Jimmy Stewart, PTSD, and a Christmas Classic

December 1, 2017



From Chicago Tribune "How Jimmy Stewart's war service affected 'It's a Wonderful Life'" By Nina Metz November 30, 2016


As we stare headlong into the approaching holiday season, the 1946 James Stewart classic "It's a Wonderful Life" is set to make its annual television appearance Saturday on NBC. It was the first movie Stewart made when he returned home after serving as a pilot in World War II, an experience that left him adrift and not without psychological fallout.


Author Robert Matzen writes about this postwar period in the actor's career in the new nonfiction book, "Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe," and said that during the course of his research, he spoke with "the guys that flew with him, who told me about the fact that he went flak-happy on a couple of occasions — which means shell shock, battle fatigue, what we now know as PTSD. He wasn't afraid of bombs or bullets. He was afraid of making a mistake and causing someone to die. That was his endless stress, and that's what ended up grounding him."


Which is to say that much of George Bailey's angst was, to some extent, Stewart's own. Before agreeing to do the film with director Frank Capra (recently back from the war himself), he considered quitting acting altogether.


"The war had changed Jim down to the molecular level," Matzen writes in the book. "He could never begin to articulate what those four-and-a-half years, including fifteen months in combat, had done to him. One thing he could do was express a bit of it on-screen."


Once he committed to doing his first film as a veteran, Matzen paints a portrait of what it was like on set:


"Now he was running for his life, Jim Stewart, former squadron commander of the 703rd. 'Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!' he called into the hot air of Encino. 'Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan!' Suddenly, he wanted to be a part of Hollywood where he felt comfortable and safe."


READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/movies/ct-jimmy-stewart-book-mov-1202-20161201-column.html



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