Rear Window (1954) & the Decade of Jimmy Stewart

Rear Window
Jimmy Stewart Owns the 1950s, Loves Fatherhood & His Wife, Is Hitchcock's Ideal Hero, & Remains a Man to Emulate. It's Rear Window (1954).
Listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood , available everywhere you listen to podcasts! Episode 41 is all about Rear Window (1954).

Now streaming

The 1950s belonged to Jimmy Stewart. 

With the success of Winchester ’73 (1950), Jim started the decade off on a high note, reinvigorating his postwar career and revolutionizing the modern Western.

But Westerns weren’t the only films Jim proved he excelled in.

With the 1954 thriller, Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart began a fulfilling collaboration with the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.  The film was the first of three that Jim and Hitch would make together over the next four years.  Rear Window  underscored that Jimmy’s versatility as an actor knew no bounds.

Rear Window and Beyond

On the personal front, after marrying the love of his life Gloria, and adopting her two sons, Jim became the proud father of twin girls Kelly and Judy in 1951.   Jimmy adored being a father to all four of the Stewart children.  He was a loving, fun, and even mischievous dad.

The 1950s were good years for America’s most beloved star, who consistently demonstrated that it was, in fact, possible to remain grounded in Hollywood.

Let’s go through the plot of Rear Window, then behind the scenes to Jim’s sweet family life, and the making of the film.

We’ll also address a certain rumor that Stewart biographers like to throw around in attempt to spice up the life of this scandal-free star.

L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) must spend 6 weeks in a full leg cast.

Rear Window: The Plot

L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a successful photojournalist.  Jeff is forced to take it easy after breaking his leg while on an assignment.  A full-leg cast keeps Jeff wheel-chair bound in his Greenwich Village apartment for six weeks.  He’s got nothing to do but look forward to the visits of his insurance agency nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his beautiful girlfriend, model Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly).

Oh, and spy on his neighbors.

There’s a heat wave in New York City, so Jeff’s neighbors are particularly easy to observe from his rear window as everyone tries to keep cool with open windows and doors.  

The view from Jeff's apartment. It's easy to look into the lives of his neighbors.

Jeff's Rear Window View

The most entertaining of Jeff’s neighbors include a newlywed couple whose activities are…as expected; a middle-aged couple who sleep outside and dote constantly on their dog; an unhappily single woman Jeff nicknames “Ms. Lonelyhearts;” a struggling music composer; “Ms Torso,” a ballerina so nicknamed by Jeff for her constant bare-midriff dancing; and the Thorwalds, a couple who, from what Jeff can observe, is quite unhappily married.

Jeff can tell from his rear window that the Thorwalds are unhappily married.

Thorwald's Crime

Alma and Lisa are both shocked by Jeff’s unashamed spying on his neighbors, and tell him so.  But Jeff, used to the adventure and travel of photojournalism, is so bored with absolutely nothing to do day after day, it’s hard not to sympathize with him and his new favorite activity. 


And really, it’s a harmless enough pastime.  

That is, until Jeff convinces himself that Mr. Thorwald murdered his wife.

And buried her remains around town, including in the flower bed visible from Jeff’s window.  

Jeff eventually convinces Stella (Thelma Ritter) and Lisa (Grace Kelly) that Thorwald murdered his wife...

A series of suspicious noises and activities from the Thorwald apartment in the middle of the night is what initially leads to Jeff’s speculations.  And Thorwald’s cagey behavior the following day—which includes cleaning a huge knife and a handsaw—confirms Jeff’s suspicions.  

Thorwald wraps a huge knife and handsaw up in newspaper the day after his wife goes missing. No big deal.

Jeff tells Lisa and Stella what he’s seen.  At first, they think he’s crazy.  But then they too witness some of Thorwald’s unusual behavior. 

Stay Updated

The Latest in Stars and Recipes, Sent Directly to Your Inbox!

And then there’s the fact that Mrs. Thorwald hasn’t been in the apartment since the night of the supposed murder…

Rear Window
Jeff tells his friend, Detective Tom Doyle, of his suspicions. But there's no evidence against Thorwald, so Doyle can do nothing.

