by Donald Dewey ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1996
Biographer and novelist Dewey (Marcello Mastroianni, 1993; Reasonable Doubts, 1991) offers a voluminous, highly intelligent look at one of the richest and most complex of Hollywood star personas, not incidentally, one of the industry's most beloved actors. Intriguingly, as Dewey ably demonstrates, Stewart is one of those actors who--thanks to generations of comedians and impressionists--we think we know cold but whose work is continually surprising. Ironically, Stewart had the kind of upbringing that people identify with his film characters: He was raised in Indiana, Penn., a small town in the middle of the state. His father, Alex, was a dominating personality, owner of a large hardware store, one of the town's most successful businesses. It was Alex who determined that his only son would follow his path to the Mercersburg Academy and Princeton. Alex was less than thrilled when Jimmy developed more of an interest in theater than in his chosen field, architecture, but the father was also shrewd enough to give him his opportunity to fail. Needless to say, he didn't. Stewart's rise was swift, moving like lightning from summer stock to Broadway to Hollywood and stardom. Dewey, as interested in the work as he is in the life, examines each of Stewart's films in considerable detail and with real acumen. Nor does he neglect Stewart's private life; he is utterly frank but never titillating about the actor's affairs with Norma Shearer, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, and Olivia De Havilland. Also very astute is the analysis of Stewart's career choices, and the detailed recounting of his distinguished record as a bomber pilot and squad commander during WW II is downright moving. Dewey describes everything with a workmanlike prose that may not sing, but it hums nicely. A model of how to do a serious but entertaining Hollywood biography; Dewey never loses sight of the work, which is what makes Stewart important in the first place.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996
Page Count: 521
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996
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