| March 30, 2017

Podcast, Tactical & Military

Podcast #291: The Untold Story of Jimmy Stewart’s WWII Service

Jimmy Stewart is one of the greatest actors in American cinema. He’s appeared in some of our most beloved films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, Vertigo, and of course that perennial holiday favorite, It’s A Wonderful Life.

What many people don’t know about Jimmy Stewart is that he served for four years during WWII flying B-24 bombers over Germany. Unlike a lot of movie stars who were drafted and spent their service making propaganda films for the war effort, Stewart actually saw combat. Even after the war was over, he continued his military service and retired as a Brigadier General in the Air Force.

My guest today has written a book dedicated to looking at these forgotten parts of the actor’s life. His name is Robert Matzen and his book is Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe. Robert shares why Stewart’s family history instilled an iron sense of duty towards serving his country in the military and how Stewart spent his days off as an actor training to be an Army pilot in the years leading up to WWII. We also discuss how Stewart had to fight military brass and his boss at MGM Studios to ensure that he actually saw combat instead of staying stateside to make propaganda films.

Robert then gets into detail about the combat missions Stewart flew during WWII, his leadership style as an officer, and how the war took a toll on him physically and emotionally.

We end our conversation talking about how the war influenced Stewart’s film career when he returned home, and how it may have helped him create one of cinema’s most iconic characters, George Bailey.

If you’re a fan of Jimmy Stewart, you don’t want to miss this show.

Show Highlights

  • What inspired Robert to write about Jimmy Stewart’s WWII service
  • Why Jimmy didn’t talk about his combat experience
  • How Robert researched this story in spite of Jimmy never talking about his service
  • Stewart’s family history, and why he felt so duty-bound to serve in the military
  • Stewart’s film career before WWII broke out
  • Jimmy Stewart the ladies’ man
  • How Stewart prepared for military service before he ever signed up
  • How Jimmy Stewart skirted the Motion Picture Unit and ensured he saw combat
  • The WWII service of other Hollywood stars
  • B-24 bombers, and their precariousness in the air
  • The combat missions Jimmy flew
  • The leadership style and qualities of Jimmy Stewart
  • How being a movie star impacted his leadership abilities
  • How Jimmy’s war experience changed him, including his acting
  • The story of how It’s a Wonderful Life came to fruition
  • How war changed Jimmy’s views on marriage
  • Jimmy’s military service after WWII
  • Lessons that men today can take from the life of Jimmy Stewart

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

mission jimmy stewart book cover robert matzen

If you’re a fan of Jimmy Stewart or a WWII history buff, you need to check out Mission. It gives you an inside look at a part of the actor’s life that little is known about, and Robert does an amazing job of showing the reader what it was like to fly in those precarious B-24s.

Connect With Robert Matzen

Robert’s website

Robert on Twitter

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And thanks to Creative Audio Lab in Tulsa, OK for editing our podcast!

Read the Transcript

Coming soon!

Last updated: April 6, 2017

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