Jimmy Stewart


September 23, 2012 by Ish

Jimmy Stewart, John Ford, and The Duke on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

I cannot figure out how to reply or comment on Tumblr blogs… rather lousy design if you ask me. At any rate, in a series of recent posts on her blog, Ape in a Cape, Gail Simone says some rather disheartening things about Jimmy Stewart being a racist.

There’s a lot of talk that he was racist in the extreme, including a black actor who says Jimmy fired him from his show just because he was black, and a black actor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance says Jimmy was racist towards him on the set, in his autobiography.   The other evidence is mostly anecdotal, I believe, and he has defenders. But it’s not in question that he was a regular informant to J. Edgar Hoover on leftists in Hollywood, or that he was a staunch right winger who was not a fan of progressive politics in any way.

Well, no Ms. Simone, the other evidence may be “mostly anecdotal,” but the evidence you presented is entirely anecdotal. An anecdote is by definition a short account of an incident, often but not necessarily humorous, and not backed by evidence. Now, I’m not an expert in the life and times of Jimmy Stewart, but the one biography of the man that I have read (cleverly entitled “Jimmy Stewart”) by Michael Munn doesn’t paint him as a racist… just kind of the typical not-interested-in-it typical of many of his generation.

The incident on the set of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has been attributed to the director, John Ford, manipulating Stewart’s words to make him look bad on the set. John Ford was notorious for being extremely tough on his actors, frequently mocking, yelling and bullying them; he was also infamous for his sometimes sadistic practical jokes. Pretty much any biography of John Ford — any his frequently used actors like John Wayne, James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara and Ward Bond — or any “making of” look at his famous Westerns such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance will have ample evidence of his intense nature.

According to the Michael Munn biography, a few days before the end of filming on Liberty Valance Ford privately asked Stewart what he thought about Woody Strode’s costume. Stewart replied, “it looks a bit Uncle Remus-y to me.” Ford then called for the full crew’s attention and announced that “one of our actors doesn’t like Woody’s costume. Now, I don’t know if Mr. Stewart has a prejudice against Negroes, but I just wanted you all to know about it.”

Now, look, Gail Simmone is — and will probably always be — one of my favorite comic book authors of all time. I’d say I like her comics more than I like Stewart’s movies* even… but if you’re going to repeat slander about one of cinema’s greatest talents (and a genuine war hero, to boot!) then you really ought to back it up with more than just anecdotal evidence.

* Although I will maintain that Anatomy of a Murder is one of the best films ever written, not only is one it the only courtroom dramas to actually resemble reality, its got a great plot, great acting, great directing, great music, and a legendary title sequence. But, most importantly, it is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


4 thoughts on “Jimmy Stewart

  1. Julia says:

    Oddly enough, even before you wrote this, we routinely (1-2 times a week) got hits from Google searches for “jimmy stewart racist.” This is, apparently, a hot issue. (I know nothing about Jimmy Stewart myself, other than that he was in a Christmas movie once)

  2. Homer Smith says:

    Too bad certain things (not always so pleasant) are said about people when they’re no longer around to defend themselves.

  3. Mark says:

    Stewart’s racism was detailed in Donald Dewey’s excellent biography, of the actor, which was published early in 1996 when Stewart was still alive.

    • Ish says:

      I haven’t read that book; but it doesn’t change the fact that Simone offers nothing but anecdotal evidence and guilt by association smears.

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