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James Maitland, Actor, Hero, Family Man

Surely you've heard of James Maitland. He starred alongside some of the best Hollywood actors and actresses of his day. His acting career, however, was interrupted by the war, during which he was heavily engaged in combat, for which he earned numerous medals and returned home a hero. Although he resumed his acting career, he never really left the military. In fact, when he finally retired (actually, he was forced out by the mandatory age restriction), it was as a brigadier general.

Born on May 20, 1908, in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maitland starred in 80 films during his illustrious career. Even before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor dragged the United States into the conflict, he sensed his duty to his country, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private in March 1941. He applied for pilot training. After all, he was already a licensed civilian pilot, so he was assigned to the Army Air Force (AAF).

At first, the AAF, capitalizing on Maitland's acting experience and reputation, had him starring in recruitment and training films, such as Winning Your Wings. He later spent a year training pilots at Kirkland Army Air Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

But Maitland yearned to be in action, not in safety and relative ease in the United States. After all, the branches of his family tree were filled with warriors. His great grandfather had fought in the Revolution, both of his grandfathers fought in the Civil War, and his father had been in the Spanish-American War. And Maitland wanted his name to be written on that honor roll of heroes, too.

He finally got his wish. He was sent to England as part of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron and flew four-engine B-24 Liberator heavy bombers, operating first out of RAF Tibenham and later from RAF Old Buckenham. In all, he flew 20 combat missions, the only pre-war film star who served in "a sustained combat role."

By January 1944, Maitland had achieved the rank of major, and by March 1945 was a full colonel. He had gone from private to colonel in only four years, a testament to his leadership skills. For his heroism and achievements, he received numerous medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Maitland remained in the reorganized U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Reserves until retiring on May 31, 1968, at age 60, with the rank of brigadier general and the Distinguished Service Medal.

For a fleeting moment after the war, Maitland considered returning home to help his father in the hardware store he owned. But he eventually decided to return to acting. The resulting career netted him starring roles in 80 films and numerous honors and awards, including five Academy Awards nominations.

Did you say you'd never heard of James Maitland? Sure you have! But you know him better as Jimmy--Jimmy Maitland Stewart.

Among Stewart's many movies, these are my personal favorites, listed in no particular order:

  • Made for Each Other (with Carol Lombard)

  • It's a Wonderful Life (his first movie after the war; with Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore)

  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (with Jean Arthur)

  • Destry Rides Again (with Marlene Dietrich)

  • Winchester 73 (with a star-studded cast, including Dan Duryea, Rock Hudson, Shelley Winters, Tony Curtis, and Will Geer)

  • Carbine Williams (with a young, pre-Gunsmoke James Arness)

  • Rear Window (with Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr)

  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (with Doris Day)

  • Vertigo (with Kim Novak)

  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (with John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Lee Van Cleef, and Andy Devine)

  • Shenandoah (with Glenn Corbett and Doug McClure)

But acting was not Stewart's only interest. He was involved in numerous philanthropic efforts, notably the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts. He was also involved in politics as a staunch conservative, helping in the presidential campaigns of both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

Stewart was also a family man. In 1949, he married former model Gloria Hatrick McLean, and, in stark contrast to most Hollywood stars, remained faithfully married to her until her death in 1994. He himself died of a heart attack on July 2, 1997.

James (Jimmy) Maitland Stewart, the actor-bomber pilot with the distinctive drawl, was underrated and somewhat underappreciated, but he should be remembered and revered as the role model he was and continues to be. Quite the contrast in every way to those whom young people imitate and the media grovel before today!

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