Orson Welles

Celebrity Roast Tribute to Jimmy Stewart

Original broadcast date 10 May 1978


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Dean Martin: Well, once again it's my great pleasure to present [a] giant in the entertainment field, a man who never fails to give these roasts a touch of class. Ladies and gentlemen, my dear friend, Mr. Orson Welles.

Orson Welles: Thank you, Dean. It's always a pleasure to be back in one of these celebrity roasts of yours, where a gang of jolly, fun-loving people get together to use charm, wit, good humor for one shining purpose: to destroy another human being.

I see nothing much has changed since my last appearance on this [stage].

Milton Berle is still looking around and jotting down everybody's jokes.

I see Senator Goldwater sitting there, still trying to dream up a way to keep the Panama Canal in American hands.

This evening we're assembled to honor Jimmy Stewart, who's not only a fine actor but whose very image as a man seems to be typical of all that America used to stand for. And I say "used to" because today's screen heroes are a far cry from that gentle, nonviolent fellow Jimmy's been portraying throughout his long and triumphant career.

Just to show you what I mean, let's look at some of today's leading men.

I saw Charles Bronson in a movie recently, where Charles, certainly a fine actor, merely playing what the public wants him to play, grabbed a beautiful girl, pulled her out of a room, belted her in the chops, and threw her down three flights of stairs -- and this was the love scene.

Jimmy may have hemmed and hawed -- but he never hit.

And Burt Reynolds, one of the very best of our newer stars, when he plays a cop, he jumps into his cruiser car, drives a hundred miles an hour, firing with a submachine gun, smashing and crashing 50 cars, buses, and trucks on the way, just so when he catches the guy he can give him a citation for blowing his horn in a hospital zone.

That's what's happening on the silver screen today.

By now we can see how much we needed that soft-spoken, shy, kind-hearted fellow that Jimmy Stewart plays. No brutality for Jimmy -- no, sir.

And as for mindless violence, why even in Jimmy's picture called The FBI Story, which sounds like a perfect excuse for gun fire, car smashing -- well, Jimmy did it the decent way. In one scene while he was chasing John Dillinger, that notorious criminal, had a flat tire on his sedan, and instead of smashing into Dillinger, Jimmy got out of his car, looked the villain straight in the eye, and fixed the flat.

Jimmy, to use a metaphor, the movie industry is a -- well it's sometimes called a jungle, but I think it's a forest, a forest made up of a million different plants and trees and shrubs. And some of these plants have a brief day in the sun -- they flower quickly, but they can't seem to sustain, so they wither away. Hollywood has seen a lot of these.

But a career like yours, Jimmy, is an evergreen. Rain or shine it keeps growing. Because is had a kind of beauty and purpose it will never die. That's what we've always seen in you, something that will be here when all the fads and fancies are long gone.

As an image, Jimmy Stewart is indelible.

As an actor -- well, I saw him on the stage in New York long before he went to Hollywood -- well, long before Hollywood got him. No, that's not -- that's wrong. Hollywood never got Jimmy Stewart. He was the conqueror. He was and is superb -- and I use that word very carefully. I pause for a parentheses -- I'm the only actor on this podium who has not attempted to imitate you, Jimmy, because in my view that's all we can do.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

Also in this database: Orson Welles' Citizen Kane movie speech

Page Updated: 9/29/21

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HTML transcription by Michael E. Eidenmuller.