James Stewart - Last Years and Later Career

Last Years and Later Career

Following the failure of The Magic of Lassie, Stewart went into semi-retirement from acting. He donated his papers, films, and other records to Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library in 1983. Stewart had diversified investments including real estate, oil wells, a charter-plane company and membership on major corporate boards, and he became a multimillionaire. In the 1980s/90s, he did voiceover work for commercials for Campbell's Soups.

Stewart's longtime friend Henry Fonda died in 1982, and former co-star and friend Grace Kelly, was killed in a car crash shortly afterwards. A few months later, Stewart starred with Bette Davis in Right of Way. He filmed several television movies in the 1980s, including Mr. Krueger's Christmas, which allowed him to fulfill a lifelong dream to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He made frequent visits to the Reagan White House and traveled on the lecture circuit. The re-release of his Hitchcock films gained Stewart renewed recognition. Rear Window and Vertigo were particularly praised by film critics, which helped bring these pictures to the attention of younger movie-goers. He was presented an Academy Honorary Award by Cary Grant in 1985, "for his 50 years of memorable performances, for his high ideals both on and off the screen, with respect and affection of his colleagues."

In 1988 Stewart made an impassioned plea in Congressional hearings, along with, among many others, Burt Lancaster, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and film director Martin Scorsese, against Ted Turner's decision to 'colorize' classic black and white films, including It's a Wonderful Life. Stewart stated, "the coloring of black-and-white films is wrong. It's morally and artistically wrong and these profiteers should leave our film industry alone".

In 1989, Stewart joined Peter F. Paul in founding the American Spirit Foundation to apply entertainment industry resources to developing innovative approaches to public education and to assist the emerging democracy movements in the former Iron Curtain countries. Paul arranged for Stewart, through the offices of President Boris Yeltsin, to send a special print of It's a Wonderful Life, translated by Lomonosov Moscow State University, to Russia as the first American program ever to be broadcast on Russian television. On January 5, 1992, coinciding with the first day of the existence of the democratic Commonwealth of Independent States and Russia, and the first free Russian Orthodox Christmas Day, Russian TV Channel 2 broadcast It's a Wonderful Life to 200 million Russians who celebrated an American holiday tradition with the American people for the first time in Russian history.

In association with politicians and celebrities such as President Ronald Reagan, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, California Governor George Deukmejian, Bob Hope and Charlton Heston, Stewart worked from 1987 to 1993 on projects that enhanced the public appreciation and understanding of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

In 1991, James Stewart voiced the character of Sheriff Wylie Burp in the movie An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, which was his last film role. Shortly before his 80th birthday, he was asked how he wanted to be remembered. "As someone who 'believed in hard work and love of country, love of family and love of community.'"

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