This World War II Veteran Was one of America's Most Beloved Actors

Henry Fonda, a close friend of Stewart’s his entire adult life, in 1940. Wikimedia

2. Stewart struggled in the theater for the first couple of years

In New York and Boston Stewart landed several small roles, receiving some recognition from critics. To supplement his meager income, he took a job as a stage manager in Boston, from which he was quickly fired. He returned to New York, where other plays for which he was hired ended after just a few performances. In 1934 he auditioned for and won the lead role in a play in which he portrayed a soldier victimized by yellow fever experiments. Positive reviews did not save the play, which folded quickly. Similar roles brought similar results. A talent scout by the name of Bill Grady was impressed by Stewart’s acting and urged his client, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, into signing the young actor.

Stewart’s first appearance on film occurred before he signed the MGM contract, which was a seven-year deal. He appeared in Art Trouble, a comedy short starring Shemp Howard. Stewart’s brief performance was uncredited. Upon arrival in Hollywood, his lanky appearance exaggerated his height, which limited available roles for the unproven actor. His first appearance in a Hollywood film was in 1935’s The Murder Man, which starred Spencer Tracy as a newspaper writer and reporter. His role was ignored by critics, though the film was financially successful. The lack of suitable roles for him at MGM led to his being offered to other studios on loan. Stewart was in danger of becoming a bit player in Hollywood.