A dual biography tracing the careers and 50-year friendship of two iconic American actors.
In his engrossing new book, biographer and film historian Eyman (John Wayne: The Life and Legend, 2014, etc.) vividly portrays the lives and work of two Hollywood legends: Henry Fonda (1905-1982) and James Stewart (1908-1997). As young actors, they worked together in regional theater with the University Players and eventually became roommates in New York. Upon moving to Hollywood, their individual careers took off, and their friendship continued to endure over the next several decades. Aside from political differences—Fonda was a Democrat, Stewart a Republican—they shared interests, core values, and personality traits that would distinguish them from many actors, including a highly disciplined approach to their work and an aversion to the superficial trappings of celebrity. “They were two loners who went off to see the world and remade component parts of it into their own images,” writes the author, “two fiercely private men who were quite capable of confounding their own families….In their friendship they created a safe place for themselves, away from the fears and frustrations of their careers, their domestic problems, the responsibilities of their legendary status.” While their long-standing friendship is notable, in tracing their personal lives and accomplishments, Eyman’s narrative is even more compelling. He provides a fascinating overview of the industry and the ebbs and flows of his subjects’ careers in film, on stage, and eventually TV (Fonda ultimately felt more at home on stage, while Stewart preferred working on film. Additionally, the author offers in-depth portrayals of key industry players who would remain their close associates, including writer/director Josh Logan, agent/producer Leland Hayward, and Fonda’s first wife, Margaret Sullavan, the talented, somewhat troubled actress for whom both actors shared a lasting, deep affection until her death. Of further note were their individual military achievements in World War II, experiences that greatly influenced their lives and values throughout their remaining years.
An entertaining, richly documented biography that will be appreciated by film and theater scholars as well as fans of these memorable actors.