Finding the Evidence

Jeff alerts his friend, Detective Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey) to Thorwald’s crime.  But Doyle can’t take Jeff’s accusations seriously, as there’s still no solid evidence against Thorwald.  

Lisa breaks into Thorwald's apartment to find evidence that he killed his wife. She finds Mrs. Thorwald's handbag, and it's empty.

It’s Lisa who ends up taking a big risk to garner evidence—winning Jeff’s love and respect in the process—by breaking into Thorwald’s apartment one evening while he’s out.  But Thorwald comes home before Lisa leaves his apartment.  Jeff, observing the whole situation from his window, calls the police, who luckily arrive on the scene and arrest Lisa before Thorwald harms her.

Thorwald discovers Lisa searching his apartment...!

As the police question her in Thorwald’s apartment, Lisa motions to Jeff behind her back that she’s found the late Mrs. Thorwald’s wedding ring in the apartment, a solid piece of evidence that Mrs. Thorwald is not, as Mr. Thorwald would like his neighbors to believe, just temporarily away visiting family.

Rear Window
Lisa motions to Jeff that she's found the evidence they need: Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring.

Thorwald Knows

Unfortunately for Lisa and Jeff, Thorwald picks up on Lisa’s hand motions, and sees Jeff watching everything from his apartment.  Jeff quickly turns out the lights.

But it’s too late.  

Thorwald now knows that Jeff knows about what really happened to his wife.

Rear Window

As the police leave the Thorwald apartment with Lisa in custody, Jeff assigns Stella to go bail her out of jail. 

Once Jeff is alone in his apartment, the phone rings.

Jeff assumes it’s Detective Doyle returning his call from earlier, and immediately begins talking about Thorwald.

But there’s no response on the other end of the line.

Rear Window
Jeff realizes it's not Detective Doyle on the line...

Jeff quickly realizes it’s not Doyle who called him, but Thorwald.  The line goes dead.

And Jeff knows what that means…

Thorwald is coming for him.

Rear Window
Jeff grabs his camera, his only means of defense.

The Showdown

With his full-leg cast, Jeff is literally a sitting duck.  So he grabs the one means of self-defense he can think of: his camera.  

Sure enough, Thorwald enter’s Jeff’s apartment, and comes at him with intent to kill.

Rear Window
Thorwald has come for Jeff.

Jeff uses his camera, with its shockingly bright flash, to temporarily blind and disorient Thorwald.  The plan briefly works, but Thorwald still manages to push Jeff out the rear window of his apartment, the same window Jeff witnessed Thorwald’s crime from.

Rear Window
The camera flash temporarily blinds Thorwald.

Luckily, the police arrive just before Jeff’s fall, and save him from serious injury.  They arrest Thorwald, who confesses to murdering his wife.

Rear Window
Jeff survives the fall, but it wasn't painless. Now he's got TWO full leg casts.

The film ends with Jeff back in his apartment, this time with casts on both legs: the police softened his fall, but the drop still broke Jeff’s other leg.  This second recovery process should be a little easier however, as evidenced by Lisa’s presence in Jeff’s apartment, secretly reading Harper’s Bazar while he naps.  Lisa has officially proven herself an adventurer, and as such, a girl Jeff can finally see his future with.

And that’s the end of the film.

Rear Window
Lisa secretly reads Harper's Bazar as soon as Jeff falls asleep.

Additions to the Stewart Family

In the second half of 1950, Jim and Gloria Stewart happily discovered that Gloria was pregnant.  The excitement of adding to their family was heightened when Jim and Gloria discovered they were expecting twins.  As Jimmy shared [aff. link]:

“Where Gloria and I got so fortunate was that we got girl twins to go with the two boys.”

Jim and Gloria with sons Ron and Michael.

With Jim, Gloria, Ron, Michael, and two more on the way, it was time to find a bigger home for the Stewart family.  After toying with the idea of a Malibu Beach property, Jim and Gloria decided a home further away from the ocean would be safer, at least while they had young children.  So in January 1951, the Stewarts bought a home in Beverly Hills at 918 Roxbury Drive.  Neighbors over the years included Oscar Levant, Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, Ira Gershwin, Lucille Ball, Agnes Moorehead, Thomas Mitchell, and Jack Benny. 

