Over a career that spanned forty-three years and seventy-seven films, Jimmy Stewart went from leading man to national idol. Classics such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, and, of course, It’s A Wonderful Life are far more than mere movies; they are visions of America as it wanted to be seen. With his inimitable (though widely mimicked) down-home drawl, Jimmy Stewart came to embody the ideal American male, lean, affably sarcastic, honorable, endearingly awkward. His double takes were memorable; his way of muttering his asides charmed audiences. Most of all, he was the man whose heart was always in the right place, and who would see always see his way clear to doing the right thing. “If Bess and I had a son,” Harry Truman once said, “we’d want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart.”
Jonathon Coe traces Stewart’s beginnings in a small town in Pennsylvania, his amateur dramatics and college years at Princeton, and the early films and stardom through to his heroics as an air force pilot during World War II and his triumphant return to Hollywood. Though he was adored in black and white, Stewart’s mature work shows his range as an actor, his ability to play far more than just the good-natured leading man. By the time he retired from acting, Stewart had films credits that were unparalleled—and a place in the American heart that was unrivaled. Illustrated with 150 photographs, taken on and off the set, this handsome tribute gives us the private man as well as the screen legend and guides us through the whole wonderful life of Jimmy Stewart.
With his leisurely, naturalistic delivery, his oddly graceful awkwardness and his ability to convey incorruptible virtue, Jimmy Stewart (b. 1908) has done more than any American, argues the author, ``to embody the often contradictory spirit of his country and give it convincing expression on the screen.'' Coe, a British journalist, traces the actor's journey from a small Pennsylvania town to his earliest theatrical experience in Princeton's Triangle Club, his rise through the ranks of Hollywood's studio system and his breakthrough to stardom in Frank Capra movies. After a wartime stint as a bomber pilot and squadron leader, Stewart suffered a run of bad luck in his choice of roles; but then Winchester '73 (the ``Casablanca of Westerns'') marked the emergence of a rougher screen persona for him and turned him into one of the top box-office draws of the 1950s. His role in that movie also foreshadowed the tormented characterizations he displayed in movies he made under the direction of Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock. In Vertigo , according to Coe, Stewart ``brought to the screen--without recourse to histrionics--emotional states more extreme than any that had previously been portrayed in mainstream cinema.'' Coe is a perceptive critic; his comments on Stewart and his 77-film career are worth reading. Photos.