The next big film in Stewart’s repertoire had him join forces with one of the other most famous actors of the time: John Wayne. It was the first of three films that these legends would make together, and all three of them would end up being classics of the Western genre. John Wayne starred as Tom Doniphon, the main character of the film, while Stewart plays a young lawyer that is beaten by Liberty Valance and discovered by Doniphon.
Lee Marvin played Liberty Valance in one of his many villainous roles, and Vera Miles played the female lead. The film was a huge money maker, becoming the 50th highest grossing film of 1962. Most reviews were flatly positive, though some found imperfections. In modern times, it’s regarded as one of the best of the genre.
The Man Couldn’t Slow Down
Movies came, and movies went. Not everything Stewart touched turned to gold, but compared to a lot of actors both then and now, he was as close to a sterling star as we can get. 1958 continued with “Bell, Book and Candle,” a fantasy romantic comedy. Kim Novak, the female lead, is secretly a witch. After that came “Anatomy of a Murder,” for which Stewart would be nominated for a BAFTA, though he once again wouldn’t win.
To close out 1959 and the decade was the film “The FBI Story,” a crime drama film that follows Stewart’s character for decades as he rises in the ranks of the FBI, from its beginnings to its status as a national power. Outside his films, Stewart would continue to truly rise in the ranks – all the way to Brigadier General.
The General of Hollywood
In 1957, Stewart was nominated not for a paltry movie award but for the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force. While he didn’t receive the rank at that time, the “Washington Daily News” noted that he trained with the Air Force Reserve every year. At that time, he’d had 18 hours as the first pilot of a B-52. He was able to reach the rank of brigadier general on July 23rd, 1959 – making him the highest-ranking actor in American military history.
It certainly isn’t easy to become a brigadier general, even if it is the lowest rank of general the American military uses. There is a cap of 170 Brig Gen in the Air Force on active duty, but we’re not sure if Stewart’s reserve status changes how many would be allowed.
Following a Classic with a Classic
After the film “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” (which was a success in its own right), Stewart and Wayne got right back to work with their second film and their second collaboration of 1962, “How the West Was Won.” It wasn’t just Stewart and Wayne who appeared in this sprawling ensemble cast, however. The movie also featured Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach, Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, and even Jimmy’s old friend Henry Fonda.
The movie is widely considered to be one of Hollywood’s greatest epics. It not only earned widespread critical acclaim, but the star power and directing – courtesy of three men, including John Ford – it was also a box office smash. Against a budget of 14 million, it made about 50 million. Add a zero to the end of that, and you have what it would have made today.
After more than 30 years of ruling Hollywood, Stewart had become one of the greatest men to even stand in front of a camera. From immediate classics like “Rear Window” to slow-burn cult favorites like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” from comedies to romantic films to Westerns and thrillers, Stewart could pretty much do all of it. For that reason, he was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1965, which is awarded for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.
DeMille was the first to receive the award, and other recipients included Walt Disney, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope. The very next year, John Wayne would receive the award. It was the first “honorary” award of his career, something given to him just because of who he was, not necessarily because of a specific film or piece of work.