HOW I ALMOST INTERVIEWED JIMMY STEWART

Full disclosure upfront, I never met Jimmy Stewart. No interviews. No emails. No phone conversations. But I’ve got Jimmy Stewart in my brain, TCM’s has been airing most of the legendary star’s films from the 1930s through the 1980s. 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 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 1980s — 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 on local TV News. 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 closely 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 the conversation.”

I had an epiphany.  Jimmy Stewart fumbled with a 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 conversations, 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 the 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.

Another Stewart letter arrived several days later. 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.



Categories: Celebrities, Hearing, Humor, Movies

Tags: , , , , , ,

24 replies

  1. Thank you for sending me these stories, especilly the Katherine Hepburn one. The only encounter I had with her was for about three sscond. Maro Albert and I were doing Christmas shopping in Beverly Hills when we ran into Hepburn. She was literally on the run and just flashed a big smile at us and said “Hello.”

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  2. I think Stewart was a hell of a guy. That would have been a very nice moment for you. Sorry you missed it.
    Stewart and Wayne – two of the Greatest Western Actors ever.

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  3. I hope this story ends up in your BOOK, Garry!

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  4. Yes it was.
    What a lovely gesture. Was she living permanently in Hartford at the time?
    Even though we only had “moments” at the theatre I cherish them. I still have all the notes, also cherished.
    She had a special shine didn’t she.
    Garry I wrote a page about my experience, awhile ago. If you’re interested here’s the link.
    We once called Hartford and her brother answered so we chatted. (Another story)

    Katharine Hepburn – A true story – ©J.E.Goldie A reblog for Fandango’s late Friday Flashback post – Jan. 11 2020

    I can’t imagine how wonderful it was to just sit and talk with her.

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  5. Great story! I read a long time ago that Stewart always worried that he wouldn’t work, that his last role would be his last. Perhaps his hearing problem made him so insecure..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patricia, could be. I don’t know. I thought maybe you had some “inside information” on this.

      I don’t believe it was mentioned in the very intimate “Hank & Jimmy” memoir which included some of the health issues faced by the two movie icons and close friends, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda. Both were very reticent about such matters.

      I’ll share more when we have our phone chat. It’s coming VERY SOON.

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  6. what a wonderful story and while you didn’t speak in person, you did have a genuine connection. you never know what someone is battling

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth, thanks. Stewart’s hearing problems forged an immediate bond for me even though we never met.
      The letters were enough for me to feel that bond.

      Jimmy Stewart’s hearing difficulties during that cocktail party resonated strongly with me.

      I had and still have the same problems to this day. I’m blessed now to have a cochlear implant which has given me “real” hearing for the first time in my life. But I still struggle when I’m in a group of people. I am literally relearning how to hear after more than 7 decades with varying levels of deafness. It’s a major challenge which most people do not understand. If you are a public figure — a local TV News reporter like me or an iconic figure like Jimmy Stewart — it’s like being alone in a large crowd — trying to pretend everything is just fine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have a partial hearing loss in one ear and I find it more difficult as time goes on

        Liked by 1 person

        • Beth, perhaps this is an aging issue. No, doesn’t mean you are old – just that things change in your body and neural system as time goes by. If it gets progressively worse, you should seek out an audiologist. What? Bottom line: No need to “fake it”.

          Liked by 1 person

          • right. i think mine began with my years of working in a bar with live bands. from there, with age, it has continued to get worse. i plan to see an audiologist with my next checkup

            Liked by 1 person

            • Beth, that’s GREAT news! Working around live bands has damaged the hearing of a generation of people who think louder is better. I’m thinking here more of the musicians and their fans rather than someone like you whose job placed you in the situation.

              I never could understand folks who attended those rock concerts where the decibel levels were off the charts. I’ve heard from many of those same folks who moan about their hearing loss – expecting my sympathy. Sorry! I believe my life long hearing problems were a birth defect that left me struggling for most of my life in a world where few people understood my handicap. Now, I have compassion for those folks who lost their hearing to crazy loud music. Compassion but not sympathy.

