The 365 Commitment

Wonderful Life

Many of us have seen the old black and white film called Its a Wonderful Life produced in 1946. This classic film is a holiday favorite and frequently watched during the holidays. Many point to this film as a tremendous display of acting by one of the silver screen’s leading men, Jimmy Stewart. What many people do not know is that he was not really acting.

The story famously begins with a character named George Bailey stumbling around drunk and contemplating jumping off a bridge into freezing water. A guardian angel thinks to save him by jumping into the water himself which of course prompts George to actually save the drowning man instead of the suicidal act. The story quickly develops to show George what the world would be like if he was never born. The acting by Stewart is often frantic, edgy, and desperate.

He was not really acting, it seemed as it were, he was recovering himself from pretty severe post traumatic stress syndrome. He just got done with a tour of duty in WW2 as B52 Liberator Bomber Pilot. I am very aware of what he had gone through as I have spent a great deal of time researching these bomb crews during the Great War. My grandfather was a bombardier on one of these crews.

James Stewart enlisted shortly after the declaration of war. He had flight experience so he joined the airforce and became a pilot. The military started using him for promotional videos, training and recruitment. They certainly did not want a famous Hollywood actor to be killed in action. However, after a year or so in this capacity, Lieutenant Stewart had enough. At his insistence he was moved into active duty combat and assigned to the Liberators. He was promoted to Captain, thinking this would allow him to stay out of the most dangerous bomb runs. Using his rank, Stewart did the exact opposite. He put his crew in harms way doing 20 dangerous bombing runs over Germany. Keep in mind, the mortality rate of a member of one of these crews was extremely high. Rarely would a crew make it past 5 runs without incident, much less 20. By the wars end, Captain Stewart had sent countless men to their deaths, and had personally witnessed the devastating effects of the conflict of war.

When the war came to an end in 1946, he went right back to work for Paramount and we have as a result the immortal film, Its a Wonderful Life.

When I wonder what my grandfather must have been feeling like at the conclusion of the war, I often think of the scene toward the end of the movie when George is reunited with his family. This shell shocked man, just happy to be alive, having difficulty explaining why just holding his loved ones in his arms was overwhelming.

Jimmy Stewart would go on to star in more films and finish one of the most storied acting careers of all time.

Inspiring and worth watching this movie again with this new perspective.

Guy Reams

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