Jimmy Stewart, center, was presented the first Pennsylvania Governor's Arts Award by Governor Dick Thornburgh and First Lady Ginny Thornburgh in Harrisburg, May 1, 1980. (Courtesy of Thornburgh Archives)
Thirty-four years ago this week, one of America's great actors came home to Pennsylvania from Hollywood to accept the commonwealth's first Governor's Award for the Arts.
It was the legendary Jimmy Stewart, who was widely acclaimed for his roles in almost 80 movies, including the classics It's a Wonderful Life, Mr.Smith Goes to
Washington, and The Philadelphia
Story, for which he won an Academy Award--and who was born and raised right here in small-town Indiana, PA.
I get a shiver, picturing the ceremony in Harrisburg on May 1, 1980, when Jimmy was presented the Distinguished Artist Award by Governor Dick Thornburgh. Jimmy's wife, Gloria, as well as dignitaries, friends, and fans from Indiana and all around the state were there. What a great moment of Pennsylvania pride it must've been.
Jimmy was both admired by the film industry and beloved by the public as a brilliant yet modest actor, well mannered and soft spoken, who so often played the "ordinary hero."
Even though he was a star, said Governor Thornburgh, "Jimmy Stewart never became a matinee idol. He was always one of us.
The strength of the man and of most of the characters he played rested in his ability to be so engagingly natural--your
next door neighbor."
Jimmy was presented with a sculpture by Pennsylvania artist Ron Bennett. Although he'd been honored many times during his career, including with the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, Jimmy said the Pennsylvania Distinguished Artist Award "has special significance for me."
Many in attendance knew Jimmy as the local boy who'd worked at his dad's store, J.M. Stewart Hardware, at Philadelphia and South Eighth Streets in Indiana and went to nearby Mercersburg Academy, before going on to Princeton University.
During his visit to Harrisburg, Jimmy met with a group of Indiana residents who'd traveled there on a bus trip sponsored by the
Indiana Arts Council. Asked at a press conference earlier that day what he remembered about his hometown, Jimmy said, "It seems to me I remember every minute of it."
He and Gloria also assisted the governor in presenting Hazlett Memorial Awards for Excellence in the Arts to ten Pennsylvanian artists.
A movie star and smart man who was a genuinely good guy: this was Jimmy Stewart of Hollywood and Indiana, PA.
As I look forward to this year's
Governor's Arts Awards on September 28, right here in small-town Indiana, I like to think Pennsylvania taught the movies a little something about real glamor.
Although he'd been honored many times during his career, Jimmy Stewart said the Pennsylvania Distinguished Artist Award "has special
significance for me." (@1980, Indiana Evening Gazette)