918 Roxbury Drive, the Stewart Family home.

Jim never found the home all that attractive, and was known to refer to its Tudor style as “Mediterranean Ugly.”  

But Jim and the family loved their “Mediterranean Ugly” home.  Jimmy would live at 918 Roxbury Drive quite literally for the rest of his days. 

The continuity of home was something Jim’s children appreciated.  His daughter, Kelly Stewart Harcourt, once shared that as a young adult, she loved coming home to the house she grew up in.  Jim’s and Gloria’s decision to put down roots in just one home over the years certainly contributed to the nearly unprecedented ability of the Stewart children to stay grounded, despite the temptations of Hollywood. 

Gloria Hatrick McLean Stewart

Jimmy Stewart: Expectant Father

As the arrival of the twins drew nearer, Jim was a sweetly nervous expectant father.  Wanting everything to go smoothly for Gloria, he rehearsed driving to the hospital over and over again so that he’d be a confident navigator on the big day. 

As Gloria remembered:

“Jim was paranoid about how he would get me to the  hospital in time because he was so unsure of his ability to drive me to the hospital and get me there in one piece.  He began to rehearse the journey driving to the hospital from home.  He timed himself so he knew exactly how long it would take.  It was like the way he learned to do things technically in a film.  Driving me to hospital was a technical thing he had to learn to do.  And one time he got lost and had to stop at a gas station to ask the way.”

But on the day Gloria went into labor, it wasn’t driving to the hospital that Jim had to worry about.  There were complications to the pregnancy, and Gloria was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

Jim and Gloria with newborns Kelly and Judy.

A Difficult Delivery

On May 7, 1951, Kelly and Judy Stewart arrived.  Luckily, the fraternal twin girls were completely healthy at birth.  But Gloria suffered serious complications to her own health after the Caesarean delivery:

“I almost died.  They couldn’t stop the bleeding.  They operated on me three times and I had five blood transfusions.  Jim got so worried that he was going to lose me that he got his church minister to pray with him at home.”

Gloria’s doctors eventually restored her health, but she was required to remain in the hospital for weeks as she recovered.  According to Gloria, twins Kelly and Judy were home for about a month before Gloria herself was permitted to leave the hospital.

Absent-Minded Jimmy

On the day she was cleared to go home, there was a humorous incident that Gloria always delighted in re-telling [aff. link]:

“When they said I could go home, Jim said, ‘Don’t worry about a thing.  I know the route between here and home like the back of my hand.’  That didn’t fill me with confidence.  He said, ‘I’ll go and get the car and bring it round to the entrance, and you go down in the elevator and I’ll meet you there.’

I was taken down to the lobby in a wheelchair with all my luggage and all the flowers I’d been sent.  And there I waited.  After twenty minutes, the nurse said to me, ‘Where is he?’  I knew the answer.  I said, ‘He’s forgotten.’  She said, ‘How could he forget?’  I said, ‘He can.  Take me back upstairs.  He’ll phone.’  So she took me back up, and sure enough he phoned.  He’d simply got in the car and driven straight home, and didn’t remember he was supposed to collect me until he got home.”

Jim chalked the situation up to his “absent-mindedness,” an understandable excuse considering he had newborn twins at home.

As Jim recalled of the day:

“I remember painfully the day I was to bring her home…I had gone there [to the hospital] to help her gather her things…somehow I forgot [to get Gloria] and went by a photographer’s to pick up some pictures.  He asked how Mrs. Stewart was, the light turned on in my head and I dashed back to the hospital.  I never lived that one down.”

Jim and Gloria with son Ron, who sadly died in 1969, serving in Vietnam.

A Good Father

Jim’s son Ron sadly died in 1969, while serving in Vietnam.  But the three surviving Stewart children remember their childhood and their parents with love and affection.  Gloria, not particularly religious herself, decided that Jim’s Presbyterian upbringing, in her own words, certainly “hadn’t done him any harm.”  So, Jim and Gloria raised all four of the Stewart children with the values of the faith. 

There was one lesson in particular that Jim taught the kids which Gloria especially admired: 

“But what he taught them—what I hope they found valuable—was that you are not entitled to everything in life.  You have to take the bad with the good, and you make the most of it.  And he taught them not to rely on their father being a famous Hollywood movie star and think that gave them a free ride.  They had to earn anything they wanted.  And I agree with the philosophy.”

