Actor Jimmy Stewart is responsible for some of the most iconic performances in films widely regarded as American classics. The larger-than-life presence of this small-town star echoes in Indiana, the birthplace of Stewart. For Christopher David Collins, Stewart’s legacy is much more.
So much so that he’s working on an hour-long one-man tribute to Stewart’s most beloved performances titled “Thank You, Jimmy Stewart!” All proceeds will go to preserving Stewart’s legend at The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana.
“Every person’s life makes a difference,” Collins said, alluding to the positive messages and wholesome, everyman characterizations that make Stewart appealing to actors such as Collins. “If people kept those top of mind, I think the world would be a wonderful place.”
Collins graduated in 1984 from Juniata College, the place where he made his stage debut. The exposure led Collins to put on a 20-minute monologue – a reworking of “It’s a Wonderful Life” – at the Dillweed Bed
and Breakfast in Dilltown in 1996.
Condensing an hour-and-a-half film into a bite-size piece may seem insurmountable,
but Collins’ passion keeps him coming back to the actor’s career.
He said he plans to do something similar for the benefit performance, but with two additional Stewart films:
“Harvey” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
“It’s a labor of love,” he said, also noting that he won’t receive any compensation for his performance but is just as pleased to see it benefit The Jimmy Stewart Museum.
“If it wasn’t for him, the performance wouldn’t exist. And that’s why I do it.
“It’s a challenge for (all museums). These things matter. And it’s so important that we support them. The same goes for the legacy of Jimmy Stewart ... The reputation of Mr. Stewart goes well beyond his movie career.”
Collins is referring to Stewart’s high-profile enlistment during World War II, when he piloted 28 combat missions in a B-24 bomber. But according to Collins, he almost never made it into the cockpit due to low weight. Even after he underwent training to bulk up, the military still didn’t like the idea, thinking if he were killed in action it would be too damaging to the wartime American psyche.
Collins said Stewart’s service was a humble thing – reflective of other aspects of his personality.
“As big a star as he was, he always said (he was from) Indiana, Pennsylvania. He was always specific and proud about where he came from,” Collins said.
Collins comes from Ebensburg – a salesman for a pharmaceutical company – but the short tour he’s making with “Thank You, Jimmy Stewart!” will take him all the way to Carnegie Hall in New York Çity. Collins will perform the second of two shows at the Weill Recital Hall inside the historic venue on Dec. 23.
“It means so much ... it almost feels like a piece of our heritage is waiting for us in that music hall. It truly feels like magic,” he said.
Tickets will go on sale Thursday.
Before that, an even more appropriate showing will take place Nov. 11, Veterans Day, at The Cabaret at Theater Square in the heart of Pittsburgh.
Collins said ticket sales for that show have recently spiked.
“Considering the show isn’t until Nov. 11, that’s extremely encouraging,” he said, beaming. “We were fortunate that date was available and it seemed like fate that we were able to get that space.”
He was quick to note that the Steelers won’t be playing that night – not as a means of taking away excuses to not come out to the show but as a point of relief for the actor personally.
“I bleed black and gold, too,” he said with a laugh.
For Collins, taking the stage to emulate Stewart for free is more than an homage or tribute to one of the most beloved American cinema icons. In regard to the museum he aims to bolster, it’s a kind of duty that he best sums up with a line from one of his monologues from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”:
“You fight for the lost causes. You fight for them harder than you do any others.”
For more information on “Thank You, Jimmy Stewart!”: www.jimmystewart.info.
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