It's Christmastime, and many families and/or movie buffs will be sitting down to watch 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946), starring James Stewart. Or perhaps they will watch the even better, but lesser known Christmas movie 'The Shop Around the Corner' (1940), also starring Stewart. He's a Christmas kind of guy, heartwarming and charming. Members of my generation may remember seeing him on television in the late 1980s hawking his poetry book, with their almost ludicrously sweet little poems. Almost anyone these days can do an imitation of him with that indelible, homey, aw-shucks voice.
A case could be made for James, a.k.a. "Jimmy," Stewart (1908-1997) as the greatest male screen actor of the 20th century, although I'd also consider Cary Grant for that honor. What's that, you say? What about more accomplished actors like Laurence Olivier or Marlon Brando? Jimmy Stewart was always "just" Jimmy Stewart, wasn't he? Anyone who reads my stuff knows about my personal theory about this. For me, it's far more valuable for an actor to bring his personality to a role, to create a consistent screen persona, than it is for an actor to merely "disappear" into one role after another. If an actor totally disappears into a role, what is left of his personality to make him unique?