Jimmy Stewart family
The Stewart Family.

In a 2011 interview, Kelly Stewart Harcourt shared another sweet lesson she learned from her father [aff. link]: 


“He taught us to do the right thing, without ever sitting us down and telling us to do the right thing….he taught by example and just had a very quiet way about him.  I remember growing up and doing things based on whether I thought Dad would approve or not approve.”

It’s true that Jimmy could be gone for long stretches at a time for work.  Elements of the job, such as location shooting, required it.  But Judy Stewart Merrill says that Jim’s periodic absences didn’t negatively affect her, or her brothers and sister: the kids knew their father loved them, even when he wasn’t home.  As a result, the Stewart children never expressed the animosity towards their parents that so many children of celebrities do.

A Fun Dad

Jimmy Stewart taught his children the deeper lessons of life.  But he was also fun.

Both Kelly and Judy recollect how funny and mischievous their dad could be.  Often, it was Jim, not the children, who got a gentle scolding from Gloria after some prankish behavior—like the time Jimmy launched plum and mint sauce from the lazy Susan at the dinner table onto Gloria’s newly re-decorated walls.

And it was a given that if Jim was in charge of the girls’ bedtime story, there’d be fits of laughter that certainly didn’t aid in the settling-down-to-bed routine. 

And the girls loved him for it.

L-R: Judy, Jim, and Kelly.

Family and Fans

By example, Jim and Gloria also taught their children how to be gracious to the tourists who frequently passed by 918 Roxbury Drive on the “See the Stars Homes” tour buses.  Jimmy knew all the bus drivers by name, and was known to occasionally invite fans in for ice cream.  More often than not, it was Kelly and Judy who answered the door when the more forward fans knocked.  

Kelly Stewart Harcourt remembers that her father never turned down a request for his signature.  To Jimmy Stewart, it was the fans who kept him in the movies.  He felt a deep sense of respect and gratitude towards them as a result. 

If Jim was home and napping when a bus of tourists stopped by for autographs, Kelly recalls that she and Judy took the signature business into their own hands [aff. link]:

“…this happened very rarely—people were just, you know, they’d come all the way from Iowa and they were so sweet and seemed so innocent, and Judy and I would take a piece of paper and get Dad and just beg him to sign it.  And if he was having a nap, I admit a couple of times I forged his signature.”

A forgery never had sweeter intentions.

Jim did have his limits with the fans: one day a group of tourists decided to have a picnic on the Stewarts’ front lawn.  This understandably didn’t sit well with Jim, who promptly turned the sprinklers on.

Problem solved.

The Stewarts in Italy.

"The Disneyland Family"

Despite the rosy picture, Gloria readily admitted that the Stewart Family—like all others—was not perfect.  Of the flawless image attributed to the Stewarts in fan magazines, Gloria later said that:

“We were the Disneyland family—with nothing out of place.  I’ll say we were a good family—a nice family—but God, we were never that sweet or we’d have all been sick all the time!”

Such an honest admission further underscores what a remarkable family the Stewarts were.

Before Rear Window: Rope

On the career front, the 1950s continued to be an artistically fulfilling and financially lucrative time for Jim.  In addition to the slew of Westerns he made with Anthony Mann, Jimmy made three of the most memorable and iconic films of his career.  All three of these films were directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

But the Stewart/Hitchcock collaborations of the 1950s almost never happened.

And it was due to the failure of the first film Jim and Hitch made together, 1948’s Rope.

Jim with Farley Granger and John Dall in Rope (1948).

Rope was one of Jim’s first postwar films.  Similar to It’s a Wonderful Life, it failed to reinvigorate his career.  But unlike It’s a Wonderful LifeRope  wasn’t a pleasant experience for Jim:

“Rope wasn’t my favorite picture.  I think I was miscast, though not terribly so.  So many people could have played that part, probably better.”

Gloria was more blunt than her husband when describing the working environment on the film:

“No one had fun on Rope.”

Jim in Rope (1948).

