Have you ever watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Christmas time? If you have then you will probably love this episdoe of Talk With History.
Jenn and Scott talk about visiting Indiana, Pennsylvania…not only the Christmas Tree capitol of the world…but also Jimmy Stewart’s hometown! Jimmy grew up here and visited his childhood home all throughout his life, including through his Hollywood career years.
Of course we had to visit the Jimmy Stewart Museum and it was such an amazing view in to the man that brought so much entertainment to the world through his movie career (although we are bummed we didn’t get to see it at Christmas time).
Join us on this journey through his hometown and share this with other Jimmy Stewart and history fans!
Want to have a question featured on our next podcast? We will be leading off each of our shows with a 5-star question of the week!!!
Leave us a review and ask us your questions!!
We look forward to hearing and interacting with you all and we’ll talk soon!
Ep04: Jimmy Stewart – Visiting his hometown and the Jimmy Stewart Museum
Greetings, and welcome back to the talk with history podcast. I’m your host Scott. I’m here with my wife and historian Jen on this podcast we talk about history is continuing impact on all of us today, as well as our personal journey through YouTube as we explore, record and share our history walks with you the listener. So, Jen, what are we talking about today?
Today we are going to talk about American Film Institute’s their greatest actor of all time. James Maitland Stewart, or as we would know him Jimmy Stewart.
Alright, so Jimmy, Jimmy Stewart. So tell me about why like, why are we talking about Jimmy Stewart today?
Well, mostly because he’s from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and we lived close enough to go visit his hometown. So
It is in western Central Pennsylvania. It’s a small town of about 13,000 people close to Pittsburgh, I say about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. Okay.
All right. And so what what drew you to going What? What brought us out there as the walk with history YouTube channel to go to Indiana, PA? Oh,
I’m the host.
as if you don’t know
I’m playing coy.
My favorite movie of all time, is It’s A Wonderful Life. And we wouldn’t have the movie poster here in our house.
I’m looking at it right now.
It’s my favorite. It’s not just my favorite Christmas movie is my absolute favorite movie. So I watch it every year. And I wanted to I always wanted to visit his hometown because he was born there. He was raised there. He came back and visited there. His parents lived there their entire lives. And so it was to someplace he was very connected to. And I just always wanted to go.
So So give me give me the crayon version of who Jimmy Stewart is where he came from what he came up and became known for.
So Jimmy Stewart was just a home a small town, Western Pennsylvania boy, he was born in 1908 in Indiana, pa and his father owned the local hardware store. And he was just a local boy. And then he ended up going to Princeton for school. And it was at Princeton that he got into the acting troupe and made friends with people like Henry Fonda and then made it over to LA to try acting, and just got I would say lucky or blessed, but I’ve gotten some really good movies early on.
Yeah, so what were some of those would people know some of those early?
Sure. one of his first movies was a Philadelphia Story, and that’s what he wants his Oscar is his only Oscar. He won two Oscars
In one of his earliest movies
one of his earliest movie
And he um, he won an honorary Oscar as well. But the only Oscar he won for acting was from Philadelphia Story.
You mentioned Philadelphia Story mentioned It’s A Wonderful Life. What’s in Indiana that would bring us out there aside from it just being his hometown.
There was a museum dedicated to his life. It opened in 1995. And on his 80th 87th birthday, and so we also wanted to see the museum and they Indiana he is their hometown hero. They they do It’s a Wonderful Life. Like celebration every Christmas they decorate the town like Bedford Falls.
And just for the listener, picture, Bedford Falls. That is what downtown Indiana Pennsylvania looks like. It’s it’s pretty incredible. Even walking around there in the summertime. I thought this looks like it’s a wonderful life.
Yes, it’s just a great small town feel. And if you watch our walk with history, YouTube video, we walk all through the town to kind of give you a feel of what the town was like. But they opened his Museum in the public library on the third floor. And right beside the library is the courthouse and they have a statue out there of him as well. I think in like his harby attire is what he looked like when he did the movie Harvey. And so we also toured that museum as well. So we not only walked around his hometown and saw his like, childhood home, but we also went to the museum as well.