              Beth, I hope all goes well for you. Please keep me posted.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved his acting. I loved Harvey, but then I loved Jimmy Stewart. Would have been nice, getting a one on one, but damn, letters! That rates right up there. You met some interesting people in your life, Garry, what a delight. The good the bad and the ugly. lol takes all kinds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Covert, yes — those “damn letters” which I lost – left to muster somewhere in the TV newsroom. A replay of a lovely thank you note I received from Sophia Loren. Damn my sloppiness!

      But I still know I had the “connection” with Jimmy Stewart. I wish I could’ve met and shared some of our hearing dilemma stories. We probably could’ve swapped some “bits” used to cover our hearing problems. I probably would listened a lot.

      Covert, years earlier I met comedian Norm Crosby who beamed when he saw me with my hearing aids. Crosby was wearing those big, blocky hearing aids. He said it was comforting to meet a “hearing ‘bro” who didn’t let the disability hinder his quest to succeed. We did a lot of “whats” and “huhs” in the laugh filled interview. It was a feel good day for both of us. I’m not sure my crew understood or appreciated the problem.

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  8. In the course of knowing Garry, I’ve met a lot more celebrities than I imagined I could ever know. Some have been wonderful, others were just what you might expect. Celebrities — of all kinds — are like everyone else on earth. Good, bad. Vain. Selfish. Generous. Whether they are actors, authors, artists, rich, or poor, no group is all the same. We are unique, human and wonderfully imperfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marilyn, it’s been fun for me to share those celebrity meets with you. You’ve gained insight into my world and understand why it’s been such a big deal to the fan boy who was also something of a celebrity..

      My “celebrity” morphed out of being on TV several times a day, 5 or 6 days a week, 10 or 11 months a year — over 31 years — and that’s just the Boston leg of my professional life. Early on, I just pursued the stories (and the fees) as an ambitious young newsman who wanted more. I never said “no” to an assignment (often rejected by others). So, my face was seen all over the place. Boston is a small big town so you can become a “celebrity” very quickly. I always fascinated — the “real” Garry looking at the “reel/TV” Garry. But celebrity and fame are fleeting.

      Hey, didn’t I used to be Garry Armstrong?

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  9. I’ve found that celebrities worth their salt are decent human beings and don’t want or need the constant limelight. Just as an example I met K.H. while she was doing a Show. No pretense! None! We exchanged letters (notes) over a period of 15? years !977?-90 I think.
    Anyway sounds like you and Jimmy Stewart would have made great buddy’s. Wasn’t meant to be.
    Thanks for sharing this lovely memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jen, you are right about celebrities.

      I’m guessing “K.H.” was Katherine Hepburn. Yes?

      I met Miss Hepburn in a bizarre manner. Bizarre at least for me. I was doing a brief stint at a very small TV station in Hartford, Ct in the late 60’s. I didn’t think the station had many viewers. I was a “jack of all trades” at Ch 18 on ASYLUM Street in Hartford. I did the news, hosted a public affairs show and – best of all — hosted a nightly movies show. I had a bunch of life-size celebrity “dummies” surrounding me on the set as I talked about the films and stars. What a hoot!

      One day we received a call. i thought it was a hoax. Long story very short: Katherine Hepburn — at her Hartford home –watched me regularly. I was invited for afternoon tea and, golly, a memorable 3 or 4 hours with Katherine Hepburn as my hostess. She shared stuff about her home, family, work and even included anecdotes about “Spence”. Yes, KH shared ST stories with me. It was a “pinch me” afternoon into evening. Ms. Hepburn was something of a mentor — schooling me in garb, presentation and – offering a parting gesture of encouragement for my career.

      Yes, K.H. was very real and very special.

      Like

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