Never Again...ALMOST

Jimmy lost sleep over the stress of the experimental shooting style Hitchcock employed, which consisted of ten, roughly ten minute long segments, meant to give audiences a sense that what was unfolding on screen was happening in real-time.  But for Jim and the other actors, this meant that a single mistake or forgotten line during filming required that the whole segment be re-shot, from the beginning.  

Tension on set was high as a result. Hitchcock was ultimately disappointed with the completed film, and felt that the final product did not justify the gimmicky filming technique.  Jim was apt to agree with him. 

After the underwhelming release of Rope, Jimmy told columnist Louella Parsons in an interview that he’d be happy to make another picture with Hitchcock anytime.  But privately, friends like Josh Logan said that Jim swore he’d never make another film with the Master of Suspense.

But that all changed when Jim read the script of Rear Window, and learned that newcomer Grace Kelly would be his leading lady. 

The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.

Rear Window and Hitchcock's Amazing Deal

Rear Window  was the first of nine films Alfred Hitchcock made with Paramount Pictures.  His agent, Lew Wasserman—who brokered Jimmy’s impressive percentage deal for Winchester ’73negotiated a similarly enviable contract for Hitch.

Hitchcock historians say details of the contract have never been fully disclosed, a common pattern with Wasserman’s legendary deals.  But what is known is pretty extraordinary: of the nine films he would make for Paramount, Hitch would direct and produce five of them.  He’d earn a $150,000 salary and 10 percent of the profits on each of the four films he directed, and a slightly smaller salary, but a higher gross percentage, for each of the five films he both directed and produced.  Best of all, Wasserman negotiated a revolutionary reversion clause that would give Hitch outright ownership of the five films he directed and produced eight years after their initial release dates.

Lew Wasserman was nothing short of a genius.

The three Stewart/Hitchcock collaborations—Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958), were three of those five films that Hitchcock eventually owned.

The man behind the deals, Lew Wasserman.

Securing the Story for Rear Window

The Rear Window screenplay was based on It Had to be Murder, a short story by Cornell Woolrich that appeared in the February 1942 issue of Dime Detective Magazine.  Jim’s good friend from his college days, Josh Logan, and his former agent, Leland Hayward, owned the story.  Once again, it was Lew Wasserman who negotiated the deal that transferred the rights of Woolrich’s story to Hitchcock for $35,000. 

An additional $15,000 was paid to Logan for the treatment he’d already written, noteworthy as the first version of the story to include a girlfriend for the film’s protagonist.  Loyal friend that he was, Jimmy refused to sign on to Rear Window  until he was assured that both Logan and Hayward would be compensated as co-producers on the film.  Though their names do not appear in the film’s credits, Jimmy’s stipulation for his friends was granted.

Rear Window
Hitchcock, Jimmy and Grace behind the scenes of Rear Window (1954).

Writing the Rear Window Script

Hitchcock hired up and coming screenwriter John Michael Hayes to work with him on the screenplay.  According to Hayes and assistant director Herbert Coleman, Hitch already knew exactly what he wanted the Rear Window  story to convey.  As such, Hayes’ contributions to the screenplay would mostly be dialogue. 

Rear Window

And since an estimated 35 percent of Rear Window is silent, what dialogue there was had to be good. 

Assistant director Coleman remembered observing Hitch’s unique creative process as he worked with Hayes on the script:

“Hitchcock walked around the office dictating the story as he had it in his mind, and John Michael Hayes sat at a typewriter and typed what was dictated.  Hitch told everything, every camera move, everything but the dialogue.  When it came to the dialogue, he’d say, ‘Now Mr. Hayes, the dialogue must convey this meaning.’”

Hayes shared that Hitchcock envisioned the film’s two main characters, L.B. Jeffries and Lisa Fremont, as extensions of the stars who played them.  In particular, Hitch asked Hayes to use the Lisa Fremont character to bring out Grace Kelly’s more exciting qualities, qualities that had been under-explored in her pervious films.

Rear Window

Lighting the Fire

Hitchcock believed that Grace, still a starlet, had all the makings of a full-fledged star. 

But he found her to be, well, boring  in her early screen roles. 

After working with Grace on Dial M For Murder (1954), Hitchcock knew that the real Grace Kelly was anything but boring: he’d experienced the wicked sense of humor and electricity beneath Kelly’s ladylike exterior.  This dichotomy between Grace’s regal appearance and her actual, fun-loving personality, intrigued him.  Hitch’s goal was to bring out Grace’s vivacity for the world to see in Rear Window.  

