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Archive for Saturday, August 18, 2007

The real deal

There will be few, if any, complaints about the visage of Jimmy Stewart on a postage stamp.

August 18, 2007

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The U.S. Postal Service in recent years has featured "personalities" on its stamps, ranging from cartoon characters to genuine human beings. The service has been criticized, understandably, for some of its selections, and a number of them were quite questionable.

But one recent choice is not likely to draw much, if any, static from even the most discerning and picayunish of Americans. That would be James Stewart, better known the world over as Jimmy, one of the finest citizens, patriots, entertainers and all-around good fellows the nation has produced. If he had an ego, it never showed, and he always seemed willing to be an "everyman" in any setting, making those around him feel comfortable and as important as he was.

A native of Indiana, born in 1908, Stewart once hoped to be an architect. He attended Princeton, however, and in 1932 got into acting on the stage with the likes of Henry Fonda. In 1935 he got to Hollywood to begin one of the most outstanding careers the film capital has ever seen. The lanky, tongue-in-cheek Stewart could do comedy, drama, westerns and everything in-between. His most memorable role, of course, was as George Bailey in the movie classic "It's a Wonderful Life." He earned an Academy Award and was nominated five other times.

Stewart was named Best Classic Actor of the 20th Century in an Entertainment Weekly poll in 1999 and appeared third on the American Film Institute's list of the 50 greatest actors, just behind Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant.

Along with his achievements as a performer, Stewart's World War II service shouldn't be overlooked. He had the distinction of reaching the highest rank of any actor, rising to the level of colonel in the Army Air Corps during the war. He flew combat missions as a B-24 bomber commander and brought home a number of major medals.

Wrote film analyst Brad Lang: "It wasn't until you saw him in films like 'The Greatest Show on Earth' and 'Winchester '73' that you realized he really could be somebody other than the earnest, lovable, sincere characters with whom he appeared most comfortable. It was a quality that made him beloved by fans and kept him successful for many years."

Whatever its mistakes in choosing past stamp celebrities, the U.S. Postal Service certainly got this one right.

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