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Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart (edition 2017)
by Scott Eyman (Author)
Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart by Scott Eyman
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Author Scott Eyman has done it again with a fantastic book about the friendship between liberal Democrat Henry Fonda and conservative Republic James Stewart. Eyman's previous books on film personalities like John Wayne, Mary Pickford, John Ford, Louis B. Mayer, Cecil B. DeMille, and Ernst Lubitsch have been well-researched and this new tome on Fonda and Stewart does not disappoint. The book has plenty of interviews with Peter and Jane Fonda as well as Stewart's daughter Kelly among others. The two men became lifelong friends in their early 20's and agreed never to discuss politics which was probably why the friendship was so strong. The summer stock company "University Players" where Fonda and Stewart met along included lifelong friends John Swope, and Joshua Logan among others. The two were there for each other their entire lives and it is so touching to see this kind of friendship which rarely exists today. My only criticism was describing Stewart as a man with mid-western values - he was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania which is far from the mid-west so I found this a bit confusing. It is a great book for anyone who is a fan of these two great actors.
If anyone knows classic films at all, then these two actors' names will be right up there with John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant. While their films, for the most part, of all these actors were very different, their onscreen presence was palpable. There was no mistaking that you were in the presence of a great actor when you sat down to watch.
I have always known that Fonda and Stewart were best friends - anyone who claims to be a classic film buff would know this. And, I must say, I knew quite a bit about their professional lives, and their personal, as far as marriages. I also knew that they both served in World War II, Fonda in the Navy and Stewart in the Army Air Corps. However, Mr. Eyman has gone far deeper into their pasts.
He begins right where they do - from birth; and tells us of their very different upbringing in life. He goes on from there to their early life on the stage, and their eventual move to Hollywood. But their lives take very different turns. Hank was married five times - he was wound too tightly most times to make a marriage stick; his emotions stayed beneath the surface and were rarely exposed; Jimmy was married once, when he was 41 - Gloria was the love of his life and the marriage was a happy one.
Their careers took different turns, also: Hank preferred stage to screen; Jimmy stayed in Hollywood and made many memorable films (and a few he probably wished he hadn't). But the films Hank made were, for the most part, memorable also, and I am sure everyone has that particular film of both of them that stays with you and you will watch over and over. I love Hank's films The Mad Miss Manton, Mister Roberts, and The Rounders (not a spectacular film, but very funny). For Jimmy's films, I love The Shop Around the Corner, Rear Window, and The Rare Breed.
It is obvious that Mr. Eyman has done extensive research on his subjects. The book is neither cloying nor filled with Hollywood gossip; it gives us an honest and well-written biography about two remarkable men, the like of which will never be seen again.
While I've read other biographies of Fonda and Stewart, I believe that Mr. Eyman's is the best by far. While I am sure there are those who like only one or the other, I consider myself a true classic fan, and while I may not like an actor personally, I can watch their body of work and appreciate it for what it is.
While this book points out that Hank wasn't the best father in the world, he also changed as he got older, and his loyalty to his friends was always unwavering. Perhaps because they never expected anything from him, knowing he didn't offer up as much of himself. Jimmy, on the other hand, seems more open and giving to both family and friends.
They were there for each other through triumphs and tragedies; through good times and bad; and never allowed their personal politics or personal demons stand in the way of their enduring friendship. One can only hope for a friendship in their life as strong as the one between these two.
I am grateful for this book, for giving us the insight into two remarkable men who became extraordinary actors and had an exceptional friendship. Highly recommended.
Henry Fonda and James Stewart were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood for forty years. They became friends and then roommates as stage actors in New York, and when they began making films in Hollywood, they roomed together again. Between them they made such memorable films as The Grapes of Wrath, Mister Roberts, Twelve Angry Men, and On Golden Pond; and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Destry Rides Again, The Philadelphia Story, It's a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, and Rear Window. They got along famously, with a shared interest in elaborate practical jokes and model airplanes, among other things. Fonda was a liberal Democrat, Stewart a conservative Republican, but after one memorable blow-up over politics, they agreed never to discuss that subject again. Fonda was a ladies' man who was married five times; Stewart remained married to the same woman for forty-five years. Both men volunteered during World War II and were decorated for their service. When Stewart returned home, still unmarried, he once again moved in with Fonda, his wife, and his two children, Jane and Peter, who knew him as Uncle Jimmy.
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It was fascinating reading about how they started out in the theater, their lives before they become famous, dating women, marriages (Jim one time while Hank 5), WW2 and how they were decorated for their services, the high and low of their careers. And, of course, the twilight of their lives, when they started to lose good friends who passed away, and when they both got older and finally when Hank passed away and Jim had to go one without his best friend.
It's a fabulous book, and I loved how the friendship between the men lasted all through their lives, despite the difference for instance when it came to politics. Their shared loved for model airplanes was charming to read about. I also found the chapter about WW2 absolutely fascinating to read. So many Hollywood stars that fought during the war and it was interesting to learn that they both were more than figureheads that they actually did fight. And, that they didn't talk much about it later in life. Jim's children, for instance, had no idea what their father had done in the war, more than that he had been a soldier.
Then we have their personal life. Hanks marriages all failed until the very last one (Shirlee, who he was married to until his death) while Jim found the right woman, Gloria, who he was married to until her death. Hank's first marriage ended when his wife committed suicide and after that came a string of marriages that didn't work out at all while Jim was in his 40s when he finally found the right woman to marry. It's interesting btw how Margaret Sullavan came to play a big part in both their lives, Hank marrying her, then divorcing since they could not live together, while Jim had a crush on her that lasted several years.
I want to thank G.P. Putnam's Sons for providing me with a free copy through NetGalley for an honest review! ( )