ME AND THE ALMOST INTERVIEW WITH JIMMY STEWART – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Full disclosure up front. I never met Jimmy Stewart. No interviews. No emails. No phone conversations. But I’ve got Jimmy Stewart in my brain, maybe because Stewart is TCM’s “Star of the month.” They’ve been airing most of the legendary star’s films from the 30’s through the 80’s. There was a masterful Stewart profile hosted by Stewart’s good friend, Johnny Carson. He made it feel like two buddies reminiscing about the best years of their lives.

Stewart, (center) with Amos on his right, and the B-52 crew moments after safely landing at Andersen. Before leaving Guam the next morning, Stewart again thanked Amos for his professionalism during the emergency and presented him with signed prints for each of the crewmen. (Courtesy Bob Amos)

The other night might have been my first (Yes!) viewing of 1954’s “The Glenn Miller Story.” Somehow, “The Miller Story” escaped me during those years when I went to the movies 3 or more times a week. I absolutely enjoyed the warmth and nostalgia of the movie in a way I rarely feel about contemporary films. I’ve been steadily humming “Moonlight Serenade” for the last two or three days.

Jimmy Stewart is stuck in my mind. I’m doing an interview with him — but it never really occurred. I’ve been digging through my mental folders and files for why I feel this link to Stewart. I’m aware of all his unforgettable film performances, from “Mr. Smith” to “Wonderful Life” to “Harvey.” And all those rugged 1950s and 1960s westerns — including “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

I couldn’t find that link.  It’s more than just the fan and movie maven thing going on.  What was it?

It hit me as I was cleaning my hearing aids. The answer!

During the late 1980’s — maybe 1988 or 1989 — during Ronald Reagan’s second term in the White House, life was changing for me. Marilyn was back in my life after spending almost a decade in Israel. And I finally was able to wear the new, smaller hearing aids that are nearly invisible to onlookers.

I was elated!  No more of those ugly, big hearing aids. I was always sure people stared at them while I worked as a local TV News guy. That was when I remembered — a conversation I had with a colleague. She was the station’s entertainment reporter and had noticed me talking to myself as I checked the audio of my tiny new hearing aids with a big smile on my face.

I was in the middle of covering a major trial that was getting international attention. I saw my image on network news shows. No hearing aids were visible. Oh, the vanity! I explained to my colleague what the tiny hearing aids meant to me. How I’d coped with a major hearing loss most of my life and the adjustments I had made to succeed in TV News.  She was genuinely surprised and smiled with an appreciative tap on my shoulder. We’d sat close to each other in the newsroom for months, talked about business and personal things — but I’d never mentioned my hearing loss.

That was also the summer Marilyn and I entertained actress Patricia Neal and legendary photographer Alfred Eisenstadt at our Martha’s Vineyard cottage, a rented place we shared with other TV news friends. Word of our friendship with Neal and Eisenstadt made the rounds in the local entertainment news world. I remember sharing stories with my entertainment reporter colleague. Sometimes name dropping can be a lot of fun … and this was one of those times.

“I met Jimmy Stewart at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party,” my colleague told me one afternoon. She had my complete attention.   “Poor Jimmy. He was struggling with his gigantic hearings aids.”

I listened with fascination. I didn’t know Jimmy Stewart needed hearing aids. It never showed in his movies or TV interviews. I listened closer for details on Stewart’s dilemma.

“Jimmy couldn’t hear what was being said at the party,” my colleague told me, “He kept looking at me awkwardly and fumbled with conversation.”

I had an epiphany.  Jimmy Stewart fumbled with conversation because he was trying to absorb and register what people were saying to him. The famous Jimmy Stewart verbal fumble was his way of coping with hearing problems. I probably smiled to myself as my colleague went on with her description of Jimmy Stewart’s cocktail party struggles. Fascination turned to compassion as I imagined myself in Stewart’s place, trying to filter our multiple conversation, loud music, and ambient background noise.

The Stewart story quickly faded out from my mind as I returned to my story and a pressing news deadline.

There was a letter on my desk a few days later. I was running late for the trial and was worried about getting a good seat so I could hear the lawyers and the judge,, so I didn’t get to it that day.

Trials were always a major headache for me. Years earlier, I’d taken my situation to myriad judges, court officers and lawyers. I wanted everyone to know I was working with this handicap and wanted to be sure I got all their wise words accurately. They appreciated my candor and efforts were made to make sure I could get the information accurately and efficiently.  My best, most sincere face helped my cause. If you’ve heard this from me before, know it was the prologue for my relationship with Jimmy Stewart.

