Jimmy Stewart’s all-American good looks, boyish charm, and deceptively easygoing style of acting made him one of Hollywood’s greatest and most enduring stars. Despite the indelible image he projected of innocence and quiet self-assurance, Stewart’s life was more complex and sophisticated than most of the characters he played. With fresh insight and unprecedented access, bestselling biographer Marc Eliot finally tells the previously untold story of one of our greatest screen and real-life heroes.
Born into a family of high military honor and economic success dominated by a powerful father, Stewart developed an interest in theater while attending Princeton University. Upon graduation, he roomed with the then-unknown Henry Fonda, and the two began a friendship that lasted a lifetime. While he harbored a secret unrequited love for Margaret Sullavan, Stewart was paired with many of Hollywood’s most famous, most beautiful, and most alluring leading ladies during his extended bachelorhood, among them Ginger Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, and the notorious Marlene Dietrich.
After becoming a star playing a hero in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939 and winning an Academy Award the following year for his performance in George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, Stewart was drafted into the Armed Forces and became a hero in real life. When he returned to Hollywood, he discovered that not only the town had changed, but so had he. Stewart’s combat experiences left him emotionally scarred, and his deepening darkness perfectly positioned him for the ’50s, in which he made his greatest films, for Anthony Mann (Winchester ’73 and Bend of the River) and, most spectacularly, Alfred Hitchcock, in his triple meditation on marriage, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo, which many film critics regard as the best American movie ever made.
While Stewart's career thrived, so did his personal life. A marriage in his forties, the adoption of his wife’s two sons from a previous marriage, and the birth of his twin daughters laid the foundation for a happy life, until an unexpected tragedy had a shocking effect on his final years.
Intimate and richly detailed, Jimmy Stewart is a fascinating portrait of a multi-faceted and much-admired actor as well as an extraordinary slice of Hollywood history.
“Probably the best actor who’s ever hit the screen.” —Frank Capra
“He taught me that it was possible to remain who you are and not be tainted by your environment. He was not an actor . . . he was the real thing.” —Kim Novak
“He was uniquely talented and a good friend.” —Frank Sinatra
“He was a shy, modest man who belonged to cinema nobility.” —Jack Valenti
“There is nobody like him today.” —June Allyson
“He was one of the nicest, most unassuming persons I have known in my life. His career speaks for itself.” —Johnny Carson
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Marc Eliot is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books on popular culture, among them the highly acclaimed biography Cary Grant, the award-winning Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince, Down 42nd Street, Take It from Me (with Erin Brockovich), Down Thunder Road: The Making of Bruce Springsteen, To the Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles, and Death of a Rebel. He has been featured in many documentaries about film and music and has written on the media and popular culture for numerous publications, including Penthouse, L.A. Weekly, and California magazine. He divides his time among New York City; Woodstock, New York; and Los Angeles. Visit him at marceliot.net.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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Jimsy and Genesis
“My earliest memories are of hardware smells. The dry aroma of coiled rope. The sweet smell of linseed oil and baseball gloves. The acid tang of open nail kegs. When I open my nose, they all come back to me.”—Jimmy Stewart
His mother, Elizabeth Ruth Jackson Stewart, whom everyone knew as Bessie, called her only son Jimsy. It was a rare sign of warmth and affection to the boy in the otherwise rigid, turn-of-the-century middle-class American Presbyterian household in which James Maitland Stewart grew up, a household with a proud lineage tinted with vivid reds, whites, and blues. Elizabeth was descended from a long line of Jacksons, the first having arrived in the Colonies in 1773. From their homes in Pennsylvania, every male first-generation Jackson eagerly signed on to fight in the Revolution. This call to arms soon became a family tradition as generation after generation of Jacksons unhesitatingly fought whenever freedom demanded it, including the War of 1812 and then the American Civil War.
In June 1863, Bessie’s father, Colonel Samuel Jackson, heroically led the charge of his troops onto the infamous battlefield at Gettysburg, survived the bloody carnage, and was duly rewarded for his valor. His proud family in attendance, Jackson was promoted personally by General Grant to the northern army’s elite rank of brigadier general.
After the war, Jackson moved his family farther west, to the burgeoning industrial town of Apollo, just outside of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and about fifty-five miles east of Pittsburgh, in the foothills of the Appalachian plateau. Once settled, Jackson agreed to allow investors to capitalize on his military fame as a way to help raise money to form the Apollo Trust Company. In return, he was made president of the Trust and given a permanent seat on its corporate board. Using Apollo money, Jackson supervised the financial reorganization and massive physical reconstruction of P.H. Kaufman Steel, which helped rejuvenate Pittsburgh’s then war-weary industry and gave the entire state a much-needed economic boost. Not long after, the appreciative citizens of Pennsylvania elected him to several state and federal offices.
Along with social prominence and political power, Jackson accumulated a significant personal fortune, and at the ripe old age of thirty- four, decided it was time to start a family of his own. He met and married Mary E. Wilson, eleven years his junior, who, everyone agreed, was the most attractive unmarried woman in town.
Their union produced five children, the third of which was Elizabeth Ruth—Bessie—a popular child despite the fact that her looks were far from what the rakish Jackson had imagined a daughter of his and Mary’s would be like. In truth, Bessie was rather plain, with a circular face accented by drooping eyebrows and a down-curved mouth, nothing at all like the long line of tall, lean aristocratic Jacksons. What she lacked in traditional beauty, however, she made up for in social skills.
For one thing, Bessie was an expert musician with a special affinity for the piano, good enough as a teenager to be asked to play the organ every Sunday at the Apollo Presbyterian Church services, which she did for nearly fifteen years. Her playing charmed everyone, but no one more than the thirty-four-year-old war veteran and prominent Apollo businessman Alexander M. Stewart.
