you soon realize it is not a live radio broadcast you are listening to.

Among the artifacts received by The Jimmy Stewart Museum in May 1998 from the Stewart Foundation, were copies of some of Stewart's radio shows ranging from the 1941 We Hold These Truths, to The Six Shooter series. On your next visit to The Jimmy Stewart Museum, experience for yourself an old-time radio broadcast.

The Jimmy Stewart Museum wishes to acknowledge with sincere gratitude the work of Gerard Molyneaux, whose bio-bibliography of Jimmy Stewart served as the reference for this article.

The Year of the B-24 60th Anniversary 1939-1999

With his acting success, Jimmy Stewart was able to embark on his big dream - to learn how to fly. Jimmy gained his private pilot's license in 1935 and bought his first airplane, a Stinson 105. In 1939 he gained his commercial pilot's license. Knowing that a Stewart had fought in every war since the Revolutionary War, and that Germany had already plunged Europe into war, Jimmy felt it his duty to enlist. On March 21, 1941 Stewart enlisted in the Army Air Corps, hoping to see action as a pilot. After serving time as a flight instructor on B-17's, he was finally sent overseas in December 1943 flying his own B-24 Liberator.

On December 29, 1939, the first of these four-engine aircraft known as Liberators, became airborne from Lindbergh Field in San Diego built from blueprints made by Consolidated Aircraft.

The B-24 Liberator was produced in greater quantities and flown in more theaters of war than any other four engine strategic bomber of World War II.

The Liberator was born of the US Army Air Corps' need for a heavy bomber with higher speed and greater range than the famed Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

More than 18,000 of this revolutionary aircraft, in several designs, were produced in five massive aircraft plants between 1939 and 1945. They equipped 45 bombardment groups plus several special squadrons.

Consolidated Aircraft designed and built this tricycle gear behemoth, powered by four Pratt & Whitney 14 cylinder radials, with the highly aerodynamic Davis laminar wing, which allowed for high speeds and long-range. The deceptively slender wing housed 18 tanks holding 2,750 gallons of fuel. Consolidated later ran an additional aircraft plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

Ford Motor Company operated a giant aircraft production plant in Willow Run, Michigan, reportedly the largest bomber plant in the world, producing over 8,000 B-24's.

Additional plants were run by Douglas in Tulsa, Oklahoma and North American in Dallas, Texas. Today, there are only a handful of B-24's in existence.

The large, deep fuselage allowed a bombload of 8,800 pounds, nearly two tons more than the B-17's. An unusual feature of the B-24 was the use of sliding hatches rather than the more conventional swinging doors for the bomb bays. A catwalk traversed the bomb bay to enable the crew to move about.

A fully armed and combat ready B-24 carried a crew of ten men. Its gross weight when loaded was greater than 60,000 pounds. It had, in the most common versions, four moveable turrets, each with two .50 caliber machine guns and two individual .50s in the waist, for a total of ten. It was powered by four 1,200 horsepower engines. Many B-24 missions were round trips of 1,500 miles with some of nearly 2,000 miles.

There were also few safety margins in the heavily loaded Liberators. Besides the risk to life and limb, an airman had to endure between four to eight hours, sometimes as many as ten, in cramped conditions exposed to constant noise and vibration. Much of the time the flight was at altitudes where uncomfortable oxygen masks had to be worn and where temperatures down to minus 40 degrees F necessitated heavy clothing to prevent frostbite.

The B-24 is best known for its low-level raids on the synthetic oil plants at Ploesti, Romania. The epic low-level raid of August 1, 1943 cost American bomber forces dearly, however devastating damage was inflicted on the German oil fields. The attacks on Ploesti were considered strategically important as they helped to deprive Germany of petroleum products, which were crucial to their war effort.

The B-24D was the first truly combat-capable version of the Liberator to be delivered to the US Army Air Corps. Under the provisions of the Liberator Production Pool program, B-24D was the designation assigned to that version of the Liberator built by Consolidated/San Diego as primary contractor.

The B-24J was the Liberator variant built in the largest numbers, and was the only Liberator version that was built by all five members of the Liberator Production Pool. Unfortunately, there were significant differences between the B-24J's built by the five members of the production pool. Parts from different B-24J's were often not interchangeable with each other. The resulting lack of standardization created a logistical nightmare for repair depots.

The B-24M was the last version produced by Consolidated.

During mid-1944, the US Army Air Corps decided that Consolidated/San Diego and Ford/Willow Run would by themselves be able to meet all future needs for Liberator production. Assembly of the Liberator at Douglas/Tulsa, North American/Dallas and Consolidated/Fort Worth was discontinued.

Examples of B-24's can be seen at the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, the Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, Georgia at the National Aviation Museum and the USAF History & Traditions Museum.

These and other museums are dedicated not only to the B-24's, but to all those that were involved in the design and production of the Liberators, as well as to the thousands of aircrew members who trained and went on military assignments. And for every man in the air, there were another three on the ground engaged in support - - cooks, clerks, mechanics and a score of others performing duties, all of them essential to the functioning of the group.

