"What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You, you want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey, that's a pretty good idea. I'll give you the moon, Mary."
"I'll take it. Then what?"
Those famous words from "It's a Wonderful Life" helped make Jimmy Stewart a star, but it's Jeff Stewart who can help the George Baileys deal with the insatiable Marys of the world.
Using a special blend of paint, Jeff Stewart can make it so that the first star you see tonight is, oh, about eight feet away.
The night sky murals Stewart paints on ceilings are designed to outdistance their plastic counterparts by lasting eight to 13 hours a night while costing significantly less than fiber-optic versions — a not-so-out-of-this-world standard price of $3.25 per square foot.
It's left more than one customer starry-eyed.
"We recreate that night sky that you see way out in the country or way out on a mountain, right on your ceiling," said Stewart, the artist/illusionist who operates Night Sky Murals in Magna. "You lay down on your bed and turn the lights off, and there it is."
The special mixture is nontoxic, permanent and washable and is undetectable during the daytime if applied to white, off-white or pastel ceilings or walls. The material soaks up the sun or fluorescent or black light and then glows when the room darkens. A 12-foot-square ceiling can be treated in three to four hours. Examples are available at www.nightskymurals.com.
And for folks looking for something astronomically correct, Stewart's celestial seasonings can depict the stars' positions during particular dates, such as birthdates. Shooting stars or the Milky Way can be added as accents.
"The plastic stars you get at the store are really cartoonish. The best way to describe ours is what it looks like if you were to go outside during the night during a power outage, when there are no lights," Stewart said. "At a home show, we had six astronomers come in, and I was sweating bullets. These guys know their stuff, but they thought it was cool. It's the kind of thing you have to see to understand."
Faye Carnahan understands. The Sandy woman had Stewart paint the ceiling of her home's basement movie theater, Milky Way and all.
"It reminds us of the old Egyptian Theater in Ogden," Carnahan said. "When we were little kids, we went to that and we'd look up and see the stars in the ceiling. We tried to recreate that in our ceiling. It has all the constellations and the North Star."
The scene depicts June 5, 1993, combining her husband Steve's birthday and the year their daughter was born.
"Everybody who comes in and sees it wants it in their house," she said. "We've got friends who just go in there and don't watch the movie. They just sit in the theater seats and look up at the ceiling.
"It looks like you're outside in the middle of Wyoming with no city lights, just the night sky. We'll turn on black lights so you can see the movie, but it will last all night long. It's not cheesy. My husband thought it would be. He thought he (Stewart) would just be painting some little dots. But it's nice."
One of Stewart's neighbors in Magna, Catherine Bee, believes the murals have universal appeal. A bit more than a year ago, Stewart showed her and her two boys a painted room at his home. The stars were aligned just right.
"He kept talking about it, and I kept putting him off, but he said that we just wouldn't appreciate it until we saw it. He finally got me to come over. I thought, 'Oh, my heck!' The kids said, 'We want this!' and I said, 'No kidding, we do!' "
She wanted the young boys to use the mural as an educational tool to learn about the heavens, matching what they had in their room with the outdoors.
"We loved it. They loved it. The first morning after it was done, the oldest kids came up and said, 'Mom, thanks for the stars.' I thought that was cute, coming from boys, who usually don't appreciate anything," she said.
Not long afterward, Stewart returned to do the parents' bedroom to create yet another star chamber. "It's so relaxing, just the coolest thing in the world," she said.
That room features a mountainscape, complete with a rising moon.
Unable to stop, the Bees had Stewart back once more, completing a ceiling for two daughters, ages 1 and 2, making their home a popular destination for sleepovers, with youngsters putting their bodies under the faux planetary bodies.
"They don't appreciate it fully yet, but the 2-year-old knows where the stars are and says, 'Goodnight, stars.' It's been a lot of fun. We've made it into kind of a ritual where we play a game and turn on the stars. She blows on the light switch to turn it off."
The light switch went on over Stewart's head about 20 years ago when he saw a similar glowing-paint treatment in Seattle. "I thought it was the neatest thing I'd ever seen in my life," he said. "It took me back to the first time I was out in the mountains and I saw the stars the way they should be seen, with no city lights and no moon."
He experimented with different techniques — "I told myself, I'm going to figure this out" — and moonlighted for a few years off and on. And he thanks his lucky stars he's found a painter friend who concocted the final blend. Stewart has spent the last few months concentrating on the business and estimates he's done about 200 homes, including many in Seattle and California, over the years.
Ceilings are the most popular site, but he will paint down from there, with mountain silhouettes or even entire ceiling-and-wall combinations that make a visitor feel like they're floating in space.
Bedrooms, theater rooms and spas are typical locations, but the sky's the limit. He'll spend some time next month working at a California bed and breakfast destined for stardom.
The paint mixture — he won't give away the secret recipe — uses aqua and blue, but constellations sometimes are done in yellow-green. "That way, they just pop out at you," he said.
For younger children looking for crazy cosmos, he's even got stencils in order to put spaceships or cartoon characters amid the stars. But they will typically have shorter glow life, allowing the stars to remain after they fade. He used to add nebulas and moons, but the nebulas detract from the realistic look, and anything more than a crescent moon is too bright, becoming the star of the show.
"There's nothing to plug in or trip over," he said of his murals. "And if you have a ceiling fan, we paint around it. We'll put some stars on the base. When the lights are off and the ceiling fan is on, it gives you a breeze just like when you're outside."
Bee can relate. Her bedroom leaves her sky-high.
"We get that TV turned off at night and just sit and relax and talk. It's like bringing the night sky in," she said.
"The pictures on the Web site actually doesn't do it justice. There's nothing like laying down, turning off the lights and watching the stars. In our room we have the ceiling fan, so we have the breeze. It's all there, except with no bugs crawling on you."