An actor’s life, presented admiringly—after all, the subject is a plain-spoken American beau ideal.
Jimmy Stewart (1908–97), firmly lodged in the motion-picture pantheon throughout the studio-contract days and beyond, was a Princetonian, a modest war hero, sincerely Presbyterian, hardworking, happily married, politically conservative and a preternaturally gifted actor. As depicted by veteran Hollywood biographer Eliot (Cary Grant, 2004, etc.) in a full and fulsome portrait, he truly had a wonderful life. Discounting sojourns in theatre and later in TV, the Hollywood artist enjoyed one of the great film careers, starring in some of the classic Capra and Hitchcock films. Supporting players in his life story include Henry Fonda (as best friend), dazzling Margaret Sullavan, flawless Grace Kelly (for female leads) and an all-star cast of performers, producers, directors and agents. This is the story of how Stewart got the work he wanted and about the making and the makers of movies. There’s the obligatory backlot gossip concerning libidinous actors in heat (apparently their natural state) and some emblematic tittle-tattle. (Stewart, for example, was obliged to allay suspicions of homosexuality by visiting MGM’s in-house bordello.) Eliot succumbs to Variety-style jargon (“helmer” or “body-mover” for “director”) and hyperbolic press-agent syntax (“Jimmy was about to be reborn into the stratosphere of cinematic starlight”) and purple prose (he “was busy diving into the deep waters of Dietrich’s ocean of sexual delights”). The biographer provides major film-plot synopses with sexual and theological implications most readers surely never considered. In a shot at scholarship, he provides footnotes (frequently listing annual Oscars) as well as endnotes (with insufficient citations for many assertions). Nonetheless, Eliot makes abundant errors in minor details. But this casual treatment of extraneous facts hardly interferes with a good story about the movies and one of its stars.
Stout, readable story about how a nice guy got his acting chops and became one of Hollywood’s greats.