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James Stewart a Biography

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After a brief stint on Broadway, Jimmy Stewart went to Hollywood and soon made such classics as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and "The Philadelphia Story." He symbolized the patriotism of the time, and even joined the army in World War II, winning a Distinguished Flying Cross. Up to that point, his characters had espoused the same values that Stewart himself, a devout Pr After a brief stint on Broadway, Jimmy Stewart went to Hollywood and soon made such classics as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and "The Philadelphia Story." He symbolized the patriotism of the time, and even joined the army in World War II, winning a Distinguished Flying Cross. Up to that point, his characters had espoused the same values that Stewart himself, a devout Presbyterian, lived by. But after the war, his youthful exuberance faded, and he settled into darker roles, including his classic performances in Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and "Vertigo." Biographer Donald Dewey suggests that while the boyish charm of his early characters reflected pre-war hopefulness, his disturbed, nearly psychotic later characters mirrored the introspection and suspicion of the 1950s.


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After a brief stint on Broadway, Jimmy Stewart went to Hollywood and soon made such classics as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and "The Philadelphia Story." He symbolized the patriotism of the time, and even joined the army in World War II, winning a Distinguished Flying Cross. Up to that point, his characters had espoused the same values that Stewart himself, a devout Pr After a brief stint on Broadway, Jimmy Stewart went to Hollywood and soon made such classics as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and "The Philadelphia Story." He symbolized the patriotism of the time, and even joined the army in World War II, winning a Distinguished Flying Cross. Up to that point, his characters had espoused the same values that Stewart himself, a devout Presbyterian, lived by. But after the war, his youthful exuberance faded, and he settled into darker roles, including his classic performances in Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and "Vertigo." Biographer Donald Dewey suggests that while the boyish charm of his early characters reflected pre-war hopefulness, his disturbed, nearly psychotic later characters mirrored the introspection and suspicion of the 1950s.

30 review for James Stewart a Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    OK. First, I rarely, if ever, quit a book. I got 1/3 of the way through this book before I couldn't take it anymore. I LOVE James Stewart. Seriously. This book has little to nothing to do with him. It is a broad-based story of... something. It's more like a term paper one would write in high school or basic college English where you simply copy other people's sources and cite them. Also, I was listening to the audio book, and the reader's voice put me to sleep. The following are some notes I OK. First, I rarely, if ever, quit a book. I got 1/3 of the way through this book before I couldn't take it anymore. I LOVE James Stewart. Seriously. This book has little to nothing to do with him. It is a broad-based story of... something. It's more like a term paper one would write in high school or basic college English where you simply copy other people's sources and cite them. Also, I was listening to the audio book, and the reader's voice put me to sleep. The following are some notes I made while trying to listen to this book. Hopefully they explain why I was not exactly thrilled with this author's work. ~~~ Not only a biography of Jimmy, but a history of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and the Stewart family, trailing back to Ireland. Most of the first section gives bits while strung through a description of the dedication of the Jimmy Stewart museum. This makes for odd transitions and descriptions. Then it describes Jimmy's early interests. Then it describes his education, including his prep school and transition to Princeton. Of course, this comes with a mini history on both of those institutions. I suppose this is supposed to lend a background to understand how Jimmy might have felt while there, but I found it boring. Anything relevant to Jimmy's life, like specific rules, could have been mentioned without an outright history. At times it got so in depth into the surroundings of Jimmy's life, that I forgot it was supposed to be a book about Jimmy Stewart. ~~~ I was going to turn those notes into better sentences for a review, but decided to leave them raw. I saw at least two other Jimmy Stewart bios at my local library the other day. Hopefully one of them will be better than this. Sorry, Mr. Dewey. I just couldn't hang in there with you.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Ketchum

