INDIANA, Pa. — For a time it looked like the Jimmy Stewart Museum wasn’t going to make it.
It’s in the actor’s hometown of Indiana, Pa. – an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh and off the radar of many fans who might want to attend. And the pool of fans is shrinking as those who grew up during the era of Stewart’s films die out.
The number of tour buses that made special trips to the museum began to decline in 2009 and 2010, said Timothy Harley, the museum’s director. “The situation became very dire. That caused some pretty considerable concern, he said.
But the outlook has improved, at least for the next few years he said, thanks to loyal fans who began sending donations as the word got out about the plight of the museum.
It turned out that many people still had warm feelings for the star of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the 1947 Christmas classic that featured Stewart considering suicide, but being talked out of it by a guardian angel named Clarence. Harley said the donations have stabilized funding problems for the small museum with a limited staff and budget.
But they’re not a long-term fix, he said. The museum isn’t fancy, which is partly why Stewart gave his blessing to the project before he died in 1997. It’s full of displays not just about movies, but about Stewart’s service as a bomber pilot in World War II, his well-to-do ancestors, and his family life.