And he entrusted John Michael Hayes with the task.  As Hayes remembered:

“Hitchcock said of Grace Kelly, ‘Look at her.  She does everything well, but there’s no fire in her.’ So I spent a week with Grace Kelly, and got to know that she was whimsical and funny and humorous and teasing.”

Rear Window

Hayes successfully brings out these elements of Grace Kelly in Rear Window.  The dialogue in the film shows Grace’s personality as no Kelly movie had before.  Rear Window  is, in many ways, the first film to show Grace Kelly as the public would forever remember her: beautiful, charming, ladylike, but not overly proper.  And certainly not boring.  

As Hitchcock put it, with Rear Window:

“I didn’t discover Grace, but I saved her from a fate worse than death.  I prevented her from being eternally cast as a cold woman.”

Rear Window

Rear Window and the Golden Age of Hitchcock

Rear Window  ushered in what many consider to be “the golden age of Hitchcock”:  To Catch a Thief (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and North by Northwest (1959) all followed.  Hitch himself later shared with filmmaker Francois Truffaut that at the time of Rear Window:

“I was feeling very creative…The batteries were well-charged.”

But it wasn’t just Hitch’s fully charged batteries that made the film great.  Rear Window  was the first Hitchcock film that brought together the complete, masterful team responsible for the various elements now celebrated as classic Hitchcock.

Rear Window
Grace Kelly was dressed to perfection by Edith Head in Rear Window (1954).

Edith Head's Rear Window Costume Designs

The exceptionally talented Edith Head was in charge of costume design.  Edith and Hitch worked together closely, particularly on the beautiful wardrobe worn by Grace Kelly in the film.  According to Edith, Hitchcock knew exactly how he wanted his leading lady to look:

“There was a reason for every color, every style, and he was absolutely certain about everything he settled on.  For one scene he saw her in pale green, for another in white chiffon, for another in gold.  He was really putting a dream together in the studio…Hitch wanted her to appear like a piece of Dresden china, something slightly untouchable.”

Edith did such a superb job bringing Hitch’s vision to life, she earned an Oscar nomination for her work on the film.

Rear Window
More flawless Edith Head designs.

The Rest of the Team

In addition to Edith Head on costumes, and John Michael Hayes writing the screenplay, Hitchcock rounded out his team with cameraman Robert Burks, editor George Tomasini, and Joseph MacMillan Johnson and John P. Fulton in charge of special effects and production design.

And the logistics and engineering behind the Rear Window  set design were nothing short of spectacular.  

Rear Window
The intricate Rear Window set looked like a residential block in Greenwich Village.

The Rear Window Set

Though filming began on October 12, 1953 on Stage 18 of the Paramount lot, in the final film, it looks as if Hitch shot everything on location in a residential block of Greenwich Village.

31 apartments were constructed, 12 of which (some sources say eight) were fully furnished.  Hitchcock and his team thought of everything: they created fire escapes, roof gardens, and even an alley leading to the street in front of this fictional complex.  Hitchcock also insisted that the complex have realistic lighting that could be dimmed or brightened for day and night. To create this effect, 100 arc lights and 2,000 small lamps were installed, which Hitch controlled with a large console/control center installed in the L.B. Jeffries apartment.  

All in all, the fictional 40 foot high, 185 foot long complex took fifty men, and a full month to construct.  The Rear Window set was so massive, Hitchcock had all of his actors in the apartments across from Jeff’s carry small microphones so that he could give them instructions via walkie-talkie.

Rear Window

Rear Window: A Smooth Production

Despite all these complicated technical aspects, the Rear Window set was anything but chaotic.  As Jimmy Stewart remembered:

“The set and every part of the film were so well designed, and he [Hitch] felt so comfortable with everyone associated with it, that we all felt confident about its success.”