I finally opened the letter a day or two after it arrived. I was immediately suspicious. Phony, threatening and suggestive letters are common for a TV news reporter. This one wasn’t in thick crayon or illegible ink scrawl, but I was still suspicious.


“Dear Garry,

I hope you don’t mind my assumption of friendship since we’ve never met. I deal with this business of celebrity all the time and it is presumptuous.”


I continued to read with skepticism until I realized this missive was from Jimmy Stewart. He went on to explain his cocktail party hearing problems, his encounter with my colleague who apparently talked about me and my hearing problems. Jimmy Stewart heard about this Garry Armstrong guy who was a success on Boston television news despite hearing problems. I blushed a little as I read Stewart’s account of my bravery. Most of the letter, however, dealt with Stewart’s details about his hearing aids, its components. He wanted my take on the efficiency of these new little hearing aids.

I put the letter in my desk, planning to take it home and show to Marilyn  because I wasn’t good at holding on to such possessions in my professional life. My attention turned to the trial and my report for the six o’clock news.

Fast forward several hours, including my ritual stop at the local bar before heading home — without the letter. Out of sight and mind.

I did manage to write Jimmy Stewart a few days later. I spent most of the letter talking about how I struggled with my hearing and use of the aids. I must have appeared awfully vain, talking about overcoming  my reluctance to wear hearing aids because I thought it was a stigma. My vanity was probably also obvious when I mentioned some of Stewart’s colleagues I’d met in my career.  I was young and lacked humility, telling Stewart about time I’d spent with Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Cagney, Gregory Peck and other stars. I forgot to mention the other stars, like Albert DiSalvo, Whitey Bulger, and Tip O’Neil.

In retrospect, I can only wonder what Jimmy Stewart thought as he read this silly, name dropping letter from a young Boston reporter.

Another Stewart letter arrived several days later. No indication of displeasure at my letter. He asked lots of questions about my hearing aids, my interview tact, and how I handled myself in large crowds. There was a hint of getting together when he came east again.

The meeting never occurred. Perhaps that’s why I’m now having these dreams about the sit-down interview that might have been.

Me and Jimmy Stewart. It never happened, but it could have. It almost happened.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

36 thoughts on “ME AND THE ALMOST INTERVIEW WITH JIMMY STEWART – GARRY ARMSTRONG”

    1. Rich, this is the result of bizarre recollection. It almost always begins as I’m shaving and my mind wanders. Usually, I’m trying to remember a trivia thing. I usually get the answer before I finish shaving and give myself an emphatic fist pump and YESSS into the mirror. I’m saluting my brain!! It’s the ability to recall hazy stuff from years ago and not what Marilyn asked me to just a few minutes earlier. I think Jimmy Stewart might appreciate it. I’d like to think he would.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Life, I absolutely WISH I’d met Jimmy Stewart. Who wouldn’t?? I’ve been lucky to have met so many of Stewart’s colleagues from old Hollywood. We just watched Stewart in the underrated “Shenandoah” last night. It’s one of his best performances as the patriarch of a family caught in the cross-hairs of the Civil War. I reccommend it if you haven’t seen it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. That was so interesting. We are all Jimmy Stewart fans at home. and his way of talking was his trade mark. Our all time favourite was Mr. Hobbs takes a vacation. It is one of our Christmas viewing films, although has nothing to do with winter. Great man and great actor. One of the interviews that got away, and would have been a very interesting one, but your correspondence with him was great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mrs. Swiss, recollection of the Jimmy Stewart letter/s brought me joy. He’s still a beloved figure and certainly the legitimate All-American guy, on and off camera.

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  2. Too bad – I believe Jimmie was a great person. I see you have a pic from The Shootist. Both Wayne and Stewart were ill and infirm at this juncture. I found this trivia from IMDB:
    “James Stewart only agreed to play a cameo role in the film because John Wayne had specifically requested him. His short time on the film proved to be trying. The bad acoustics of the huge, hollow sound stages worsened his hearing difficulties, and he stayed by himself most of the time. He and Wayne muffed their lines so often in the main scene between them that director Don Siegel accused them of not trying hard enough. Wayne’s reply was a variation on an old John Ford line, advising the director, “If you’d like the scene done better, you’d better get a couple of better actors.” Later on, the star told friends that Stewart had known his lines, but hadn’t been able to hear his cues, and that in turn had caused his own fumbling. Because Stewart’s movie career had ended several years before, he was only paid 50,000 dollars for his part.”
    Pardon my long comment – thot you might find it interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for that “Shootist” story. It’s evidence of my theory about Stewart’s hearing problems and his distinctive speech pattern….which is still very charming and very much Jimmy Stewart.

