The Margaret Herrick Library is home to a collection of historical motion picture items visited by scholars and industry professionals, as well as the general public. Among the library’s collection are items, such as books, photographs, scripts, and production records. Colleen Glenn, film studies professor in the Department of English, traveled to Beverly Hills, California, to visit the collection for research on one of Hollywood’s most timeless actors — Jimmy Stewart. Although most of us remember Stewart as the lovable character he plays in the film, It’s a Wonderful Life, Colleen’s research sheds light on the darker roles Stewart played in the post-WWII period; this includes showing how It’s a Wonderful Life is much more troubling than we may remember.
Can you tell us more about your research?
“I am working on a project on Jimmy Stewart that reconsiders the actor and war hero as a star persona who negotiated cultural anxieties related to combat fatigue and traumatized veterans. Prior to WWII, Jimmy Stewart was generally cast as the earnest, genial boy-next-door in movies like The Philadelphia Story (1940) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After the war, however, his roles became increasingly darker and psychologically complex. Ranging from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Stewart plays neurotic, guilt-ridden, distraught, and often, traumatized, men. This includes the films Stewart made with Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window (1954), The Man who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958), where his behavior is particularly disturbing. While others have noted Stewart’s transformation in the fifties, my project makes a connection between these well-known films and the postwar moment, in which millions of returning veterans—and civilians on the home front—struggled to readjust to “normal” after the war.”
The Margaret Herrick Library
What was the Library like? What was your experience there?
“The Margaret Herrick Library is impressive. It’s in Beverly Hills, and it contains an incredible amount of material on the Hollywood movie industry—the films, the people who made them and starred in them. Last summer, I spent a week there doing archival research on Stewart, looking specifically for how the actor was treated by/understood by the media before, during, and after the war. I found some valuable news items and photographs related to his war service.”
Will you be going back to the Library?
“I will definitely be going back to the library again when I can. I need to do more research on Stewart, and I also have a project on Frank Sinatra that may require more archival work.”
What is your favorite Jimmy Stewart movie?
“My favorite Stewart movie. That’s tough. I would probably have to go with Rear Window, but tied for second would be The Shop Around the Corner (1940).”
Colleen Glenn at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.
If you could remake any move Stewart starred in, what would it be and WHO would play Stewart?
“For years, Tom Hanks was compared to Stewart, and actually, The Shop Around the Corner was remade as You’ve Got Mail (1998). Since Hanks has had his turn, I think if I were making a remake today I’d remake Rope (1948) because I think it could be improved and updated in interesting ways. I’d cast Leonardo DiCaprio, who is super talented and has just the right combination of smugness and intelligence to play the cynical schoolteacher, Rupert Cadell, that Stewart played so convincingly in his first collaboration with Hitchcock.
Colleen Glenn is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English. Her research interests include: Film history, masculinity on film, cultural studies, film industry studies, and 20th century American literature.