Rear Window (1954), Jimmy Stewart, Hitchcock, and Grace Kelly

Alfred Hitchcock is the Master of Suspense, Grace Kelly Isn’t Cold, and Jimmy Stewart Stands a True Hero in Every Sense of the Word. From 1954, it’s Rear Window.

Listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood , available everywhere you listen to podcasts! Episode 41 is all about Rear Window (1954).

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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 in the process.  But Westerns weren’t the only films Jim excelled in at the time.

With 1954’s 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 made together over the next four years, and proved that Jimmy was just as adept at bringing complicated characters in suspenseful thrillers to life as he was at every other role and genre he ever played.

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.  And Jimmy adored being a father to all four of the Stewart children, proving himself a loving, fun, and even mischievous dad.

Jim’s career and personal life were full of success and contentment throughout the 1950s.  It was a good decade for America’s most beloved star, who consistently demonstrated that it was, in fact, possible to remain grounded in Hollywood.  At least if you’re as nice a guy as Jimmy Stewart.

Let’s go through the plot of Rear Window, then I’ll share just what a sweet dad Jimmy was, as well as some fascinating behind the scenes details from the film.  And I’ll address a certain rumor that Stewart biographers some times throw around in attempts to add a little spice to 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, 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, with 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.

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 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 from the Rear Window

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.  Thorwald’s cagey behavior the following day—with such wholesome and completely normal activities as 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, and at first, they think he’s crazy.  But then they too witness some of Thorwald’s unusual behavior. 

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

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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 is 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The camera flash temporarily blinds Thorwald.

A Happy Ending!

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

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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 may have softened his fall, but the drop still breaks 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!

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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.  When the Stewarts learned they were expecting twins, the excitement of adding to their family was only heightened.  As Jimmy said [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.”  

Makes me laugh every time. !!!

But Jim and the family loved their “Mediterranean Ugly” home, and Jimmy would live at 918 Roxbury Drive quite literally for the rest of his days.  The continuity of home was something Jim’s children would always appreciate.  Kelly Stewart Harcourt shared in a recent interview that as a young adult, she always enjoyed coming home to the house she grew up in.  It’s very possible that Jim’s and Gloria’s decision to put down roots in just one home over the years was a large reason why all the Stewart children remained grounded despite the temptations of Hollywood. 

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 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.”

How sweet is that???

Ultimately, it wasn’t driving to the hospital that Jim had to worry about on the day Gloria went into labor: 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.  As Gloria candidly shared,

“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

But despite those harrowing weeks of illness, once Gloria’s health was restored, there was a humorous incident on the day she was to return home 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 would chalk the whole situation up to his “absent-mindedness.”  And in Jimmy’s defense, he did have a lot going on at the time with two newborns at home! 

Jim would humorously add his two cents to the whole forgetting-Gloria-at-the-hospital-thing:

“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 serving in Vietnam in 1969, 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,” and so all four of the Stewart children were raised 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.”

Kelly Stewart Harcourt shared in a 2011 interview 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.”

With a dad teaching by example like that, it’s no wonder the Stewart kids didn’t experience the animosity towards their parents that so many children of celebrities often express.  It’s true Jim could be gone for long stretches at a time for work—things such as location shooting required it—but Judy Stewart Merrill says Jim’s periodic absences didn’t negatively affect her or her brothers and sisters: they knew their father loved them, even when he wasn’t home.

A Fun Dad

In addition to teaching his children the deeper lessons of life, Jimmy Stewart was also a fun dad.  Both Kelly and Judy have spoken numerous times over the years about how funny and mischievous their dad could be.  Sometimes, 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.  (Yes, this is a true story!)  And it was a given that if Jim was in charge of the girls’ bedtime story, there’d be fits of laughter that certainly did not 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 even taught their children how to be gracious to the tourists who quite frequently passed by 918 Roxbury Drive on the “See the Stars Homes” tour buses.  Jimmy knew all the bus drivers by name, and was even known to invite fans in for ice cream on occasion.  And 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: the way Jimmy Stewart saw it, it was the fans who kept him in the movies, and 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 says 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 however: one day a group of tourists decided it would be a classy and considerate idea to have a picnic on the Stewarts’ front lawn.  This didn’t sit well with Jim, who promptly turned on the sprinklers.

Problem solved.

The Stewarts in Italy!

"The Disneyland Family"

Despite the rosy picture, Gloria would be the first to tell you that the Stewart Family—just like every other family—was not perfect.  Of the flawless image often 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!”

