It Was Never The Right Time: James Stewart And Margaret Sullavan's Heartbreaking Love Story

Date December 7, 2017

Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan made four incredible movies together. Their chemistry was so intense that fans suspected something more might be going on. To some extent, they were right, but the timing never seemed to favour the duo. And even though they had feelings for each other, their love story just never happened.

How they met

The pair first met when they were both starting their careers at the theatre company, University Players. Stewart and Sullavan's first husband, Henry Fonda, became good friends before they were married. They were all friends for years. And at one point, he even asked her out on a date. Sullavan once described this invitation as the "longest, slowest, shyest but most sincere" one she had ever received. However, Stewart was a bit of a player at the time and Sullivan was also a little bit out there. Regardless, they were sweet and gentle with each other.


Sullavan was the first to make it in the acting big leagues but she insisted on taking Stewart right along with her. During production for Next Time We Love, she was able to convince Universal to bring Stewart on board the movie.


They went on to act The Shop Around The Corner, The Shopworn Angel and The Mortal Storm together, each time, playing each other's love interest.

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On-screen chemistry

Sullavan continued to be a true friend to Stewart as the years went by. He was very nervous and unsure of himself but she encouraged him and helped him polish his acting skills. She believed in Stewart. In fact, director Edward H. Griffith once said it was Sullavan who made Stewart a star.

Before long, they were famous around the world. Gossip that the pair had something more than friendship going on began to swirl. It was even speculated that her second husband, William Wyler, was suspicious of Sullavan and Stewart's private rehearsals together.

Sullavan divorced Wylar in 1936 and married Leland Hayward that same year. They moved to a house just down the street from Stewart which only ignited the rumours. The producer and co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM) once said about the duo's onscreen chemistry: "I don't know what the hell it is, but it sure jumps off the screen."


Brooke Hayward, daughter of Sullavan and Leland Hayward, wrote the book Haywire, which was basically her memoirs about growing up with two famous parents. Stewart was mentioned in a couple of chapters.

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On page 89 of the book, Gloria, Stewart's wife, claimed that Sullavan and Stewart had an affair while she was married to Fonda. But they broke things off when they realised that it would affect his friendship with Fonda. She also added that the fact that Sullavan "used men, but she never used Jim," was another reason why they did not get together even though they were in love. He loved her but as he continued to see her go from man to man, he soon accepted that a real relationship may never happen.

The end

For the rest of their lives, he remained friends with Margaret Sullavan even until her health and fame faded in the 1940s and 1950s. Eventually, when she was 50 years old, she passed away after overdosing on barbiturates.

Gloria said that after her death:

He became something of a recluse for a while…. He lost the spark that had always been there…the spark went out not with the failure of his films but with the death of Margaret Sullavan.

Sadly, even though they loved each other very much, they just never figured out how to be together. They settled for being friends and exploring the many facets of their feelings in the four movies they did together.

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