Celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh defied the odds when he made a 33 and a half hour journey across the Atlantic ocean. Six pilots before him lost their lives in the pursuit and it was considered impossible until Lindbergh defied the odds.
Directed by Billy Wilder, "The Spirit of St. Louis" (1957) is a tribute to his journey with James Stewart in the starring role as Charles 'Slim' Lindbergh. According to the book, "Some Like It Wilder" by Gene Phillips, Stewart had been a fan of Lindbergh's since he was a teenager and when the star heard about the proposed Linderbergh film, Stewart was desperate to play his childhood idol. Stewart recalled that at 19, he followed Lindbergh's famous crossing of the Atlantic and hand carved his own model of the "Spirit". When Lindbergh landed in an airfield close to Stewart's hometown, he tried to get an autograph but was unsuccessful.
But there was one problem standing in the way of Stewart being cast, his age. When John Kerr dropped out of the role, Stewart, 47, elected himself to step in. At first, Jack Warner refused, saying "I need a star, not one that's pushing 50." But Stewart was persistent. At 150 pounds, Stewart started to diet and lose weight to the point where the actor couldn't even recognize himself. Finally, after seeing the dedication Stewart already gave to the role, Wilder cast Stewart.
When Stewart finally met his idol, he was too shy to ask for the coveted autograph. The actor was so starstruck that in their meeting, Stewart didn't have a single question to ask, instead he said, "I hope I can do a good job for you." To which Lindbergh replied, "I hope so too." Stewart further prepared for the role by studying newsreels of Lindbergh and practiced piloting one of the replicas.
The film debuted to a largely negative response from critics. Most commented on the fact that Stewart was clearly too old to play Lindbergh. Box office-wise, it was considered by one of the biggest disappointments of the studio's history. But the most important opinion of the film was Lindbergh's and when he saw it, the shy aviator remarked that it was one of the best films of Stewart's career.
Today, Lindbergh's relatives attend special screenings of "The Spirit of St. Louis" (1957) at various functions in order to continue his legacy in aviation.