Yeah, so you mentioned Harvey, Is that another I didn’t know that movie until we went to the museum. But apparently that’s that was a pretty big movie of his
Yeah, he made 80 films like he’s a he’s a pretty big actor. Most people really like Jimmy Stewart. I’ve seen a movie with him in it. He’s done. He has range, like a wide range of movies that he has done. He’s done a couple movies with Alfred Hitchcock. JOHN Ford, he’s done westerns. And and Harvey is just an interesting about a imaginary rabbit that he sees and talks to. And he kind of gets other people to just kind of not go along with it, but just kind of let him have his own idea of Harvey and who he is.
So So and I still haven’t seen the movie. But if I, if I remember correctly, the premise of the movie is he’s he all of a sudden, probably in his 40s has starts having this imaginary six foot rabbit friend that no one else can see. And he is he’s harmless, right? His his family thinks about getting him admitted. But he’s, he’s completely harmless. He’s just a gentle spirit. And one of the things when I was doing this video, is I was looking for clips, I always look for YouTube clips. And I found a clip of him. It’s I think it’s a pretty famous clip of him talking about how he met Harvey. And, again, as someone who hasn’t seen the movie, but I’ve enjoyed Jimmy Stewart movies, I was floored at how good that one scene was. And really all it was, was Jimmy Stewart sitting in an alleyway talking to two people talking about how he met this imaginary invisible six foot rabbit. It was I was absolutely floored at how good the acting was. So that was a pretty big movie for him.
It was people love Harvey, it’s it. It’s a movie that’s resonated with Jimmy Stewart fans. And if you go in the museum, they have tons of artifacts related to that movie, as well as other movies. But Harvey is a big one.
So So tell us a little bit more for someone who has no idea what that museum is or what they could see there. if, let’s say they live in Pennsylvania, or not that far away, and they want to go see it once at the museum.
museum is is great. We have a whole video dedicated to the museum. But it goes through his childhood, his family, tree, his connection to Indiana and then his military career. Jimmy Stewart was a pilot in World War Two. And he flew over 20 combat missions. He did publicity films for the military as well during World War Two. And he does the reserves in the Air Force afterwards and makes the rank of brigadier general. And then Reagan actually gives him the rank of Major General. So he’s actually the highest ranking actor of all time.
Yeah. And I mean, he wasn’t just in the military, like just kind of for show. He was in it.
Yeah,he did it. He flew those missions. He’s a pilot. And so then it goes through his movie career with a lot of artifacts from the different movies. And then they also have a theater there. And they, they play movies, I think weekly or bi weekly, they change movies and all of his movies. So it’s really great when you buy your ticket. Not only do you get admission to the museum, but you get admission to the movie.
I mean, it took us three hours or so to drive out there. Yes. And it was completely worth it.
Yes, it was amazing. Like his art. Like I said, it’s Oscar is there from time to time. They had the Oscar from a Philadelphia Story on loan, but they always have the honorary Oscar there. And they have a recreation of his desk, and a recreation of his childhood bedroom. And I think they have the booth for one of his favorite, favorite favorite restaurants in LA, where him and his wife would go to all the time. And it was a really great experience. I have a really great gift shop too. We bought some stuff from there.
And it was one of our first museum that said we had ever done. And so we had posted it online and the museum director had contacted me because she was like you showed so much of the museum.
So if you watch the video, you’ll see a lot of the museum. And she was concerned that we had showed too much to people who don’t want to come and visit. But I assured her in my graduate studies for museum studies that we had learned that a lot of museums are doing these virtual tours now and they do them not because people won’t come visit because people want to be in the actual spaces.
