When James Stewart Reckoned With Hollywood's Seismic Changes in 1969

Courtesy of Photofest
James Stewart's (inset) Nov. 25, 1969 column in The Hollywood Reporter titled "Compare 'Now' to 'Then.'"

In a 1969 column, the industry icon took stock of the shifting industry, noting, "Nothing stands still, nor should it, because if it does, that means it is dying."

On Nov. 25, 1969, James "Jimmy" Stewart — a five-time Oscar nominee and icon of wholesome Frank Capra films Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life — took stock of the changing industry in a year rocked by Hollywood's "New Wave" of edgy films like Midnight Cowboy and Easy RiderWriting in the pages of The Hollywood Reporter, Stewart observed the "old concepts of movie making gradually giving way to new and bolder ideas" and reflected on the old "big factories" in the studio system he was brought up in. His original column is below: 

It's hard for me to believe that I've done 73 motion pictures, but I have. 

I've been in this town for a good number of years, now, and have seen a lot of changes. But before we get too deep into the subject of Hollywood and the changes that have taken place, we shouldn't forget the passing of time usually changes many things. Nothing stands still, nor should it, because if it does, that means it is dying. 

First of all, Hollywood, per se, has grown older — 66 years since its incorporation, according to the Chamber of Commerce. Many of its pioneers have left the scene and some of the older facades have given way to the modern look. New leaders have taken over running things for the betterment of all concerned, in my opinion. 

As for the motion picture industry, to which we commonly refer to as Hollywood, there have also been obvious changes taking place. Many of its early industry giants are long gone, with the old concepts of movie making gradually giving way to new and bolder ideas. But in all fairness to Hollywood as we knew it, I might add that not all motion pictures are made here. Many of the changes attributed to our Hollywood of yore were created in the Hollywoods of Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, which eventually affected our Hollywood.

As to the changes taking place in Hollywood, USA, admittedly I don't approve one hundred percent. I've always been for the family-fare type of entertainment, and I haven't changed my negative attitude about the all too many far-out, sex-oriented type of movies being turned out by some of Hollywood's new wave of producers and actors. A great deal of the changes in ideas have been fostered by the so-called independent production companies which are not bound to any particular major studio — such as I was when I started in this acting business. 

It's in the comparison of the old and the new that I became acutely aware of the changes in the face of Hollywood.

I recall discussing this subject not too long ago with the late Spencer Tracy and about the days when we both were under contract to MGM. 

Tracy remarked, "The actors today ... I don't know where they're coming from ..." We were then discussing the virtual demise of the big studios and the system of developing stars such as we knew in the early days. 

The major studios were more than just big factories, as some critics described them. They were institutions of learning as far as we were concerned — the we including Tracy, Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Cary Grant, John Wayne and a host of others. The studios gave you a base as an actor and an opportunity to ACT. 

When I was under contract to MGM I can remember a period when I was acting in five motion pictures at once. Rather than keep me sitting around waiting for that really BIG part to come along, MGM would put me in a small part in a big movie and a big part in a small movie to keep me busy acting and training, so to speak, for the future. 

There was no such thing as instant fame in those days, and we accepted the fact that it took a lot of time and work to create a specific image, a style and the qualities the studio regarded as star material. The system evidently worked for me, which is why I regret it no longer exists to any great degree. It was a good system, I thought. We were hired by a studio, brought up through the ranks of players, taught how to act, how to dress and how to behave, in general, and by the time we had achieved stardom (getting star billing in motion pictures) we had been well prepared to carry out our responsibilities. 

Television may be one of the causes for the various changes in Hollywood, but it is not completely responsible for all of it. True, television has created overnight fame and fortune for some, and conversely, rapid failure as well. 

As Tracy remarked, the big change seems to have occurred in the development of motion picture stars — where will they come from without the help of the erstwhile major studios? Television? I doubt it.