With an actor like Jim heading the cast, Hitchcock knew he didn’t have to micromanage the performances of his actors.  If things weren’t working in a scene, Hitch could rely on Jimmy to fix it with very little instruction.  It was a hands-off directorial style that worked well for Jimmy Stewart:

“Every once in a while after shooting a scene, Hitch would get out of his chair and come up to me.  Then he would very quietly say, ‘Jim, the scene is tired.’  He would then go back to his chair and sit down, and you would know exactly what he meant, that the timing and the pace were wrong.”

Rear Window

Hitchcock once paid Jimmy the ultimate compliment by calling him the ideal hero for his films.  In Hitch’s own words, Jim could expertly portray:

“[The] Everyman in bizarre situations.”

Rear Window
The premiere of Rear Window (1954).

The Success of Rear Window

Hitchcock historically did his best work on happy film sets, working among friends with budgets that allowed him to bring his visions to life.  Rear Window  provided Hitchcock with these ideal conditions.  Hitch’s particularly good mood and affinity for his two stars is even reflected in Rear Window’s happy, completely resolved ending, an unusual element for a Hitchcock film.

Alfred Hitchcock biographer Patrick McGilligan makes a fascinating suggestion that Hitch’s happiness on the Rear Window set was further aided by a healthy dose of self-confidence: during filming, Hitchcock was down to a slim 189 pounds, an admirable accomplishment for a man who, not so long before, had reached his all-time highest weight of 340 pounds. 

All those involved with the film saw their great efforts rewarded when Rear Window  premiered in late summer of 1954 to unanimous critical praise.  It was a great success for Alfred Hitchcock, yet another postwar hit for Jimmy Stewart, and made Grace Kelly a bonafide star.

Indeed, following the successful release of Rear Window, the only person who still wasn’t a Grace Kelly fan was her own father.

Rear Window
Grace Kelly at the premiere of Rear Window (1954). Her father was the only person who remained unimpressed with her after the success of the film.

Rear Window and Grace Kelly

Kelly fans are certainly familiar with the sad and oddly fascinating relationship between Grace and her father.  Jack Kelly, from Grace’s birth, never thought his middle daughter would amount to much.  

He also didn’t think she was all that pretty.  

As far as Jack was concerned, it was Grace’s older sister, Peggy, who was the real beauty of the family; the Kelly sister he expected to do great things in life.  Jack was very public with his belief that Grace was nothing special.  He repeatedly made condescending comments about his daughter, even to the press. 

Grace’s good friend and bridesmaid, Judy Balaban Quine, remembers an evening at the Kelly home, around this time that Grace’s career was really taking off.  In a conversation with Jack Kelly, Judy mentioned Grace’s growing stardom.  She asked Jack what his thoughts were on his daughter’s exciting success.  Jack’s response was nothing short of strange:

Rear Window

“I don’t understand why she’d want to be an actress.  Never did…I told her she could go to NY  [to study acting] when she asked because I couldn’t think of anything else she could do.  Not even getting into college…Oh, well…I’m glad she’s making a living.”

Her father may not have been impressed, but at least Grace had the adoration of the rest of the world after Rear Window.

Rear Window
Jim and Grace Kelly admire one of his beloved accordions.

The Truth About Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly

Jimmy Stewart had unanimously positive things to say about Grace Kelly and their time working together on Rear Window.  He often stressed that Grace was a pleasure to work with, and, contrary to her cool blonde persona, exceptionally warm and friendly [aff. link]:

“Grace, cold?  Why Grace is anything but cold.  She has those big warm eyes—and, well, if you ever have played a love scene with her, you’d know she’s not cold…besides, Grace has that twinkle and a touch of larceny in her eye.”

Rear Window

Quotes such as this from Jim, coupled with Grace’s reputation (at the time) for routinely sleeping with her co-stars, is cited as evidence of a Stewart/Kelly affair.

But this rumor is false.

There’s no evidence to support an affair between Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.

Rear Window

The Character of the Man

As Jim’s friend Josh Logan underscores, even if Jim ever had been tempted to stray, his sense of loyalty to Gloria was too strong to act on any attraction towards a leading lady:

“Knowing Jim as I do, he would have fought the devil and won.”

Rear Window

Gloria's Trust Rewarded

Gloria knew exactly what she signed up for when she married a Hollywood movie star.  Confident in her own worth, Gloria could handle the reality of her husband working with desirable women. 