No matter how many pictures you get to the Mona Lisa, or how many times you see pictures of the Sistine Chapel. People want to be in the space. And so I assured her that even if people do see the museum via YouTube, they’re if they want to go they’re going to go, what a virtual tour does whatever what a video on YouTube does is just open it up to a whole other audience. That probably is not evergreen To visit so someone overseas, or someone who may be physically can’t make the trip. And it opens them up to see what is in the museum. Plus, it also opens them up to the gift shop opportunity. So then she was she felt pretty well assured after that. But we also noticed too, that sometimes museum videos can get kind of long. Yeah, so we’ve decided now when we do museums will will center on a couple great artifacts, and then leave the rest up to the viewer if they want to come and see it.
Yeah, and that one that was our second or third or fourth video. I don’t remember which one which one it was, but it was our was our first museum video. And I, I spent way too many hours, kinda tweaking and doing all this fun little stuff, because I showed pop ups of the war movies and his kind of promotions for the Air Force and in the different mood and all this stuff.
And it actually turned out really well.
And you were learning a lot
I was I was learning. I was learning a lot about how to do that. And it’s but it turned out to like a 30 minute video. So and we do show a lot of the video but we had, we had to ask the workers,
We did always asked for permission.
Yeah. So we asked them like, hey, do you mind if we film and they said No, go ahead. And so we did that then made the video and posted it and shared it. And then all of a sudden for us were kind of shocked. got this little shock to the system, we got the email from the museum director saying, hey, please take that down. That’s too much. And then you kind of went back and said, Hey, no, there’s actually been these studies that these kinds of things help. And we’ve seen it now that we’ve visited more museums, and it’s been big museums,
right? I sent her documentation that proves that virtual tours do not hurt museum attendance.
Yeah. And so ours was just a YouTube video. But I mean, we’ve seen on National Park Service, presidential libraries and things like that. full blown in depth detail, virtual tours, with all the descriptions, pictures, way more than I ever could have done. And people still go
still go people want to be in the actual space.
Yeah, it was, for me, you know, it was just a dream come true. Because I love it. It’s a wonderful life so much. And what’s very interesting about that movie, is Jimmy Stewart made it after World War Two. So it was kind of he didn’t know if he wanted to get back into acting. He had some PTSD for World War Two and what the person he plays in that movie is different than who he was in real life. He’s more like Harry Bailey, when you think about it, he’s the pilot. He’s the hero. He’s the one who went to war. And he’s actually playing someone who didn’t he’s playing someone who stayed behind and and so what I really love is he he’s not looking for that glory, which he personally has. He’s looking to give credit to the people who, who did the other stuff and actually stayed behind and supported. And that’s I mean, I love that so much about him. Yeah, that movie.
Yeah, yeah, trust me, we we in this household this movie that we watched Christmas Eve before everybody goes to sleep so but talk about the the rest of the town and kind of what else people can see around the rest of the town. Well, we saw when we were filming,
so you will get you can see his birthplace. It’s just marked by a boulder now it’s the the home is no longer there. But his childhood home where he moved for he was like two years old. And then his family lived there for the rest of his life. And he lived there all through high school and then came back during college and would come back and visit. anytime he came to Indiana is still there. And I stand on the porch. I get all excited. So you’ll see me get excited if we watch the video, and the crosswalks in town to have his voice. So if you press the button to cross the street, it’ll say it’ll be Jimmy Stewart’s voice and it’ll tell you what streets you’re on. And which you’re crossing to. So it’s so cool.
Yeah, and that’s, that’s one of the things I do in the video is you actually I wandered off with the kids. And you were just standing there filming. Literally the crosswalk button. Yeah, just so you could get the audio from Jimmy Stewart saying you’re now crossing Seventh Street Yeah. And then I show a pop up in the video and so if folks are curious to you know, to see that to see what that’s like or what sounds like I encourage you guys to go check out the channel and see the Jimmy Stewart videos. There’s another some other stuff that we didn’t see.
