Stewart was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and he served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II and was heavily decorated. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in 1940's The Philadelphia Story, which he starred in along with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. In 1980 he was awarded an American Film Institute lifetime achievement award, as well as an Honarary Academy Award for 50 years of memorable performances in 1985.
Stewart spoke in a hemming-and-hawing style which was sometimes hard on sound men but came through as sincerity to his audience. His career was therefore built around playing a clean-cut person with good values, and his hesitating acting style gave his characters a natural feel not seen in many movies of his time. His portrayal of the central character in It's a Wonderful Life was a defining moment in his career.
His first posting in the U.S. Army Air Forces was at Moffett Field, California. His final mission in the U.S. Air Force before retirement was a bombing mission over Vietnam that he specifically requested as a close for his military career. After the war, he was an appropriate choice to play the title role in The Glenn Miller Story. He also played another famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh. In an episode of The World at War he is one of several former airmen interviewed about his World War II flying career.
At the age of 41, Stewart married his wife Gloria, and was devoted to her until her death. She already had two children from a previous marriage, and they had two children together.
Later in his career, Stewart tried for a slight change of image. Although still the hero, he began to play more challenging parts with a harder edge to them. He starred in four Alfred Hitchcock films: Rear Window, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo. He also starred many classic westerns, and in Anatomy of a Murder, Harvey, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.