Like Josh Logan, Gloria was also confident in the character of Jimmy Stewart.  No matter how beautiful the leading lady, Gloria knew that Jim was a man she could trust with her heart:

Rear Window

“When you marry a leading man in Hollywood movies, you’re marrying man who is going to be spending much of his time with some of the world’s most beautiful women, and that’s going to be the cause of some insecurity for any woman…

The thing about Jimmy, though, is that he didn’t go around falling in love…he somehow held back from allowing himself that luxury…

What I must have always known is that when Jimmy made a commitment to me, it was a commitment he took as seriously as the oath he took to his country when he enlisted.  That’s simply the moral thinking behind the man…he never once gave me cause to be suspicious or jealous in any way…

I think it would be true to say that Jim actually has gone out of his way many times to be particularly attentive to me.  The more beautiful and glamorous his leading lady was, the more attention he paid to me.  I asked him once why he did that, and he said, ‘Because I want you to never feel anything less than the most special thing in my life.’  The romantic Jim that people see in his films is the real him.” 

"Just Plain Sensible"

And, morality aside, Jim’s practical side just couldn’t get on board with philandering as a hobby:

“You have to wisely pick and choose the pastimes you enjoy when you’re an actor if you want to stay sane in this business.  Flying [airplanes] I thought was a good idea.  Wanting to carry on kissing the leading lady when I had a wonderful wife at home was a lousy idea.  It’s not just a question of what’s morally right, but also what’s just plain sensible.”

Rather than attempt to sensationalize Jim’s life with an affair that didn’t happen—as many Stewart biographers do—let’s appreciate Jimmy Stewart for the faithful husband he was.  

Actors and actresses who cheat on their significant other are a dime a dozen.

But a star like Jimmy Stewart, who remained loving and true to his wife throughout his successful Hollywood career, is worth celebrating.

The Decade of Jimmy Stewart

The 1950s was the decade of Jimmy Stewart. 

Five successful Westerns with Anthony Mann that forever changed the genre, three blockbuster films with Alfred Hitchcock, and a variety of expertly played characters, proved that Jim was as versatile on screen as he was kind and decent off screen.

After the success of Rear Window, Jimmy was voted the“king” of Hollywood by Motion Picture Herald magazine for earning more than any other actor in Hollywood.  Look magazine named him 1955’s most popular movie star in the world. 

Jimmy Stewart isn’t the flashiest of stars most commonly associated with the 1950s—think Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Marlon Brando.  But Jim was, quietly, more consistently successful and universally loved.

Jimmy Stewart: A Good Man & A Real Life Hero

With his considerable earnings from Rear Window, Jim and Gloria bought the property next door to 918 Roxbury Drive. 

Rather than expand their home, Jim gave the land to Gloria, to plant a vegetable garden, her longtime passion.  The action perfectly sums up the Jimmy Stewart character: thoughtful, kind, unpretentious, and so devoted to his wife.

Jimmy Stewart is more than a movie star. 

In a world increasingly full of anti-heroes in varying shades of gray, Jimmy Stewart is a man to emulate; a true hero in every sense of the word.

Jimmy Stewart

So Long (for now), Jim!

That wraps up Rear Window, and my Star Spotlight on Jimmy Stewart.

Join me next week as I introduce our new spotlight; a talented actor known as Hollywood’s first rebel, John Garfield.

2 Responses

  1. I’m afraid I do not think physical faithfullness is so important in real life. Yes, you might be right: faithfullness is a virtue, but I would have liked to know a love story between Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. I think that love (physical love) would have been marvellous between Jimmy and Grace, without destroying or tarring his telationship with his wife Gloria. It would have been really beautiful, certainly more than faithfullness to his bride (in my modest opinion)!

    1. Thanks for reading Edoarda! I appreciate your comment, but I strongly disagree: There’s nothing more romantic than complete fidelity to our chosen life partner. The fact that Jim was faithful to Gloria throughout their 45 year marriage is more romantic and beautiful than an affair with Grace could have ever been. Thanks again for reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Now Streaming

Vanguard of Hollywood Cleanse eBook

Seven days of Curated Recipes
Inspired by the Stars of the Golden Age

Suggested Recipes

Stay Updated

The Latest in Stars and Recipes, Sent Directly to Your Inbox!