Don’t you just love Gloria??  Her honesty that they weren’t perfect only underscores even more to me what a special 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 also made three of the most memorable and iconic films of his career.  And all three were directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

But the Stewart/Hitchcock collaborations of the 1950s almost never happened.  Though Rear Window marked the start of the films Jim and Hitch made together in the 50s, it wasn’t the first time they worked together.  That distinction went to 1948’s Rope, one of the several disappointing films Jim made after returning home from his WWII service.  

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

Like It’s a Wonderful Life, Rope failed to reinvigorate Jim’s postwar career.  But unlike It’s a Wonderful Life, working on Rope was not a pleasant experience.  Jimmy later remarked that

“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 a little more blunt than Jim in her description of 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 what that meant for Jim and the other actors was that a single mistake or forgotten line during filming called for the whole segment to be re-shot from the beginning.  

Tension on set was high as a result.  And Hitchcock, disappointed with the completed film, felt that the final product did not justify the gimmicky filming technique.  And 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 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 Hitch's Amazing Deal

Rear Window was the first of nine films Alfred Hitchcock made with Paramount Pictures.  His agent Lew Wasserman—yep, the same Lew Wasserman who put together Jimmy’s impressive percentage deal for Winchester ’73also negotiated this enviable contract for Hitch.

Hitchcock historians say the full details of the contract have never been made public—a common pattern I’m beginning to notice with Wasserman’s legendary deals!!!—but what we do know about the contract 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.  And 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.

WOW.  Anyone else thinking Lew Wasserman was a bit of a genius??  I just marvel at his forward-thinking negotiations.

The three Stewart/Hitchcock collaborations—Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958) were three of those five films Hitch 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, actually owned the story.  It was Lew Wasserman—yet again!—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 included and 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.

How cool is that??  Jim was nothing if not a loyal friend.

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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 really be the dialogue.  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 fascinating creative process 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, somewhat 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 previously been under-explored in her films.

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Lighting the Fire

Hitchcock believed that Grace, still as yet a starlet, had all the makings of a full-fledged star.  But he found her to be rather boring in her early screen roles.  And after working with Grace on Dial M For Murder (1954), Hitchcock knew that the real Grace Kelly was anything but boring: he 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.”

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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 in no way cold or boring.  With Rear Window, as Hitchcock perfectly said,

“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.”

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Rear Window and the Golden Age of Hitchcock

Rear Window ushered in what many film fans consider to be “the golden age of Hitchcock,” with To Catch a Thief (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and North by Northwest (1959), all to follow.  Hitch himself would later share 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 we so associate with classic Hitchcock.

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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’d earn an Oscar nomination for her work on the film.

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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’s stellar team was rounded out with cameraman Robert Burks, editor George Tomasini, and Joseph MacMillan Johnson and John P. Fulton in charge of production design and special effects.

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

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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, you’d swear Hitch shot the film 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 truly thought of everything, for 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.  So 100 arc lights and 2,000 small lamps were installed, apparently controlled by a large console/control center Hitch installed in the L.B. Jeffries apartment.  

All in all, the fictional 40 foot high, 185 foot long structure 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 he could give them instructions via walkie-talkie.

Now that’s pretty awesome.

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Rear Window: A Smooth Production

You’d think that with all these technical aspects to keep straight, the Rear Window set would have been pretty chaotic.  But it wasn’t the case.  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.”

And 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.  As Jim shared of Hitchcock’s hands-off directorial style on Rear Window,

“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.”

And Jim would invariably fix it, as evidenced by the suspenseful, perfectly-paced film.

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Hitchcock's Ideal Hero

Hitchcock would pay Jimmy the ultimate compliment by calling him the perfect hero for his films, because, in Hitch’s own words, Jim was the “Everyman in bizarre situations.”

And it’s so true.  Because of Jim’s unique talents as an actor, because we can relate to him as an average guy, we completely sympathize with his character, L.B. Jeffries, confined to a wheelchair with nothing to do but spy on his neighbors.  Another actor in the same role may not have garnered any sympathy from the audience: after all, Jeff is basically a peeping tom, a less than admirable, and even creepy, occupation.  But in Jimmy Stewart’s capable hands, L.B. Jeffries becomes a relatable character we root for; we want him to find the proof needed to bring the murderous Thorwald to justice for his crimes, even if that means continued spying.

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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 met and exceeded these elements.  Hitch’s particularly good mood and affinity for his two stars is even reflected in Rear Window’s happy, completely resolved ending, something unusual 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 it was the film that officially made Grace Kelly a megastar.

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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

In fact, after Rear Window’s release, the only person who still wasn’t a Grace Kelly fan was her own father.

