I just finished reading a partial biography of one of my favorite actors – “Jimmy Stewart Bomber Pilot” by Starr Smith. I was reminded that two of my favorite actors of earlier generations, Stewart and Paul Newman, are favorites, not just because of their acting, but because of some of the things they did.
Stewart was already a major Hollywood star when he was drafted in 1941 at the age of 32. He had starred in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” a few years earlier, and had just won an Academy Award for “The Philadelphia Story.” Even then, he was no lightweight. Actually, he was in a literal sense. He originally was drafted but failed the physical for being underweight. He appealed the decision and was shortly accepted into the Army Air Corps. Stewart could have easily taken the path of many of the other Hollywood stars who traded on their fame to sell War Bonds, or make recruiting or training films. Stewart went to flight training and learned to pilot heavy bombers. He flew 20 combat missions with the 8th Air Force in Europe, leading many of them. He could have taken the easy way out, but he didn’t.
Paul Newman is another favorite. “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is probably my #1 favorite movie of all time. He had great roles in other films like “The Sting,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Verdict” and “Absence of Malice.” Late in his career he banked on his famous name and started up a food company. Apparently is all started with a bet with a friend about who made the best salad dressing. That grew into a successful line of spaghetti sauces and other items. What many people don’t know is that Newman never made a cent off of the sales. Early on, he designated that all the after-tax profits from his products be donated to charity. As of 2010, the donations had totaled more than $300 million. Not bad.
Sometimes when I’m in the check-out line at the grocery store, I look at the headlines in the celebrity magazines. Most of it is just scandal. It’s nice to remember that there are (or were) some celebrities like Stewart and Newman.