Lists, especially stupid celebrity lists (Worst plastic surgery…Most overpaid…Actors with famous siblings…Actresses with high IQs) are a staple of the internet, and there are sites like Cracked (which does them well), Buzzfeed (which occasionally does) and Bleacher Report (which is sloppy unless it is doing lists of hot women, in which case it is just undiscriminating) that often appear to do little else. That’s fine; everything on the web doesn’t have to be edifying, profound or useful. Still, there are some basic rules of competence and responsibility even in list-making on the web. One is that as with any conduct involving the conveyance of information, do your homework and don’t mislead readers or create misconceptions.
Another is that when you are dealing with individuals to whom you owe your nation’s very existence and who are as superior to you as a human being as you are to an anteater, show some damn respect.
Ranker, a second tier list site apparently operated by junior high school drop-outs (but whose lists are “recommended” by more respectable and heavily trafficked sites like Mediaite and The Daily Beast) failed these two essential principles with their offensive list, “33 Celebrities Who Have Killed People,” introduced with this:
“…Many celebrities were involved in tragic accidents that resulted in deaths, while others committed cold-blooded murder. Some celebs have served time in prison stemming from convictions, and others have gotten away with murder; sure, maybe they were wrongly accused, or maybe they just had great lawyers. Several famous people were involved in deadly car accidents. Former First Lady Laura Bush missed a stop sign and slammed her car into another vehicle, accidentally killing her friend who was driving the other car. She was in high school at the time of the accident. Other celebs who killed people in car accidents include Keith Moon, Ted Kennedy, and Rebecca Gayheart. What do you think about all the celebrities who have killed someone?”
What follows are predictable names for anyone who pays attention to history and pop culture, especially that of recent vintage. It is a parade of drunks, brawlers, criminals and bad drivers; actresses like Amy Locane and Rebecca Gayheart who spent time in jail for vehicular homicide, some who deserved to but didn’t, like Ted Kennedy and Keith Moon; outright murderers like Phil Spector, Robert Blake, Gig Young and O.J. Simpson, and some well-known individuals, like director John Huston and Laura Bush, who were involved in but exonerated in fatal accidents. The list even includes John Wilkes Booth, who hardly qualifies as a celebrity whose history as a killer is “surprising,” as one of the teasers for the list promised—the only reason anyone recognizes John Wilkes Booth’s name today is because of his one murderous act.
Then, at number 20 on a list almost exclusively made up of reckless, dangerous, irresponsible people who killed out of anger, vengeance, stupidity, youthful carelessness or alcohol-induced stupors, is the name of James Stewart, the actor and war hero. Stewart, we are told by some snotty anti-war ignoramus who should be dragged by the heels to the World War II Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery to beg forgiveness from the men and women who sacrificed and died so that he could make fatuous features on a webpage, is a “killer” because he “was pilot during World War II. During this time, Stewart participated in several bombings that resulted in the deaths of enemy soldiers and civilians.”
Let’s look at the wartime career of James Stewart, best known to the American movie-going public as George Bailey, Mr. Smith, Charles Lindbergh, and the star of some of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest thrillers, Like “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.”
When Stewart, already a top leading man in Hollywood who had just won the Academy Award for his role in “The Philadelphia Story,” was drafted in 1940, the star weighed just 138 pounds at 6’3”, five pounds under the mandatory weight level for his height. He was summarily rejected for military service. A civilian pilot, Stewart was determined to serve his country as a flier. He stuffed himself to put on the additional weight, and successfully enlisted in the Army Air Corps, becoming the first Hollywood star to seek combat in WWII. To comply with the regulations of the Air Corps proficiency board, Stewart needed an additional hundred flying hours, so he paid to acquire them at a nearby air field. After being assigned stateside as a flight instructor for almost two years, Stewart’s repeated requests to be sent into combat were finally granted. In November of 1943, he was sent to join the Allied war effort in England as a captain and operations officer with the 703rd Bomb Squadron, the 445th Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force. ( Later, he was transferred to the 453rd Bombardment Group.) Stewart flew bombing runs in B-24 Liberators, one of the most perilous assignments of the entire European theater. His record included twenty missions as command pilot over enemy territory, under fire, including bombing raids targeting Berlin, Bremen, Frankfurt, and Schweinfurt.
James Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm. By the end of the war he had risen to the rank of Colonel, and after it he remained with the US Air Force Reserves, eventually rising to Brigadier General in 1959. Stewart retired from the Air Force in 1968 and received the Distinguished Service Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
My father, when he was fighting the Nazis in Europe, had a drink in an Irish pub next to Colonel Stewart. Warily: Stewart had the reputation of being all business, dedicated and no-nonsense, who would stare down any soldier with the bad taste to reference his acting days. Many of his Hollywood colleagues, with some notable exceptions like Clark Gable, either avoided military service or spent the war touring camps and making training films. Stewart was different, and was held in special respect by his fellow officers and soldiers for his sacrifice and bravery, as well as his refusal to trade on his fame.
James Stewart does not belong on any list with the likes of John Wilkes Booth, Ted Kennedy, Fatty Arbuckle, and the other various miscreants that make up the “33 killers.” He wasn’t a “killer;” he was a patriot and a war hero with a mission, and he should be remembered, and honored, according to his stunning contribution to the defeat of the most vicious and murderous regime the modern world has ever known. The casual callousness with which a true hero like Stewart is not only turned into crude trivia fodder but also slandered by being grouped with drunks and murderers is emblematic of the viral incompetence and ignorance that infects so much of the web. James Stewart legacy is not that of a “killer,” and it is despicable for the fools at Ranker to try to make it so.