How Visit Fort Worth Got Jimmy Stewart, Who Passed Away in 1997, to Voice Its New Ad Campaign

The campaign features visitors exploring the city's museums, rodeos, aquariums, and honky tonks. And Stewart's iconically slow, thoughtful voice drawls through it all.

A new marketing campaign from Visit Fort Worth is called “The Unexpected City”—and a very unexpected voice is at the heart of it: legendary Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart.

Stewart passed away in Beverly Hills back in 1997. So how could a 2023 ad campaign snag the voice of an actor who’s been gone for decades? Well, doggone it, hold your horses and you’ll find out.

First, here’s the 60-second spot that drives the campaign:

Directed and produced by Brooklyn-based production company Smartypants, the commercial features Stewart’s iconically slow, thoughtful voice saying, “I guess every town has a flavor all its own. But this one seems to have more than most. This town… Perched on the edge of the prairie… Where it can never lose sight of its past, and can see the future forever… Fort Worth, Texas. The unexpected city.”

Stewart’s voice pours like maple syrup over an evocative, string-led musical background, interspersed with sound effects of a prairie wind, a rodeo, country music line dancing, and more.

Meanwhile, we see glimpses of different visitors: a boy, a man, and two young women, who explore Fort Worth’s sights, museums, aquariums, and honky tonks.

Flashback to 1977

Jimmy Stewart marveled at the “unexpected sophistication” in Fort Worth, as exemplified by this snappily dressed couple in the original 1977 short film, “The Unexpected City.” [Video still from YouTube linked by Visit Fort Worth]

OK, here’s how they got Jimmy Stewart’s voice. The Hollywood legend actually did the voiceover track for a 1977 short film called “The Unexpected City,” which you can see by going here. (If you think we live in a faster-paced world today, you’re right—the original version was a full 16 minutes long.)

According to Visit Fort Worth, the 1977 film was a gift to the city from the First National Bank of Fort Worth. It features locals who were well-known in the 1970s, including Steve Murrin, philanthropist Alann Sampson, journalist Bob Ray Sanders, and Charles Tandy, founder of the Tandy Corporation.  

Stewart donated his proceeds to the Fort Worth Zoo

Jimmy Stewart really was a fan of the city, Visit Fort Worth says. A friend of F. Kirk Johnson, the Fort Worth Zoo Association Board president at the time, Stewart visited the zoo for decades and donated his proceeds from the short film to the zoo as well. He volunteered his time to create PSAs, Visit Fort Worth added.

Knowing what we know of Jimmy Stewart’s character, that’s not unexpected at all.

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