Back in 1997 I was still reading talk.bizarre, and after Jimmy Stewart died on July 2 there were a number of posts commemorating his death. One of the longer, funnier, and in the end (I thought) more touching posts was one by Mike Delong, which I reproduce here:
When I started grad school there was this guy a year ahead of me whose name I recall being Rick, and Rick had it all together -- smart, good looking, good grades, a couple of papers in the mill, a wife sufficient to be the envy of any lesser grad student, a bright future, the works. Rick's office was next to mine, and the conversations that went on in his office were always much more interesting than went on in mine, except, of course, when Rick was involved.Now, as it happens, my friend Craig grew up in Indiana, Pennsylvania, the small town in which Jimmy Stewart was born -- I remember Craig telling me that he had always had a certain fondness for the line in It's A Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart's character says "I'm going to shake the dust of this crummy little town off my feet" because that expressed very well the ambition of many Indiana, PA natives and is something that Mr. Stewart succeeded very ably in doing. I figured that Craig would find the article amusing and forwarded it to him.
This was the first year of the Film Festival, and the 50th (or was it just the 45th?) anniversary of the release of It's A Wonderful Life, and the Festival had dropped a pretty chunk of change for a restored print of Wonderful Life, major renovations to a big, ancient theater downtown, and transportation and accommodations for Mr Stewart and his entourage.
Rick, against all odds, scored tickets for himself and his enviable wife for the only showing.
Just as the short reel, an overblown Capra bio, clattered to its dreary hyperanalytical conclusion, and the Main Attraction began, Mr Stewart Himself entered, looking like a benevolent, permissive, Protestant God, minus the beard and flowing robe, plus a comfortable tweed suit, to a chorus of gasps at his incredible grandfatherly Hollywood otherness.
And against all odds, he and his companion seated themselves immediately in front of Rick and his enviable wife.
Rick, of course, was near-fatally blissed. Mr Stewart, to his credit, uttered not a word for the entire show. And when, at the conclusion, he was called to the microphone front and center, his only words were
``I have said time and again that of all my films, It's A Wonderful Life is my favorite. Mr Capra was a genius. And I'd like to thank the University for bringing me here, and all of you for being here with me tonight. Thank you.''
And Rick, his brush with Greatness past, headed for the exit to return to his hitherto-charmed life.
Which instantly fell apart. Rick's papers were eventually rejected by the journals to which they had been submitted, after long and tedious arguments with a host of anonymous referees. He mysteriously failed his qualifying exams, and his enviable wife succumbed to an envy of her own and ran off with a neighbor's husband. By the following Christmas Rick had disappeared altogether, another grad school story with a unlikely, unhappy ending. No angel named Clarence (or anything else, for that matter) earned his wings saving Rick from his improbable end.
I took what lesson I could find from Rick's unhappy fate, and steered clear of any and every famous person who happened through town -- not an entirely easy task in a place like Charlottesville.
So say what you will about Jimmy Stewart (and there is much that can be said, and almost all of it good -- my favorite of his films is The Philadelphia Story (1940) -- any film that stars "Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord" deserves an Oscar unseen), I for one feel a little bit safer knowing that he's dead.
merry christmas everybody
As it happened, Craig was quite amused by it and decided to forward it to all of the people in his family. As it turned out, none of them thought it was funny at all, and he got a lot of negative feedback -- one of his brothers suggested that perhaps the author would also feel a little safer when Marion Hammer (then president of the National Rifle Association) was dead and gone. Craig also found this to be pretty funny, as I recall.