His father was James Maitland Stewart the first, or J.M. as he was universally referred to, the tenth child of John Kerr Stewart, who had come to America from County Antrim, Ireland, in 1784, eager to make his mark in the New World.
J.M. Stewart was born in 1839, attended Dayton Academy and Westminster College, after which, in 1864, just shy of his twenty- fifth birthday, he enlisted in the Signal Corps to fight for the North in the Civil War. He saw action at Winchester, Cedar Creek, Fisher’s Hill, and in several other battles near and about Richmond, Virginia. When the war ended, J.M. returned to Indiana County and became a partner in the retail hardware business Sutton, Marshall and Stewart, which had been started in 1848 by John and Peter Sutton and W. B. Marshall, and was later joined by J.M.’s older brother, Archibald. That same year, the Suttons and Marshall left the business, with Marshall forming his own retail outlet to sell dry goods and notions, while Archibald, with the help of J.M, continued on, selling hardware, groceries, grain, and lumber.
Three years later, J.M. married the town beauty, Virginia (Jennie) Kelly, once she finally accepted the last of his many proposals, having already turned him down several times because of his excessive drinking. Although he promised he would stop, he didn’t, and she then broke off their engagement a month before the scheduled wedding was to take place, until he swore “under God” that he would be a worthy husband and father.
Jennie eventually married J.M. and gave birth to four sons, two of whom died in childhood. One of the survivors was Alexander Maitland (A.M.), a tall, tough youngster who grew to manhood known affectionately as the “wild” Maitland, because of his love of fun and good times. His father, J.M., saw his own youthful reflection in the boy, and sent him off to Princeton in the hopes that the demands of higher education and religious formality would straighten him out.
Alexander dutifully majored in chemistry until his senior year, when the six-foot-three, good-looking young man became obsessed with the daily events that were leading up to the outbreak of the Spanish- American War. Only months before graduating, he left Princeton to enlist, leaving so quickly that it was said he didn’t even have time to turn off his Bunsen burner. He was sent to Cuba, but was disappointed not to see any real action. When the war ended, he returned to Apollo, determined to settle down and make a decent life for himself. He made a deal to buy out his aging father and uncle, and became the hardware store’s sole proprietor. Then he decided it was time to find a wife.
In 1906, Alexander proposed marriage to thirty-one-year-old Bessie Jackson, saving her from the unfortunate but seemingly inevitable old- maid life predicted for her by the growing whispers about town. The church wedding was held on December 19, 1906, after which the squarely built, muscular Alexander carried her across the threshold of their new home on Philadelphia Street that he sanctimoniously christened “The Garden of Eden.” On Wednesday morning, May 20, 1908, the Stewarts became the proud parents of James Maitland Stewart, named after his most distinguished paternal grandfather.
Whatever fun-loving, youthful adventurism Alexander had left quickly evaporated, replaced by an increasing Fundamentalist-driven devotion to the store. His face became an endless map of brow-wrinkling concern, as the weight of responsibility for the family’s now- struggling business fell heavily upon his broad shoulders. He worked diligently, believing, as both the church and Princeton had taught him, that hard work and productivity were the pathways to earthly success, and that, in turn, was the only true avenue to heavenly immortality. Likewise, anything unproductive was the devil’s doing, even his Bessie’s nightly parlor-room playing of the family Steinway grand piano—unless it was church music she was practicing, which, all too often, Alexander knew, it was not.
Nor did he appreciate her “social singing,” fine for the church choir, but not the local music club’s amateur shows. When she agreed to take a role in Madame Butterfly, Alexander’s spirited, preachy protestations only made her laugh. Marriage, she was reminded of once more, had indeed changed her “wild” Alexander more than she thought it ever possibly could. His singular focus had shifted from seeing how much whiskey he could drink to how late he could keep open the doors of the J.M. Stewart and Company Hardware Store, or the Big Warehouse, as it was known to everyone in the neighborhood. To that end he now expected Bessie to play the dutiful, supportive wife, and her appearance in Madame Butterfly was not exactly what he had in mind.
Although Bessie called her little boy, whom she adored and showered with affection, Jimsy, he was Jimbo to his father because of his chubbiness, which annoyed the ramrod-tight, tough, and trim Alexander. It also didn’t help matters any that Jimbo was utterly enchanted by his mother’s music. He loved to sit in the parlor after the family had finished dinner and listen to Bessie’s sweet and simple 3D4 melodies. One day he asked his mother to teach him how to play, a suggestion that Alexander immediately discouraged and that set off a battle between him and Bessie as to the need for music in the home at all. The standoff ended only when Alexander received a most unexpected form of remuneration for a bill one of his customers could not afford to pay.
It was Alexander’s policy, influenced no doubt by his Fundamentalist tilt, to encourage hospitality to those less fortunate, including, interestingly, any and all local traveling entertainment companies that happened to pass through Indiana. Alexander believed that those who earned an honest living, even if in (the wholesome side of) show business, were doing some form of God’s work. When young Jim, who loved horses, convinced his father to take him to watch a carnival set up their tents and attractions, Alexander, as a gesture of goodwill, invited several of the carnies home to dinner, and even extended some of the performers credit to purchase supplies at the store. As it happened, one of them was unable to pay his bill, and offered instead an accordion he claimed had been in his family “for generations.” Alexander reluctantly accepted the instrument. Fine for them and their tents, unacceptable for him an...
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Book Description Harmony, 2006. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. Book Club Edition; b.c.e. Brand new with mylar cover ; 8vo 8" - 9" tall; 480 pages. Bookseller Inventory # 39493
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