Nearing 70, Stewart was showing his age. His next film, in 1976, was “The Shootist,” a supporting part in what would become John Wayne’s final film appearance before his death. It concerns Wayne’s character, a gunfighter and sheriff struggling with cancer. Similarly, Stewart’s own health was starting to trend downward. After so much time on noisy sets and flying planes, Stewart had a hearing problem, but he refused to wear a hearing aid.
Because of this, he had a hard time hearing his cues and would repeatedly flub his lines. His next films, “Airport ‘77,” “The Big Sleep,” and “The Magic of Lassie,” mostly floundered at the box office and in the reviews, but at least “Airport ‘77” was a box-office hit.
Few Movies About War
Despite Stewart’s time spent in the military and his support of it, he made very few commercial movies about the military. In general (heh), Stewart wasn’t a big fan of war movies because he rarely found them accurate. He starred in just two: “The Mountain Road” in 1960, which was anti-war though still respectful of the military, and “Shenandoah.” There was also “Malaya” in 1949, which had Stewart as a non-combatant during the war – a reporter.
It’s also more of a war thriller. Aside from these few examples – which certainly weren’t your typical war films – he was in the famous short “Winning Your Wings,” but that was about it for Stewart when it came to war movies. Having actually been in combat, we imagine Stewart would rather things be realistic.
Moving to a New Format
He had done everything the big screen demanded of him, which meant it was time for Jimmy Stewart to do what every aging Hollywood star does eventually – settle into a nice, comfortable television show of his very own. In 1971, Stewart starred in the NBC sitcom “The Jimmy Stewart Show.” Due to bad reviews and a lack of audience, the show was canceled after one week, a move that Stewart was perfectly pleased with.
His next attempt at television came in 1973, in the CBS mystery series “Hawkins.” He played a small-town lawyer who investigated mysterious cases. While it was acclaimed – Stewart won a Golden Globe for it – it was also canceled after one season. He also started making regular appearances on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” to read his poems.
The Final Film
In 1980, even Stewart could read the writing on the wall. His last live-action feature film was “The Green Horizon” in 1980, which he took because it promoted wildlife conservation and allowed him to visit Kenya with his family. The film was, however, a flop. At that point, Stewart considered himself semi-retired. He had earned it, certainly, but it was hard to drag him away from the camera.
His two movies in the eighties after it was television movies: “Mr. Krueger’s Christmas” (which allowed him to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a lifelong dream of his) and “Right of Way,” a drama for HBO that co-starred Bette Davis. He was definitely taking it a little easier, but there was still more to come for ol’ Jimmy.
Still Bringing in the Paychecks
He was all out of feature film appearances, but you could still see Stewart if you knew where to look. He made an appearance in the historical miniseries “North and South” in 1986 and also did voice-over work for commercials for Campbell’s Soups in both the 1980s and the 1990s. After everything else was said and done, Stewart had one single movie performance left in him: Sheriff Wylie Burp in the animated film “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West.”
The movie came out in 1991, and then that was it for the man who had, for so long, been the greatest Hollywood had ever produced. From his first few stumbling film roles to lifetime achievement awards, Stewart had seen it all, and he was ready to kick up his feet.