Skip to main content

World War II Hero Who Left Hollywood to Fight For America: New Look at Jimmy Stewart’s Story

Share This article

The actor who brought the beloved character George Bailey to life in the seminal classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” will soon be the subject of a feature film that will shed light on his own journey.


The late actor Jimmy Stewart is the inspiration for filmmaker Aaron Burns’ new project “A Truly Wonderful Life,” a movie set to offer a lens into Stewart’s personal story of heroism, faith, and navigating Hollywood. Burns recently told CBN News about the exciting project.

“We just announced that we’re partnering with the Stewart family — Jimmy Stewart’s daughter and her family — to bring his life to the big screen,” he said. “He’s known as … the every man of America.”

Burns said he, like so many other Americans, has long known Stewart as an actor, but his perspective was widened a few years ago when he stumbled upon an article detailing the performer’s back story — a decision to fight in World War II that took Stewart out of Hollywood and onto the battlefield.

“The storyteller in me just was so intrigued by this,” Burns said.

Watch Burns explain:

The filmmaker then recapped some of Stewart’s origin story, explaining Stewart grew up in a small town and had a faithful father who was a deacon in the Presbyterian church.

“[His dad] just prayed for his son, raised him, invested [in] him,” he said. “And, all of a sudden, Jimmy winds up making it as an actor, heading off to Hollywood, and rising through the ranks to become a huge star.”

Stewart, of course, went on to win five Oscars, yet the actor felt somewhat of a “hollowness,” Burns said. He simply wasn’t sure if he was a “fake movie star” or a “real hero.” At that time in the early 1940s, the world’s instability was coming to a head, with “war clouds on the horizon.”

That’s when Stewart made a stunning decision.

“[Stewart] says, ‘I want to be something more than just a Tinseltown hero. I wanted to serve my country, serve my fellow Americans.'”

Burns said Stewart had been a private pilot, but he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps, where he became a squadron commander — a job that involved leading thousands of men in bombing runs during the war.

“[It was] just an incredible story that you’d never imagined for Jimmy Stewart,” he said.

One of the touching stories Burns shared involved a letter Stewart’s father gave him before he shipped off the war — a note he slipped into his uniform pocket that included a copy of Pslam 91.

“It’s about the Lord’s comfort and Lord being with you,” Burns said. “And his dad said, ‘I have confidence and I will be praying for you the whole time you’re away that God will be with you. You’ll make it home safely,’ and [Stewart] kept that with him in his uniform every mission that he went on.”

The actor did make it back home, though he suffered from PTSD after seeing hundreds of his men shot down and killed. By the time Stewart left the battlefield, he was far from the Hollywood leading man he was before fighting on the frontlines.

“He asked … himself, ‘Can I make it back in Hollywood?'” Burns said. ‘And … his contract is expired, nobody wants him. So, he had one offer to make a movie and that was ‘Jimmy’s War,’ where he could be a bomber pilot and bomb Nazis on camera. He’s like, ‘Sorry, I can’t do that.'”

But Stewart got a call from an old friend named Frank Capra, a Hollywood director who also served in World War II. Capra told Stewart he had the “perfect role” for him.

“Capra… says, ‘I’ve got the perfect part for you. Jimmy, I was struggling, too. I was in the war; nobody wants me, but maybe together we could do this project,'” Burns recounted. “It’s a great story.”

Stewart ended up taking the part of George Bailey — and the rest is history.

“‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ became a transformative movie for Jimmy, even as it became a transformative and inspirational movie for all Americans,” Burns said, noting he’s excited to tell the story behind the story.

He continued, “I want my kids to be able to know the hero that Jimmy Stewart was and to see what he went through, the sacrifice he made for us, and to see what the powerful prayers and love of a father for their son — the impact that that can make, so that’s a story that we’re helping to tell.”

Watch Burns tell the full story.

***As the number of voices facing big-tech censorship continues to grow, please sign up for Faithwire’s daily newsletter and download the CBN News app to stay up-to-date with the latest news from a distinctly Christian perspective.***

Share This article

About The Author

Billy Hallowell writes for CBN's He has been working in journalism and media for more than a decade. His writings have appeared in CBN News, Faithwire, Deseret News, TheBlaze, Human Events, Mediaite, PureFlix, and Fox News, among other outlets. He is the author of several books, including Playing with Fire: A Modern Investigation Into Demons, Exorcism, and Ghosts Hallowell has a B.A. in journalism and broadcasting from the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, New York and an M.S. in social research from Hunter College in Manhattan, New York.