James Stewart — The Inside Story (1936) 🇺🇸

James Stewart | www.vintoz.com

December 16, 2021

by Edward H. Griffith

The director who gave James Stewart his first big chance in “Next Time We Live,” tells the romantic story in this interview with John K. Newnham.

James Stewart is one of Hollywood’s big new bets. In the comparatively short time he has been on the screen, he has rattled off some first-rate performances which have sent him shooting up the popularity poll at a tremendous rate.

If you have seen him in such films as Wife versus Secretary, Rose Marie, “Small Town Girl”, “Next Time We Live”, “Speed”, or The Gorgeous Hussy, you will understand why.

He is very tall. His manner is rather bashful. He has a smile which sets feminine hearts racing. And his natural manner on the screen is a delight to watch.

The picture to put him on the movie map was “Next Time We Live”. The other week, the director of that film came to England. His name is Edward H. Griffith.

And he told me the inside story of how he came to choose Jim Stewart for the part that was to gain recognition for him.

“It all came about through a switch in the casting arrangements,” he explained. “I was engaged to direct the picture, and I found that Francis Lederer had already been cast to appear opposite Margaret Sullavan.

“Lederer is a fine actor. I admire him tremendously. But I had to disagree with this piece of casting. The rôle was that of a young American newspaper man, and Lederer didn’t suggest the character to me for a moment. ‘You could never take him for an American.

It never does an actor any good to be seen in an unsuitable part, anyway, so I suggested a change in the casting. Naturally, there were difficulties, but the studio finally saw my point of view, and Lederer agreed to withdraw from the picture.

“Then came another problem. The studio asked who I was going to have in Lederer’s place. I exclaimed: ‘I’ll take anybody suitable — any young man, whether he’s known or not.’

“It was Margaret Sullavan who put me on to James Stewart. She said there were several promising youngsters in Hollywood whom she knew, and they were good actors. They had been with her in her repertory days. She mentioned the names of Henry Fonda and James Stewart.”

Thus this chance remark on Margaret Sullavan’s part led to James Stewart’s selection. He was certainly unknown then. He had come from Broadway, and Metro had given him a film contract. He had, I think, been given a small part in “Murder Man”. The public had never seen him when Edward Griffith asked Metro about him.

“They sent me along a couple of tests they had made of him,” he continued. “They had tested him for parts in Ah, Wilderness and The Great Ziegfeld, but they hadn’t made use of him in these pictures.

“I ran the test through, and knew at once that here was the man I wanted. There was an easy naturalness about him that I liked. He had looks and personality. And he seemed very suitable for the rôle.

Metro were perfectly willing to loan him out. And I’m glad to say that “Next Time We Live” gave him his chance. He took full advantage of it. I found him to be a first-rate actor — easy in style and completely unaffected.

His performance was a thoroughly natural one, and as a result of it, Metro gave him featured parts far earlier than they would otherwise have done. They have admitted so themselves. The boy’s going to be a star.

“He would have got his chance eventually, of course, anyone with his talent and obvious screen attractions couldn’t be kept down for ever. But sometimes, when you’re working in a big studio, you can go on for years without being recognised.

James Stewart has been kept busy ever since “Next Time We Live”. As a matter of fact, he was rushed straight into “Rose Marie”, and this picture actually reached the light of day before “Next Time We Live” was out of the cutting rooms.”

Well — that was how James Stewart got his chance. If Francis Lederer had not been cast for that film, Stewart might still be hanging around the Metro lot, hoping that one day he would be given a worthwhile part.

He is one of those numerous players who have graduated from amateur theatricals. He intended to take up architecture for a living, but somehow from quite an early age he found himself associated with the theatre.

He joined the Triangle amateur theatrical company when he was at Princeton University, and he became one of its most popular members. During summer vacation, he found himself acting as a magician’s assistant. Then, back again at Princeton, he continued to be a shining light in the Triangle shows.

When he took his degree and prepared to start work as an architect, he was invited to join the Cape Cod stock company — a bunch of enthusiastic young actors and actresses, with Henry Fonda as one of the leading members.

Fonda was largely responsible for persuading Jim Stewart to join them. They had been friends together at Princeton.

Stewart eventually dropped architecture altogether, and took up acting professionally. He obtained a part in a touring show called “Goodbye Again,” and he kept his rôle when the play was presented in New York.

His rise to success on the New York stage was slow, but sure. Small parts led to bigger parts, until he established quite a reputation for himself..And then the film people began to take an interest in him. He received two or three offers to make tests, but at that time he had no particular interest in the screen.

Henry Fonda was his friend all the time, and it was he who went to Hollywood first. When he had been out there a little while, Jim Stewart received an offer from a Metro scout. The fact that Fonda was already out there went a long way towards deciding him. He said, “Yes,” and a few weeks later, he was there.

He is the sort of fellow you like instinctively, whether you know who he is or not. He is amusing company — quiet, but always willing to turn in a spot of accordion playing if asked.

He is very diffident about himself. He shudders whenever he sees his own screen ‘rushes,’ and simply won’t talk about himself or his film parts.

James Stewart with Margaret Sullavan in “Next Time We Live,” in which he scored a personal triumph.

A new studio portrait of the artiste who is rapidly approaching stardom.

Source: Picturegoer, November, 1936

Source: Modern Screen, January, 1947