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

He also didn’t think she was all that pretty, if you can believe it.  

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, repeatedly making 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, and asked Jack what his thoughts were on his daughter’s exciting success.  Jack’s response was nothing short of strange:

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“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.”

Oh well.” ??????

Can you imagine not being proud of a child who succeeded in making her dreams come true, as Grace Kelly did? 

Her father may not have been impressed, but at least Grace had the adoration of the rest of the world after the success of Rear Window.  And a meeting with a certain Prince, unknown to Grace, was just around the corner.

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Jim and Grace admire one of his beloved accordions!

The Truth About Jimmy and Grace

I want to take a moment here to address a rumor that, if not started by Stewart biographers, is certainly perpetuated by them. 

Jimmy Stewart had unanimously positive things to say about Grace Kelly, their friendship—which lasted until Grace’s untimely death in 1982—and their time working together on Rear Window.  He often stressed that Grace was an absolute joy to work with, and that, contrary to her “ice queen persona,” she was 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

Kind quotes such as this from Jim, coupled with Grace’s reputation at the time for routinely sleeping with her co-stars, gave someone the bright idea to start a rumor that Jim fell in love with Grace on the set of Rear Window, and that the two had an affair.

This rumor is completely false.

Rear Window

Why Perpetuate the Rumor?

Any Stewart biographer who suggests the rumor holds any validity is, in my opinion, merely trying to sell a book.  The Stewart biographers who do entertain the rumor in their writings all conclude after a few paragraphs of weak speculation that actually, we do know with certainty that Jim and Grace never had an affair.

So, why waste any time acting like it may have happened?

Rear Window

It’s a cheap ploy to be sure, and a thinly veiled attempt to try to spice-up the rather dull life—at least by Hollywood rumor mill standards—that Jimmy Stewart led, particularly in the 1950s.

Rather than try to sensationalize something that just didn’t happen, I’m calling attention to just how cool it is that with a guy like Jimmy Stewart—a guy committed to his wife and family—it didn’t matter what the circumstances were: even working in Hollywood, kissing the most beautiful woman in the world, an affair wasn’t going to happen.

Rear Window

"The Moral Thinking Behind the Man"

Jimmy’s good friend Josh Logan insists that even if being tempted by a beautiful leading lady was a possibility for his buddy, 

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

Gloria's Trust Rewarded

Gloria knew exactly what she signed up for when she married a Hollywood movie star.  Confident in herself, Gloria could handle the reality of her husband constantly working with desirable women.  But despite Gloria’s assurance in her own worth, she also knew that she wasn’t marrying just any Hollywood star.  Jimmy Stewart 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.” 

Jim and Gloria on their honeymoon.

I’ve said it before, but I just love Jimmy Stewart.

"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.”

The Decade of Jimmy Stewart

The 1950s truly 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 characters ranging from angry cowboys to wheelchair bound photographers to psychologically damaged detectives, rounded out Jimmy’s diverse and always believable film portrayals of the decade.  

Accolades and financial rewards followed accordingly.  After the success of Rear Window, Jim was voted the“king” of Hollywood by Motion Picture Herald magazine for earning more than any other actor in Hollywood. And Look Magazine named him 1955’s most popular movie star in the world.  Jimmy Stewart may not be the flashiest of stars most commonly associated with the 1950s—think Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando—but Jim was, quietly, more consistently successful, and certainly one of the most respected actors of the day.

A Good Man and 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 for a vegetable garden, her longtime passion.  It’s an action that I think perfectly sums up the character of Jimmy Stewart: sweet, unpretentious, thoughtful, and so devoted to, and in love with his wife.

It’s a shame that Jimmy Stewart’s versatility as an actor is often overshadowed by his nice guy persona.  But at the same time, it’s a huge compliment: Jim’s onscreen lovability wouldn’t be as endearing or as enduring today if it wasn’t so obvious that he really was that nice in real life, a fact Jim’s children, and close friends like Henry Fonda, have confirmed time and again.

Jimmy Stewart was more than a movie star.  He was a talented actor, a devoted son, a loyal friend, a bomber pilot, a good father, and a loving and faithful husband.  In a world increasingly full of anti-heroes in varying shades of gray, Jimmy Stewart stands a true hero in every sense of the word.

And that is undoubtedly why, decades after his last film and passing, we all still love Jimmy Stewart.

So Long (for now), Jim!

And that’s it for my Star Spotlight on Jimmy Stewart.

Be sure to join me next time as I introduce my new Star Spotlight, an actor who was Hollywood’s first true rebel, the often overlooked John Garfield.

Jimmy Stewart

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