Book Review: Jimmy Stewart - The Truth Behind the Legend
Everyone has their favourite Jimmy Stewart movie? That is something I truly believe because in a career which spanned over 50 years Stewart not only appeared in some of the greatest movies ever made but he also appeared in a wide range of movies from romantic comedies such as "The Shop Around the Corner" to westerns such as "How the West Was Won" as well as a few biopics. For me it is impossible to pick one as like many I love "It's a Wonderful Life" but then I enjoy just as much "Shenandoah" and "The Shootist". But my fondness for one of Hollywood's greatest actors is huge and extends beyond just watching his movies but also reading books about him which brings me to Michael Munn's biography on the actor "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend".
Biographer Michael Munn published "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" back in 2006 and as you would expect it covers the life of the actor taking us from his childhood growing up in Indiana through his career both as a movie star and a pilot during WWII right up until the acting legend passed away in his sleep in July 1997. The first thing which strikes you is that it appears that not only was Munn close to the actor and his wife Gloria but had the same fondness for the actor that many a fan has. Whether or not Munn's closeness to the star was real or not it makes "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" a very warm book which in turn makes it a pleasant read but not a completely one sided read as on occasion Munn shows that whilst a fan he did not always agree with Stewart's opinion on things.
Now as you would expect "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" is a mix of his personal life and his professional life as an actor. Considering the number of movies, plays as well as radio broadcasts which Stewart featured in most appear to be mentioned in the book and not just in passing. That is one of the books plus points as there is a lot of detail when it comes to various movies, from Stewart's relationship with other stars, behind the scene issues as well as how Stewart dealt with some of Hollywood's biggest directors. But it is not just dry facts as due to Munn's friendly writing style which combined with interviews with Stewart himself makes it at times feel like a memoir especially when as a fan you can almost hear Stewart saying the words from the featured interviews.
Stewart's voice also radiates when we learn about the actor's life away from the studio. We learn all about how he and Henry Fonda were friends and room mates for a long time with Fonda at one point ending up with the woman which Stewart had fancied for many years. And we also learn all about the feud which formed between them which saw the two not speak for a long time especially when the patriotic Stewart worked as a spy for Edgar J. Hoover within Hollywood which lead him into confrontations with the Hollywood Mafia. Trust me when I say that Jimmy Stewart's life away from the big screen was in fact the sort of thing which would make a great movie and not just the Hollywood stuff as his personal life and marriage also had plenty of drama.
It is not just Stewart's memories which fill the book as Munn has also drawn on interviews with other famous names including Henry Fonda who is forthcoming about when he and Stewart were very eligible bachelors whilst others such as Lee Marvin talk about what it was like working with Stewart. You see a very different side to Jimmy Stewart from these other actor's contributions which not only paint him to be a ladies man but also a man who had a temper which you sort of find hard to believe considering he was so adept at playing the amiable characters who audiences fell in love with.
What this all boils down to is that "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" is a must for fans of the acting legend. On one hand it has that cosy feel of an actor reminiscing about the past thanks to Munn's interviews with Jimmy Stewart. Yet it also elaborates on who Stewart was and reveals a side to him which at times was very different to the Jimmy Stewart everyone knew from the movies.