JAMES STEWART: 1908-1997

For the half-century of his life onscreen, James Stewart had a guilty secret, and the moviegoing public let him get away with it. Stewart presented himself as an ordinary guy--just a Jimmy. Maybe a slightly overachieving Jimmy, what with the Princeton degree and the Air Force brigadier general's stripes. But all in all a solid Republican sprung from humble merchant stock in Indiana, Pa. In a lifetime of movies, Stewart was the goodwill ambassador for a genial, vanishing America.

Stewart became the butt of a thousand impressionists for his familiar "Waaaaal," which sounded like a trombonist running out of breath and...

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