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Did Jimmy Stewart Really Have A Glass Eye?

During his long career, Hollywood legend James "Jimmy" Stewart gave us many memorable roles. From the troubled but pure-hearted George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," to the acrophobic and manipulative detective Scottie Ferguson in "Vertigo," he always brought a grounded believability to what he did onscreen.

This was equally true for Stewart's lesser-known roles, often in movies that, while perhaps well-made and well-performed, haven't managed to withstand the years with quite as much fame. One case in point is "Fools' Parade," a 1971 crime drama based on the book of the same name by Davis Grubb. In it, Stewart played Mattie Appleyard, a convicted murderer recently released from prison that has an obviously mismatched glass eye.

The film received decent but underwhelming reviews, earning a 65% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Writers like Tony Mastroianni at the Cleveland Press seemed to imply that, were it not for Stewart, "Fools' Parade" wouldn't work at all. "It is the kind of picture that leans heavily on Stewart's skill, personality, and built-in folksiness," he wrote. "Time and again he gives you the impression of an interesting character that really isn't there in the role" (via ClevelandMemory.com). This skill, personality, and folksiness are so sincere in Stewart's performance of Mattie Appleyard that it's easy to ask the question: Is the glass eye real?

Jimmy Stewart did not have a glass eye in real life

The temptation to believe is certainly there. Glass eyes are the kind of thing that film cameras would have found difficult to pick up during Hollywood's Golden Age, when Jimmy Stewart got his breakout. What's more, if Mattie Appleyard's glass eye is intended to be deliberately obvious, it is not unthinkable to believe Stewart had a better-suited one in real life.

However, Stewart had both eyes for his whole life. He would have needed them too, given his service as a pilot in the United States Air Force for 27 years of his life (via Military.com). The glass eye in "Fools' Parade" is a fake, made specifically to be worn over Stewart's real eye. Apparently, the eye caused so much discomfort for him that he could only bear wearing it for 20 minutes at a time, and filming had to be timed to start as soon as the eye was in place (via IMDb).

Fake glass eyes — and heavy film makeup in general — are well known for being uncomfortable. One has to hand it to Stewart for the professionalism it took to find a way to work with the eye and get the film made.