Wednesday, April 16, 2014


When you think of the wealth of movies that Jimmy Stewart made in his career, you do not consider him a musical star. Anyone who has ever heard him sing would agree with me. However, Jimmy Stewart dimake a handful of musicals during his long and illustrious career which spanned decades. Most of them however we not that well received.

After debuting in a forgotten Spencer Tracy film The Murder Man in 1935, Stewart's next movie was a musical - Rose Marie (1936). The movie was an adaptation of the stage operetta and a starring vehicle for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Stewart plays the second male lead that tries to steal MacDonald away from Eddy. Jimmy did not sing in this film, but Nelson and Jeanette would introduce the song "Indian Love Call" in the movie. It would be the duo's signature song.

MGM still had no clue what to do with Stewart so they stuck him in another musical right after. In Born To Dance (1936) he was paired with the beautiful Eleanor Powell. The musical score was done by the great Cole Porter, and Stewart was even given the task of introducing the Porter classic "Easy To Love". His voice brought tears to my eyes and not in a good way. Even in the 1974 documentary That's Entertainment Stewart poked fun and his attempt at singing. Thank goodness Eleanor Powell's tap dancing and the Cole Porter score took made audiences forget Stewart's vocal inadequacy.

By the late 1930s, Jimmy Stewart was making a mark for himself as the "every man" of film. His films like You Can't Take It With You and Mr Smith Goes To Washington cemented Stewart's place as a great leading man. However, in 1941 Stewart appeared in two musicals. For the horrible film Pot O Gold, Jimmy was loaned out to United Artists, a studio not known for great musicals. The movie was an adaptation of a popular radio show of the time. The film tells of a couple (Stewart and Paulette Goddard) romantically involved despite family feuds. Stewart and Goddard both were not singers so the musical part of the movie came from Horace Heidt and His Orchestra. Pot O Gold was a bomb, and Stewart later referred to the film as the worst one he ever appeared in.

The other musical Stewart appeared in in 1941 was MGM's lavish musical Ziegfeld Girl. Set in the 1920s, the film tells the parallel stories of three women who become performers in the renowned Broadway show the Ziegfeld Follies. Stewart had no musical numbers in the film. He was the main male lead, playing the boyfriend of a tortured Ziegfeld girl (Lana Turner). Stewart did not need to sing in this film, because it also had the talented musical stars Judy Garland and Tony Martin to make the film one of the best musicals of 1941.

In the 1940s Jimmy steered clear of the musical genre. Other than a humorous song he sang on Bing Crosby's radio show in the late 1940s, Jimmy stayed away from the musical. However, he did make one more musical of note. Not only was it his most profitable musical, but it was one of the greatest musicals of the 1950s. Stewart portrayed big band leader Glenn Miller in The Glenn Miller Story (1954). The film follows big band leader Glenn Miller (1904–1944) (James Stewart) from his early days in the music business in 1929 through to his 1944 death when the airplane he was flying in was lost over the English Channel during World War II. Prominent placement in the film is given to Miller's courtship and marriage to Helen Burger (June Allyson), and various cameos by actual musicians who were colleagues of Miller. Upon release in 1954, The Glenn Miller Story was massively successful at the box office.

In 1954, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay (by Valentine Davies and Oscar Brodney) and Best Score (by Henry Mancini and Joseph Gershenson). The film won the Oscar for Best Sound Recording, by Leslie I. Carey. Jimmy Stewart was definitely no rival to Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire in the musical genre, but it is interesting to look at the musicals the non-musical Stewart made during his career. His acting ability as America's "every man" is what made him one of the biggest stars of classic Hollywood. Again, it was definitely his acting ability and not his musical talent or lack of...


  1. What a fun journey with Jimmy Stewart through his musical movies.

    I've got another one for you. In the 1957 western "Night Passage", Jimmy's character sings a couple of songs and plays his accordion. On YouTube I found this demo of Jimmy and the Dimitri Tiomkin songs.

    I used to sing "Follow the River" to my kids as a lullaby.

  2. Stewart was MacDonald's brother in ROSE MARIE. The man Mountie Nelson Eddy was looking for.

  3. Very enjoyable post, David, especially since I don't tend to think of James Stewart and musicals in the same sentence. But, as you pointed out, he appeared in several of them (though I don't consider THE GLENN MILLER STORY to be a musical). I always found Jimmy Stewart's singing voice to be acceptable, but clearly crooning wasn't a career for him. I've never seen ZIEGELD GIRL, so you have piqued my curiosity on that one!

  4. I enjoyed strolling down this musical lane with Jimmy Stewart. This was a clever way to look at some of his repertoire. Well done!

  5. If memory serves, Stewart's character in his one-season television show "The Jimmy Stewart Show" plays the accordion, as Stewart did in real life, and as Caftan Woman noted in her comments on NIGHT PASSAGE.

    Gee, Stewart says POT O'GOLD was one of the worst movies he ever appeared in and Fred Astaire said the same thing about SECOND CHORUS. No wonder Paulette Goddard didn't make a lot of musicals.

  6. I had totally forgotten about Stewart's role in Ziegfeld Girl! I loved this post; I'd never really considered Stewart's career from this angle and it's further proof (albeit proof not needed!) of his versatility. I'm a massive musical fan and I struggle with Pot O Gold, perhaps it is best that the director (and Universal!) made so few!

  7. It's very funny to see actors like Jimmy in musicals. He is charming anyway, but these footnotes in his career are worth-noticing. I wrote about Pot O'Gold for the blogathon, and I didn't consider it sooooo bad.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  8. Jimmy actually played the piano quite well! Here is an excerpt from SWEETHEARTS by Sharon Rich: "The dailies (for Rose Marie) were screened in the local movie theater in nearby Truckee, CA. One day, Fred Phillips attended the rushes with (director) Woody van Dyke... and Jeanette. As they were waiting to see the footage, they heard some “godawful” piano music coming from behind the stage. Woody complained and the playing stopped. Then the piano began again, this time playing beautifully. They brought the player out. It was a young Jimmy Stewart who had a small role as Jeanette’s brother in the film. Woody was so impressed with Stewart that he kept him on the picture three weeks instead of three days."

    Rich, Sharon. Sweethearts: The Timeless Love Affair -- On-Screen and Off -- Between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, updated 20th Anniversary Edition . Bell Harbour Press. Kindle Edition.