Towards the end of his career, James Stewart starred in his own sitcom, which ran for just under a year (24 episodes, September 1971 – August 1972). It marked a mark concerted move into television acting (he followed it up with a TV remake of Harvey, which he had also played on stage), and saw Stewart playing James K. Howard, a professor at a small town university, with Julie Adams as his wife (you’d recognise her in the arms of The Creature from the Black Lagoon). Stewart had wanted to cast his own wife, Gloria, in the role, but NBC talked him out of it. The premise of a thoughtful man trying for a quiet life in the face of a series of domestic quibbles is a well-worn one, but Stewart is about as reliable a screen presence as its possible to find, and it’s interesting to see him in this format, even with such a short extract.
By this time, Stewart was struggling to find good roles in hit films, his image already one of old-fashioned, conservative comfort, so he gave TV a try. Gloria noted that he hated the schedule of rehearsing and shooting each episode in six days:
That was too quick for Jim, but that’s the way they worked in television. And he was frustrated as an actor. Everybody just loved seeing him be himself, but he didn’t want to be just himself. That was the strength of the show, but that was the weakness in Jim. He wanted something to challenge him. I told him to relax and enjoy being himself, but I think it was the pace of the show that finally got to him.
The period of the show’s shooting was a tough one for Stewart – his friend Leland Hayward died, as did his sister Virginia and J. Edgar Hoover, for whom Stewart had worked as an informant of sorts; Stewart was shocked to find that Hoover had been keeping tabs on him, too. But ultimately, he blamed himself for the show’s demise:
They gave me too much authority. I had script approval and cast approval. I had approval over everything, like I was a producer … and the trouble is, I’m just an actor. I had no right to make all those decisions. I made some bad choices.
As far as I can tell, The Jimmy Stewart Show isn’t available for home viewing, but it looks to be a boxset waiting to happen, if only for the historical interest.
- Quotations from Michael Munn, Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend (Robson Books, 2006)