For me, the big downside to loving classic films is that all of the stars that I want to meet are dead. But once upon a time in Hollywood, I met one of the greatest.
I was working at Paramount Television in Los Angeles. Truth be told, I had stalked James Stewart before we held hands that day. Okay, “stalk” is too serious a word. (I had seen him from afar at two public events.) And yeah, we didn’t exactly “hold” hands, so much as shake them, but he kept his mitts clasped on mine for about 20 seconds. Still, for a New Hampshire girl who grew up watching It’s a Wonderful Life, The Philadelphia Story, Vertigo and The Glenn Miller Story, it was a surreal experience.
My friend Gary Grossman was producing some wraparound segments for a Frank Capra tribute that Jimmy was hosting for Entertainment Tonight. Gary knew how much I loved old movies. So when he called and asked if I’d like to swing by the ET set to watch James Stewart work, I began sprinting across the lot before Gary could even finish the question.
As I tiptoed onto Stage 28, I heard Jimmy’s voice in the distance, complete with that Stewart Stammer® so familiar from his pictures. Standing behind the crew, I nodded “Hello” at Gary and tried not to do anything stupid, like sneeze in the middle of a take. Once they finished shooting, Gary looked over to give me a little “Get over here” wave.
Meeting someone you idolize can be fraught with peril. They might be racist egomaniacs who pull a #metoo moment that shatters your image of them forever. Not Jimmy Stewart. He smiled as I walked (knees knocking) toward that lanky frame and sapphire eyes I’d seen on screen countless times before. Gary introduced us and Jimmy immediately took my hand, held my gaze as if I reminded him of someone he knew, and did a perfect Jimmy Stewart “impression,” just for me: “P-p-p-p-p-p-pleased t-t-t-o m-m-meet you, J-J-J-Jeannie.”
I recall nothing much after that. I probably blurted out something fangirly like, “I just love Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!” But it doesn’t really matter what we said. What mattered most is that a movie legend, who had way more important things to do that day, took the time to meet yet another starstruck admirer and act like he was genuinely p-p-p-p-pleased to m-m-m-m-meet her, with all of the warmth and decency you would hope he’d have.
Oh, I washed my hand.
Three Reasons to Love James Stewart:
* After winning an Academy Award, he shipped the Oscar to his father’s hardware store, where it remained on display for 20 years.
* Returning home following World War II, Jimmy insisted on a contract clause which prevented studios from publicizing his stellar war record.
* He was married once (for 44 years) to his beloved Gloria, who predeceased him. His last words to their children: “I’m going to be with Gloria now.”