James Stewart's Academy Award; for playing Mike Connor in The Philadelphia Story
He had not expected it, claiming that he himself had voted for his friend Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath. It was Stewart's opinion that the award was a compensation for not winning for Mister Smith Goes to Washington. He was not alone in that opinion.
-- excerpted from A Wonderful Life: The Films and Career of James Stewart by Tony Thomas
Actor/Director Alfred Lunt presented Stewart with the Oscar. His wife, actress Lynn Fontanne presented Ginger Rogers with her Oscar for Best Actress.
The 13th Academy Awards (February 27, 1941) honoring movies released in 1940
Nominees in the category or Best Actor:
James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story was the winner
Charles Chaplin in The Great Dictator
Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath
Raymond Massey in Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Laurence Olivier in Rebecca (Best Picture that year was Rebecca)
Some quotes and brief information about the time Mr. Stewart went to the Oscars.
Some videos from the 12th Academy Awards for 1939 films follows near the end of this post.
James Stewart told Fonda he'd voted for him and Henry Fonda told Jimmy he thought he was going to win for Philadelphia Story.
"Jim replied, 'No I can't see how. I guess people just think I'm good at playing newspapermen.'
"'One thing's for sure,' said Fonda, 'I won't be there. You know how I feel about all that Oscar crap. It's not the losing that I mind. It's the Oh no, not him gasps when you win. So I'm leaving town until it's all over.'"
Fonda said he was going fishing with John Ford. Stewart said he didn't plan to go to the ceremony either.
"I said,'Well, I'm really busy at the studio and...'
"He said 'Look I'm just checking on all the nominees Mr. Stewart. But I do hope that you can make it. I really think you would find it in your best interests to attend.'
"'That kinda baffled me because that year was the year the Academy worked really hard to make sure the results were kept a secret. ..... But it seemed to me he was maybe trying to tell me something. I never did know. But I decided I'd better go to the awards...and just as well.' ....
... "Back in Indiana Alex (Jimmy Stewart's father) had heard the news and telephoned his son. Jim recalled...
"My father said, 'I hear you won some kind of prize?'
"'I said, 'It's called a Best Actor Award. They give 'em out every year. I won it this year for The Philadelphia Story. Have you seen it yet?'
"'He said, 'Never mind about that. What does your prize look like?'
"'I said, 'It's a statuette of a man with a sword. It looks like gold but isn't. It's called an Oscar.'
"'Well,' he said, 'whatever they call it send it over so I can put it on show in
"'And so I sent it to my father and the Oscar was on show in the hardware store in a glass case.'"
-- excerpted from Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend by Michael Munn
Hard to believe that Mr. Stewart only won one competitive Oscar in his career. But then there are actors where it's hard to believe they didn't win any. James Stewart also received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1985.
"Veteran Oscar-watchers often assert that James Stewart's winning the Academy Award that year - over such contenders as Lawrence Olivier in Rebecca and Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath - was a consolation prize for his having failed to win the year before for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Hepburn disagreed.
"'I think Jimmy's absolutely brilliant in Philadelphia Story and completely unexpected. And I think it was his big speech that put him over the top.' Hepburn in her signature role lost the Oscar that year to Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle."
-- excerpted from Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg
Stewart's competition the previous year was strong and the Oscars can be contentious.
The 12th Academy Awards (February 29, 1940) honoring movies released in 1939
Nominees in the category of Best Actor:
Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips was the winner.
Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind
Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights
Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms
James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Mickey Rooney presented Judy Garland the Juvenile Academy Award
Sources and Great Reference Books:
A Wonderful Life: The Films and Career of James Stewart by Tony Thomas
Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend by Michael Munn
Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg
85 Years of the Oscar The Official History of the Academy Awards Robert Osborne
The author, a well known host on TCM, the Turner Classic Movies Network, is indeed the definitive source for information on the Academy Awards. Other books on the Oscars mention and quote Mr. Osborne.
The Philadelphia Story; Features of a Romantic Comedy
Bringing Up Cary Grant and the Oscars