UNITED STATES

Indiana, PA

Jimmmy Stewart’s Hometown Honours Its Star

Statue of Jimmy Stewart in front of Indiana, Pennsylvania courthouse

Statue of Jimmy Stewart stands outside the courthouse in Indiana, Pennsylvania, the beloved actor’s hometown.
MITCHELL SMYTH/Meridian Writers’ Group

“HARVEY AND I I have things to do. We sit in the bars, have a drink or two, play the juke box.” Thus speaks Elwood P. Dowd (actor James Stewart) in the great 1950 movie Harvey. Harvey, you may remember, is a six-foot-tall rabbit, but we never see him, for he exists only in Dowd’s imagination.

If you come to this west-central Pennsylvania town, however, you can see Harvey. You can even sit next to him and cuddle him. This Harvey is a huge stuffed doll and he has a permanent seat in the little movie theatre in the Jimmy Stewart Museum on Philadelphia Street. Indiana was Jimmy Stewart’s hometown and no one would dream of calling him “James” here.

Another of Stewart’s best-loved movies is It’s a Wonderful Life, which is set around Christmas and has become a staple of Yuletide television. In many ways small-town Indiana (population 16,000) resembles Bedford Falls, the fictional town in the movie, and for years Indiana renamed itself that for Christmas, putting up a sign reading “Welcome to Bedford Falls.” The practice was discontinued after vandals defaced the sign.

Outside the courthouse there’s a bronze statue of the actor. And atop Vinegar Hill stands the two-storey home where James Maitland Stewart grew up. But the museum is the main focus for visitors. It highlights his boyhood, his career in 80-plus movies and his service in the Second World War, in posters, clippings, photographs and items donated by the actor.

There’s a flight suit worn by the man who flew more than 20 bombing raids over Germany and earned six battle stars and a Distinguished Service Medal. The rifle he used in Winchester 73 (1950) keeps company with part of a propeller, autographed by the cast, from the crashed plane in 1966’s Flight of the Phoenix.

In the eight-row cinema, Harvey and visitors watch interviews, a career overview and clips from many of the tall, gangly, slow-spoken actor’s films. “Part of every Jimmy Stewart movie was part of what he really was: an honourable, decent man,”says a guide.

Some of the posters and reviews remind us that not all of his films have become classics. Sure, there’s Vertigo, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Anatomy of a Murder, Rear Window and dozens more that the critics and the public love, but he also appeared in some forgettable stuff. (No one remembers Art Trouble, You Gotta Stay Happy or Pot o’ Gold, do they?)

The museum notes that when Stewart won his sole Academy Award, for The Philadelphia Story (1940), his father displayed it in the window of his hardware store for 20 years. The store is no longer there, but a plaque marks the site. Visitors also learn that Stewart wore the same cowboy hat in most of his western roles, and rode the same horse, Pa. Stewart, who died in 1997, visited his hometown several times, the last on his 75th birthday (May 20) in 1983.

 

ACCESS

For more information visit the Jimmy Stewart Museum website at http://jimmy.org.

For information on travel in Pennsylvania go to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office website at www.visitpa.com.