Peggy Stewart, a Valencia resident and American actress known for her roles in Western B movies, died last Wednesday morning at the age of 95.
Stewart, born Peggy O’Rourke, was born on June 5, 1923, and today would be her 96th birthday. During her film career, she starred in more than 130 films and shows, including 30 films for Republic Pictures, was inducted into the Newhall Walk of Western Stars in 2002 and continued acting until as recently as 2014.
“I’d known her personally for a few years now, but I used to watch all those Western movies when I was a kid — she was in everything,” said Bruce Fortine, former president of the Santa Clarita Community College District’s board of trustees. “She was the nicest, sweetest lady you would ever want to meet. At her age, she still had such a sharp mind that she remembered everything as it should be remembered and had a million stories to tell. She was very entertaining and could tell you stories that no one else could.”
Stewart moved to California in the 1930s, when she met actor Henry O’Neill, who recommended her to Paramount Pictures executives looking for a new actress for the part of Joel McCrea’s and Frances Dee’s teenage daughter in the film “Wells Fargo,” according to SCVHistory.com.
Her work in that film in 1937 led to numerous other roles, and by 1940, she was established in Hollywood. It didn’t take her long to sign with Republic Studios, where she became a leading lady for many Western films, according to SCVHistory.com.
Stewart left Republic in 1948 and freelanced for some years before she gave up acting to become a casting director at NBC television, which didn’t last long, and soon she returned to acting, “but only in roles that would provide a challenge to her,” according to SCVHistory.com.
Throughout her acting career, Stewart also starred on popular TV shows, like “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Weeds,” “NCIS” and in “The Office” as Pam Beesly’s grandma, and appeared in movies as recent as “That’s My Boy” with Adam Sandler.
After retirement, Stewart began guest speaking at various Western film festivals, which is when she became closer to Julie Rogers Pomilia, actress and kindergarten teacher at Northlake Hills Elementary School in Castaic.
Pomilia knew Stewart because of the work Stewart did with her grandparents, actors Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Stewart became a valuable link to Pomilia’s grandparents after their deaths, Pomilia said.
“She was just this wise woman that was a mentor to me,” Pomilia said. “She had lots of stories about (my grandparents) and filled in the gaps. … She just had so much wisdom from living so long and just had an amazing outlook on life. She was one of those people that you made you feel really peaceful and good after being with her.”
Pomilia and her husband, Gino, visited Stewart every Monday over the past 11 years, and they would eat dinner and watch television with her, which became a tradition, said Gino Pomilia, a teacher at Golden Valley High School.
Stewart was an animal lover and enjoyed visiting with the Pomilia’s three border collies, who all knew her, according to Gino.
“When we mention the name Peggy, my border collie, Jessie, runs to the front door because she thinks we’re going to visit her,” Gino said. “In (Stewart’s) last couple weeks, they were letting Jessie come in (to visit) and she would run in and jump on the bed. But I believe animals know things because one day, she went in and she stopped.”
“Jessie jumped very gingerly on her bed, kinda tiptoed on the edge of her bed and laid down with her head on Peggy’s chest,” Julie continued. “She and Peggy had a special, a little connection. I truly believe that Jessie understood everything Peggy said.”
“Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” Gino added.
The Pomilias continued visiting with Stewart until she died, and it had been such a standing tradition that Gino said “every day, it kind of hits me and my wife.”
“No matter how prepared you are, it knocks you to your knees,” Gino said. “When you have someone in your life who is unconditional, especially unconditionally loving, they’re a gift from heaven, and you need to cherish them, because there aren’t too many people like that — that was Peggy. She always had a good word, and always made you feel better. She just loved the best part of who you were and that was all she could see — what a gift.”