GARBO? HARLOW? HEPBURN?
JAMES STEWART REMEMBERED THEM WELL
The small roles James Stewart played in
the two seventies films mentioned in my 1976 New York Times interview
were not the last roles the actor played. Two years later, he actually
had a big role in 1978's "The Magic of Lassie," and he
performed it with his customary conviction and grace. That's the
kind of actor he was. --Guy Flatley
reason Im playing a small role in The Shootist
is very simple," James Stewart said by phone on a recent Sunday,
after church and noontime dinner in his Beverly Hills home. The
68-year-old actor was discussing his surprisingly minor part as
a physician who treats John Wayne,
a cancer-stricken gunslinger, in Don Siegels new western.
"I wasnt offered a bigger role, and since I still consider
acting my profession, I jumped at the chance to do this. Id
guess youd call this part and the one Ill play in Airport
1977 cameos, which means that Ive been around a long
he has--since his supporting role in 1935s "Murder Man,"
starring Spencer Tracy, and all the way through such choice hits
as "The Philadelphia Story" (at left, with Katharine Hepburn),
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Destry Rides Again,"
"The Shop Around the Corner," "Its a Wonderful
Life," "Harvey," "Rear Window," "Vertigo"
and "Anatomy of a Murder." Then, about six years ago,
when Hollywood producers stopped phoning, he renewed his acquaintance
with the tall and tipsy Harvey, winning warm reviews both on Broadway
and on Londons West End. In recent months, he has demonstrated
his loyalty to another old buddy by hitting the campaign trail for
In art, too, Mr. Stewart is a mite conservative, as reflected in
his comments on "The Shootist." "Its a pure
western about the old West. Were not trying to be psychological;
were simply showing the good guys and the bad guys. The past
and the present are two different times, and the idea of taking
an era when the country was being developed, when it was exciting
and exhilarating, and blaming it for whats going on now is
Another era Mr. Stewart holds in high esteem is the golden age of
Hollywood--the 1930s and 40s. "The big studios
were such a wonderful training ground for actors and actresses,
and one misses them terribly. I came out here as a contract player
at M-G-M, and I went to work every day. It might be a big part in
a little picture, or it might be a little part in a big picture,
or maybe Id be doing a test, taking voice lessons or working
out in the gym.
"M-G-M had Crawford, Garbo, Shearer, Dressler, Harlow, Hepburn
and so many others," Mr. Stewart dreamily recalls. "Todays
actresses--talented performers like Barbra
Streisand and Liza Minnelli and Candy
Bergen--would have flourished even more in the day of the big
studios. It was a tremendous time. You learned your craft by working
at it. You crawled before you walked."
And, crawling or walking, you did what you did with a minimum of
bare skin and raw violence. "If youll pardon the expression,"
Mr. Stewart stammers and drawls in the inimitable style cherished
by generations of moviegoers, "I think weve all had a
bellyful of that."