Overall a B-24 was olive-drab with the belly done in light gray; the two colors meeting in a wavy line. The intent was to camouflage, with the green blending with the earth when viewed from above and the gray blending with the sky when viewed from below. These colors were standard, with nationality markings, individual aircraft identification markings, unit identification markings, and of course the unofficial personal decorations, or nose art, which was bestowed by the men. The paintwork of the Eighth Air Force aircraft came to be among the most flamboyant of any air arm during the war.

These great ships may now be grounded, but they will never be forgotten.

Christmas at The Jimmy Stewart Museum

Beginning Nov. 26, 1999, The Jimmy Stewart Museum will be "dressed" for the Holidays!

Museum favorites will return. The fully furnished miniature recreation of the Old Granville House will once again grace our third floor lobby, as well a Family Portrait Christmas Tree featuring thirteen years of photo Christmas cards sent by the Stewart family.

Adding to our It's a Wonderful Life Christmas tree, are two more "themed" trees. Visitors will find an "Indiana" tree in the Indiana Gallery and a "Hollywood" tree in the Hollywood Gallery!

Mr. Krueger's Christmas will be shown in our theater daily at 2:00 p.m. This charming holiday feature runs 30 minutes and is a favorite with our holiday visitors.

The season actually begins in Indiana on Nov. 25th with the lighting of the Festival of Lights at Blue Spruce Park. This annual event runs through New Year's Day. Lights go on daily at 5:30 p.m. and remain on until 10:00 p.m.

Downtown Indiana Light-up Night is November 26th. Queen Evergreen and Santa will usher in the holiday season at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Indiana County Courthouse. This will be immediately followed by the 2nd Annual Kids Christmas Carnival at The Atrium in downtown Indiana. The Jimmy Stewart Museum will have supplies for making bell, tree or angel ornaments.

As always, The Jimmy Stewart Museum Store, The Shop Around the Corner, has the best selection of It's a Wonderful Life memorabilia this side of Bedford Falls!

This year's Member/Volunteer Recognition Day will be Wednesday, Dec. 1st. Members and volunteers will have the opportunity to get a head start on Holiday shopping and receive a 25% discount all day! Phone-in orders will be accepted, of course.

Smithsonian Exhibit at The Jimmy Stewart Museum

The Jimmy Stewart Museum and the Indiana Free Library have been selected to participate in the Pennsylvania Humanities Council American Memories/American Visions program, "Homefront U.S.A."

The program entails a six session reading/discussion program which will take place in the Indiana Free Library beginning October 19, 1999. The discussions will be led by Indiana University of Pennsylvania history professor Dr. Irwin M. Marcus. For information, call the library at 465-8841.

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Produce for Victory will be on display in The Jimmy Stewart Museum from November 1st until December 10, 1999.

Produce for Victory: Posters on the American Homefront, 1941-1945 is a free standing exhibit of 26 poster images from the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Produce for Victory focuses on posters displayed in factories, shop windows and schools around the country during World War II. The exhibit primarily concentrates on how the patriotic movement affected factory workers, as management pushed laborers to become more productive on the job.

This nationally recognized exhibit is of great interest to teachers in the Indiana area who will be incorporating a visit to The Jimmy Stewart Museum into their fall curriculum.

Produce for Victory: Posters on the American Homefront, 1941-1945 will be on display at the Museum over Veteran's Day, November 11th. Retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor, Dr. George Wiley, will lead a public forum on Veteran's Day entitled "Hometown Heroes: Their untold stories." This public forum is being sponsored jointly by The Jimmy Stewart Museum and the Indiana Free Library.

A light lunch will be served on the 2nd floor of the Indiana Library at 11:30, immediately following the Veteran's Day parade. Participants will then go upstairs to the Museum and view the poster exhibit. The forum will take place in the Museum's theater. Participants will share their hometown experiences as they relate to the war effort. Memories of victory gardens, volunteer work done on behalf of the war effort, women at work, etc. will be solicited.

Registration for this event is required. Those interested in participating in the Veteran's Day forum are asked to call the Museum at 724 349 6112 or 800 83 JIMMY.

Produce for Victory was organized by the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in cooperation with the Federation of State Humanities Councils. Funding has been provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution Educational Outreach Fund, the Smithsonian Institution Special Exhibition Fund, and the Natioinal Endowment for the Humanities.

The Master of Suspense turns 100

Alfred Hitchcock's portly shadow has never loomed larger. Directors continue to use his plots (A Perfect Murder), or have remade entire films (Psycho).

The master of suspense was born in London 100 years ago, on August 13, 1899. He began watching films as a teenager, and also read detective fiction and thrillers, such as Edgar Allan Poe, with whom he was especially taken.

In 1920 he took a job designing title cards at a London film studio, gradually working his way up to directing silent films and then talkies, such as The 39 Steps. He arrived in Hollywood in 1939. His first American film, Rebecca, won the best-picture Oscar for 1940.

Casting Jimmy Stewart against his all-American image, the master of manipulation featured Stewart in four of his fifty feature films: Rope, his first color film, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much and the hypnotic Vertigo, using the icy-blondes he continually cast in his films, such as Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Doris Day.

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