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Who was the bigger star - Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda?


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I've always thought, based on nothing but my own senses, that Henry Fonda was a bigger star than Jimmy Stewart.

 

Recently I wathced some films where Stewart was billed over Fonda. I'm just curious...

 

Feelings aside, based on facts alone, who was the bigger star?

 

Yancey

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Interesting observation!

 

Stewart was nominated for the Oscar 5 times, won once (1941 - Philadelphia Story) and was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1985

 

Fonda was nominated for the Oscar 4 times, won once (1982 - On Golden Pond) and was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1981

 

Giving Stewart the edge by one!

 

Yancey

 

Message was edited by:

yanceycravat

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I'll say Stewart, if for no other reason that Jimmy never appeared in a spaghetti Western. >>

 

But Once Upon a Time in the West was a very brave film for Fonda to make. He was a heroic figure in almost every film he made.

 

In this particular film, he played against type and was very memorable in the role. Taking that role and running with it helped generate alot of buzz back in the late 1960s when many of the actors that Fonda had started with were having a hard time finding roles.

 

As for who was the bigger star, I think they were fairly equal in their star stature. Both had come up the ranks, done some very good work that was overlooked by the Academy, both migrated to television and then into elder statemen roles.

 

Fonda had a reputation for being very aloof, Stewart was reported to be much friendlier.

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Whoa there, Stewart received 5 Best Actor nominations to Fonda's 2, and the latter's win was one of those deathbed nods from the Academy voters. However, Fonda did receive AFI's lifetime achievement award two years before Stewart did.

 

Great topic Yancey, one we should all be able to sink our teeth into too ... but it's past my bedtime now;-) I've always compared Stewart to the other great everyman Gary Cooper (there's a thread around here somewhere). I like Fonda too, but I associate him with his message picture roles (and Once Upon a Time in the West) more than any other in his portfolio.

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I think it depends if what a group of people think or what you think who is the biggest star.My choice would be Jimmy Stewart.He came across more as being a down to earth to people.I thought Henry was good actor but bit of a snob.Every time I watch Harvey,I just want to hug Jimmy. Because he comes across as being sweet and thoughtful like he would be in life not just acting.

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It's hard to compare the two, mainly because, unlike Stewart, Fonda put his Hollywood career on hold, perferring to work exclusively on the stage for several years in the late 1940s and early '50s. This served, I think, to hobble Fonda's commercial appeal.

 

Then, too, Fonda was a subtler actor than Stewart; though the latter began to re-invent himself in the early 1950s with darker roles -- starting with ROPE, through the Anthony Mann Westerns, VERTIGO and ANATOMY OF A MURDER, the really dark persona was really always Fonda's, and not Stewart's.

 

Stewart successfully re-invented himself a number of times through the 1960s, something at which Fonda only made intermittent stabs. Consequently, Stewart became everybody's favorite big brother, or father, or eccentric uncle -- practically a guarantee at the boxoffice -- whereas Fonda remained a fascinatingly disturbing presence on the cinema screen.

 

While I love Stewart's films, given a choice of one actor over the other, I'll take Fonda every time.

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My grandmother, who must have been born around 1910, always thought there were very clear tiers of "stars." I'm sure she would have seen Fonda as being a lower tier than Stewart, and I'm pretty sure she would have seen Stewart as in the top tier of "big stars" and Fonda as in a lower tier of "stars" but not "big stars." This reflects more on their celebrity status than on their talent. Fonda may be a better actor, but I think Jimmy had the star quality. I also think Jimmy was more of a heartthrob. Remember that in Rear Window, Grace Kelly is in love with Jimmy and he is more interested in his career than in her. I don't recall Fonda ever being portrayed as a heartthrob.

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I think Mr. Stewart enjoyed a wider fan base. Mr. Fonda was an excellent actor, but I'm not sure that his roles were as varied as Stewart's. Stewart excelled at more genres than Fonda, thus Fonda's fan base is restricted to those that only enjoy his particular type of pictures. Stewart has a number of pictures in so many categories: musicals, comedies, screwball comedies, drama, western, Hitchcock suspense, etc.

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Old Henry had his fair share of good roles:

 

Young Mr Lincoln, Drums Across the Mohawk, Jesse James, Jezebel, The Grapes of Wrath, The Lady Eve, The Male Animal, Ox-Bow Incident, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache, Mister Roberts, Advise and Consent, 12 Angry Men, Fail Safe, Spencer's Mountain, The Rounders, The Best Man, Big Hand for a Little Lady, Madigan, Yours, Mine and Ours, Once Upon a Time in the West, Gideon's Trumpet plus many more and there's his Broadway work to boot. He worked with Ford (more than once), Sturgis, Leone, Lumet, Delmar Daves, Wild Bill Wellman and many others.

 

I think Fonda's aloofness and darker personality in comparison to Stewart's more open personality may be what we should be talking about rather than who was the better actor because if you put their roles side by side, they were both ranking up there at the top of the pyramid for many years.

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In the final accounting, Fonda was in more films but Stewart's were better box-office (though the former's numbers were bigger in the 1960's; according to the-numbers.com). Many of Fonda's were more serious message pictures whereas Stewart played several more affable, even endearing characters.

 

Both actor's enjoyed great, memorable roles with which they will always be associated and remembered, and Fonda even created his own acting legacy in Jane and Peter. Both worked with Alfred Hitchcock, though Fonda only once in The Wrong Man (1956) - ironically Stewart, who worked with the director four times, also appeared in a Hitchcock film that same year (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) remake).

 

I recently reviewed their last two films together, which were Westerns that are included in Stewart's Signature DVD Collection - Firecreek (1968) and The Cheyenne Social Club (1970). In both, Stewart is the top billed lead actor (in one, Fonda is his sidekick; in the other, his rival). I learned that both actors were longtime off-screen friends despite their differing politics (there's a lesson to be learned there).

 

I guess I'd have to conclude that Stewart was the bigger star, but I'm certainly glad that Fonda made so many great films (thanks for reminding us, Lynn) too.

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Excellent accounting of the two careers.

 

I think the fact that Stewart was more easy going has lead him to be better remembered, It's A Wonderful Life not with standing.

 

I suspect that Stewart was the bigger star after reading these posts. I suppose there is something about Fonda that I find more interesting.

 

It may very well be comparing apples and oranges. They were both great with careers that would make any actor proud/envious!

 

Yancey

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