“2015 Harvey Award Winner Jim Caviezel shares some thoughts on Jimmy Stewart”
When I was first in Los Angeles, I needed a job and was hired to work with catering on a party that Jerry Weintraub was hosting for President Bush. I was not the best wait staffer to begin with, and they warned us in advance that we were not under any circumstances to socialize with the guests. Everyone from Warren Beatty to John Travolta and James Caan was at the party and I was trying my best not to be gawking at anyone. Then, I looked across the room and saw Jimmy and Gloria Stewart. “It’s a Wonderful Life” has always been my favorite movie. Moreover, I was a big fan of Jimmy’s because I knew that at the peak of his career he had been drafted but was rejected for service because he was underweight. He was determined to serve his country so he worked to put on the extra weight and got his commission after Pearl Harbor. I looked over and thought “I am okay losing this job if I get to meet Jimmy”, so I did. I promptly got the evil eye from my employer, and when Jimmy caught it, he waved to the guy that I was okay and we had our first meeting. He also had me bring him a Scotch and soda.
I knew where he lived from Star Tours, and began to send or drop off a card from time to time, on one occasion with a bottle of Scotch. I was invited in on one of those visits and reminded him of our meeting at the Weintraub’s which he pretended to remember. He was very generous to share stories from his flying years and from his work in the theatre and the film business.
When I got my first real break, with “The Thin Red Line,” I dropped a note off at his house to tell him. It was my last contact with him as he passed away on our first day of filming. Sean Penn was in the movie with me and we were both really touched and talked about the truly great life he had lived.
He said a lot of things that I have thought about over my years as an actor. Two that really stay with me are:
“My father just didn’t accept the idea of my being an actor. I think that’s the reason he kept the hardware store in operation, because I think he was pretty sure that I was going to be found out sooner or later, and he wanted to have a job for me to come back to.” And, “Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
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