Customer Review

21 September 2019
Everyone knows James Stewart. He was one of the true classic actors of America's golden age. Few actors are more recognisable and idiosyncratic than Jimmy Stewart, who came to represent an American every-man during the 20th century.
This book follows his life more or less in chronological order, starting with stage work, and gradually becoming a megastar.
Stewart had already achieved a certain level of fame when the war broke out. Being extremely patriotic, he felt compelled to sign up. He could have used his star status to avoid seeing action . In fact the studios, as well as the US government didn't want him to come to any harm, aware that the effect on public moral would be devastating if anything happened to him. But he insisted on doing his part. This tells you something about the nature of the man.
After the war and during the 50’s and 60’s he teamed up with some great directors and made very memorable films. His had many friendships with other actors of the day, chiefly Henry Fonda, but also including John Wayne, Clark Gable, Fred MacMurray and other famous actors. Single until his forties, he had a wild love life until he finally married.
A less admirable episode was his work for the FBI. Stewart had a long time relationship with the peculiar J. Edgar Hoover, and his right wing views saw him working under cover to report on his Hollywood friends. Stewart’s motives might have been worthy (trying to rid Hollywood of gangsters), but he was manipulated by the devious Hoover, who was mainly concerned with outing suspected communists.
The final years saw a slow decline, as worthwhile roles dried up, and his long time colleagues died, one by one.
I would have liked more in-depth information about his more famous films. Vertigo, voted by some as one of the best films ever made, or It’s a Wonderful Life, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence of course are all mentioned, but without much detail. One fun aspect of reading a book about a great star is that you can watch the various films as they are mentioned. This adds another dimension to the experience, and I re-discovered some of the great films of the 50s, such as Broken Arrow and Winchester ’73.
An very enjoyable book for anyone interested in film, particularly during America’s golden era.
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