      Now, I recall, when I interviewed Duke Wayne in ’74 (shortly before he began filming “The Shootist”), he seemed to have difficulty hearing me. I didn’t really grasp his problem at the time because I was so excited about meeting him and we had so much noise coming from those Harvard protestors, outside the theater where we filmed the interview.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I always wondered about his speech. It seemed deliberate and he always looked at whoever he was speaking to quite intently. I LOVED his acting. Just shows what you can accomplishe with determination, (and by that I mean YOU and Jimmy). Truly amazing. I had no idea in the interviews I saw you do, that you had hearing issues. Impressive indeed. And I guess we could call this “close encounters” of the almost kind :):)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Covert, your “Close encounters” nails it. Thank you!

      Physically, I often leaned towards my interview subjects so I could hear them better. But, often – aware this made them nervous — I would “tell myself” to relax and lean back, to make the guest feel more at ease. There’s a lot of “business” going on in those few minutes you see on screen.

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      1. Your welcome 🙂 I completely understand what your saying too. Not only the hours of prep time to cover the essentials of the business at hand, but it’s completely fascinating getting the behind the scenes “truth” if you will. I’m delighted my observations were correct. I knew there was something about Michael J Fox before he made the announcement regarding his ailment (re hands). I wouldn’t have guessed regarding your hearing. It wasn’t obvious to me, but it is in others. Sometimes people lean toward you when they are intent, believe what they are saying or are excited you get their point of view. What I can say, is that your interviews were so honest that I didn’t doubt your word for a minute.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Covert, thanks again. Marilyn reminded me that you actually caught some of my stuff on television. It’s always flattering to know you have/had viewers far from Massachusetts and New England. I ALWAYS listened to my subjects and took my cues from what they said. It was always a “conversation” not an interview for me. You forget (contradictory, I know) you’re talking to a “legend”, he or she is a person sharing stories with you. LISTENING is so important — on camera and/or in real life.

          Name-drop advisory: During my James Cagney chat (we’d met casually and unexpectedly on Martha’s Vineyard and HE struck up the conversation), Cagney was telling me about actors who listened and didn’t listen (they’ll remain anonymous). When he paused, I told him about folks I’d interviewed who didn’t listen. Cagney smiled broadly and (paraphrased) “They’re so full of themselves, young fella”. We smiled at each other in agreement. A great moment for me, Covert.

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          1. I was always delighted when CBC highlighted an event you were covering (there were a few) but with the passing of time, I can’t say which. As a viewer, you can usually tell who is “full of themselves” even though the interviewer tries to engage them, it is pretty obvious. Perhaps only to me, but still, I notice such things. I also notice a dang good reporter when I see one, who is invested in what he’s doing.
            Unfortunately, the last conservative in power told the CBC (and did) he would pull their funding if they didn’t slant the news to favour conservatives. CBC is only half the size of what it was. He took a book out of “someone who shall remain nameless’s” book and tried to manipulate the news which doesn’t go over well here.
            I eventually went to CTV news which also was fair honest coverage. I haven’t done an update to find out if they got any funding back. Dark times, my friend, dark times!

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  4. I know everyone, especially Marilyn, has mentioned this at least once to you, but you have got to get started on that memoir. It’s stories like this that bring these people to life. Growing up, I was friends with John Ritter. But when we reached high school we drifted apart due to different school districts. I’ve lost most of my stories to a faulty, old, memory. Please don’t let that happen to you. Or don’t let it worsen. Get started now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emilio, you are right! I lost a former colleague and dear friend who passed away Saturday. He witnessed a number of the stories I’ve told. It’s a sad reminder that, YES, I need to do the memoir/book while I have time and memory.

      Emilio, thank you for the gentle nudge.

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      1. Garry, you misunderstood me. I did not mean to be gentle. WRITE THE DANG BOOK! I will be waiting and will be one of your first readers. But don’t tell Marilyn. I haven’t read hers yet!

        Liked by 1 person

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