PIECES OF TIME: The Life of James Stewart by Gary Fishgall

PIECES OF TIME: The Life of James Stewart

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A paint-by-numbers biography of the star of such classic films as It's a Wonderful Life, Harvey, Rear Window, and Vertigo. With his lanky good looks, his earnest, genial demeanor, the recently deceased Stewart often played the prototypical American. His naturalistic style of acting, with its frequently parodied starts and stammers, seemed effortless, but as Stewart once remarked, ""If I give a natural appearance on the screen, you can be damn well sure I'm working at it."" He had no intention of becoming an actor, but a few amateur theatrical productions at Princeton soon had him hooked. He was quickly discovered by MGM, and by 1941 he was a top star with a clearly identifiable and beloved screen persona. After harrowing service during WW II as a bomber pilot, he returned to Hollywood and proceeded to make a series of notable films with Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann in which he deliberately subverted his prewar image to telling effect. But despite a few flashes here and there, this biography does not rise to the level of its subject. Preferring catalog to character, the author leapfrogs relentlessly from film to film, as if that was all that made up a life. Throughout, Fishgall (Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster, 1995) reduces Stewart to little more than filmography leavened with a few familiar anecdotes, while psychological insight, analysis, and dissection of craft are mostly relegated to the sidelines. Fishgall has done an impressive amount of work, watching all of Stewart's scores of films, interviewing anyone with the slightest connection, reading all the requisite memoirs, but given the shallows in which he operates, he could have gotten by with half the effort. It may have been a wonderful life, but this isn't a wonderful biography.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1997
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Scribner