So we didn’t see the church that he there’s a Pew there’s a Stewart family Pew in the church and there is his plane out front of the this a small Indiana airport. And though his plane is basically on a stick airplane on a stick out front of the airport. So we didn’t see those two things. But that’s available to I mean if like you said it’s so much like Bedford Falls that town is so proud of him.
So one of my favorite stories about Jimmy Stewart is after he won The Oscar for Philadelphia Story. He, he calls his dad the next day and his dad’s like, I heard you won some award or something. And he’s like, Yeah, when the Academy Award is that like, well send it, send it home and I’ll put it in the hardware store window and we’ll, we’ll display it for the town. He’s like, okay, and it stayed in the window for 20 years.
This This was his Oscar Oscars person. Oh,
yes. From 1941 to 1961. If you lived in Indiana, pa or visited, it would be right in the front window of his parents hardware store, which is, if you go to the museum, it’s across the street. It’s not there any longer. It’s a bank. Now. They have some historic photographs and plaques to talk about it. But that was right across the street from where the museum is in Indiana, Pa. So it’s such a great, I mean, he was the hometown hero. And I really loved that the town loved him and he loved the town.
Yeah, it’s it’s quintessential small town, Pennsylvania. And actually, one of the other things I learned that was completely appropriate because of your love of It’s a Wonderful Life was that Indiana, Pennsylvania is considered the birthplace of where Christmas trees first started coming from in mass was Indiana, Pennsylvania. So you can kind of picture that in your mind, right? This this small town, Pennsylvania, surrounded by hills, what you know, and there’s Christmas tree farms that you’re driving in. It is, like I said, it’s quintessential small town, Pennsylvania.
It’s amazing, because we you also have a family connection to Jimmy Stewart. So while we were there, I kept trying to channel the family connection. So we’ve talked about this before, but Scott comes from a Hollywood history family. So his great grandfather was a prop master. And I’m not sure I think he worked for both Paramount and universal. But he did rear window. And he did the greatest show on earth, which Jimmy Stewart said. He said he plays a clown in the greatest show on earth. And we’re window he plays the photographer. And we have a photograph of rear window in the house, where he’s setting the windows with the the names under the windows. You never see that in the movie. But as the prop Master, he’s setting the windows for the character but the character names that they named him him and Grace Kelly named Miss Torso. Yes, they could pose to the pianist and the newlyweds the lonely, lonely. Miss lonely hearts.
Yeah. Yes. And then we have the script from The Greatest Show on Earth. So a prop master would get a script and just write in kind of things that he would need to make and do and, and since that’s what’s like circus based, he, we still have prayer father, so has props from that movie, in his storage, from like, so we were connected to Jimmy Stewart while you’re connected and made their marriage. We’re connected to Jimmy Stewart, through Hollywood and as well,
no, no, it’s it’s it’s definitely interesting. And going to Indiana, Pennsylvania was just kind of this neat little treat, right? You really felt that connection to Jimmy Stewart there. And I will say that that town really does embody that and talk about how that town feels like Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life. And the message of that movie is that Jimmy Stewart wanted to go out and see the world he wanted travel he he always felt like he didn’t have he didn’t do anything with his life.
But the message of the movie is that he made an impact on those around him his friends. And even though he may not have been able to travel the world as he had wished he had an effect. His effect was on those around him. But the the effect of that one man or woman can have on the world through friends and family, it will echo for eternity. And I think that’s the message of It’s a Wonderful Life. So just as Clarence the angel said in that movie.
“Remember, no man is a failure who has friends”.
So friends who are listening. Thank you for joining us. And thank you for listening to the talk with history podcast. You can reach out to us on Twitter, @talkwithhistory Tell us where in the world that you’re listening from. Tell us your favorite Jimmy Stewart story. And you can find more of the podcast over at talk with history.com
Yeah, and we really encourage you to visit the museum it’s ever around. If you love that movie, go to Indiana, Pennsylvania and visit that museum is a great museum.
Yeah, go visit the museum support your local museums, reach out to us on Twitter. And you can find more of the podcast over talk with history.com and we will talk to you guys next time.