    This is another long book. Again, due to the copious amount of driving that I have been doing, I listened to the 18-hour audiobook. But I almost didn't make it past the first 30 minutes. The first hour discusses a Jimmy Stewart museum opening that's sole point is to attract attention to a state that Stewart hadn't lived in in over 50 years. The next couple of hours dealt with Stewart's upbringing and admittance into college and his foray into stage acting. The book really picks up when Stewart g This is another long book. Again, due to the copious amount of driving that I have been doing, I listened to the 18-hour audiobook. But I almost didn't make it past the first 30 minutes. The first hour discusses a Jimmy Stewart museum opening that's sole point is to attract attention to a state that Stewart hadn't lived in in over 50 years. The next couple of hours dealt with Stewart's upbringing and admittance into college and his foray into stage acting. The book really picks up when Stewart gets his big acting break. From there, it primarily goes movie-by-movie chronologically through his life, occasionally jumping forward a couple of years to help create a more cohesive narrative. The author covers his bachelor life, his unlikely and long friendship with Henry Fonda, his love for western, his patriotism and his dedication to his family. I definitely learned a lot about Jame Stewart. For the most part, however, he was a pretty stand-up guy. Though he didn't know how to act around black people, he donated money to a housekeeper's church that was damaged. And while he hunted wildlife in Africa when he was younger, he became an advocate for conservation later in life. If you're a movie buff or a fan of Jimmy Stewart, you should find this book entertaining. I had only seen a handful of his films at the time of reading this--though I still consider some of them my favorite movies--and yet now I have found myself with a list of movies that I plan on watching in the coming months. If you have to, just skip the beginning. That's the only reason this book got a 4/5 from me.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This is so much longer than it needs to be. But, I appreciated the details on each on each film he covered.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    The life of Jimmy Stewart is one of those that ranks up with "the inspiring." However, Dewey documents a couple facets of Stewart's life that are less than flattering. It seems that, as a product of his geography and times, Stewart was somewhat a racist - although it seems not to have been a huge part of his makeup. His love of the Air Force was life-long, and a vignette from his dotage indicates it was always on his relatively sharp mind. His early years had him chasing the girls in the acting The life of Jimmy Stewart is one of those that ranks up with "the inspiring." However, Dewey documents a couple facets of Stewart's life that are less than flattering. It seems that, as a product of his geography and times, Stewart was somewhat a racist - although it seems not to have been a huge part of his makeup. His love of the Air Force was life-long, and a vignette from his dotage indicates it was always on his relatively sharp mind. His early years had him chasing the girls in the acting game, and he had a life-long crush on Maureen O'Sullivan; but that never seemed to get between him and his steadfast wife Gloria. A very interesting man.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    If you look for a dark side to anybody, you can find it. Overall, however, Stewart led a well-balanced and, in some ways, heroic life, besides making his work look so easy. He was at his best with Hitchcock, that Christmas movie with Clarence--what's that called again?--and the Oscar-winning Philadelphia Story notwithstanding.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    If you like Jimmy Stewart - this biography goes from before he was born till his death and you'll learn all sorts of stuff about him. It's over 18 hours on audible.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Phil Smifff

    It would be rare for me to give up on a book once I had started it but I seriously considered giving up on this one. I persevered and it turned out to be an ok biography of one of my all time favourite actors. This is not really a review but more of a recommendation. I think the first 56 pages of this 500 page book are completely irrelevant. What you will miss is some of the history on his home town and some of his relatives going back many generations. You will also miss how the James Stewart m It would be rare for me to give up on a book once I had started it but I seriously considered giving up on this one. I persevered and it turned out to be an ok biography of one of my all time favourite actors. This is not really a review but more of a recommendation. I think the first 56 pages of this 500 page book are completely irrelevant. What you will miss is some of the history on his home town and some of his relatives going back many generations. You will also miss how the James Stewart museum in his home town came about which the actor had little to do with. There is very little of interest actually about James Stewart in the first 10% of the book. Therefore my 3 stars are for the remaining 90% of this book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    I LOVE Jimmy Stewart...I mean I LOVE Jimmy Stewart! I jokingly call him my "ye olde crush" when I talk about him to people. After I'd heard rumors about him and Marlene Dietrich during the filming of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, I thought, I gotta read about this man. This book has NO JUICY TIDBITS...like, at all, I don't know if there is a "tell-all" book about Jimmy Stewart, but if there is, this isn't it. It talks about his life, and has a tendency to run off on tangents about things that touch his lif I LOVE Jimmy Stewart...I mean I LOVE Jimmy Stewart! I jokingly call him my "ye olde crush" when I talk about him to people. After I'd heard rumors about him and Marlene Dietrich during the filming of DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, I thought, I gotta read about this man. This book has NO JUICY TIDBITS...like, at all, I don't know if there is a "tell-all" book about Jimmy Stewart, but if there is, this isn't it. It talks about his life, and has a tendency to run off on tangents about things that touch his life. It reviews just about every movie he did, and uh, yeah...so...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Caryn

    Not that interesting. It was less of a biography and more of a in depth movie review of each of Stewart’s movies. Boring! I don’t feel like I know anything more about James Stewart than I did before I started this audiobook. The best part was the narrator.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lee Riley

    Fascinating book if you love Jimmy Stewart like me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tracey horton

    Boreing, hard to read too much waffle.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Randy

    My audio book for the last week has been a bio of James Stewart who was the ubiquitous actor of my childhood and early adulthood. Stewart made dozens of films or “pictures” as they called them in those days. Truth be told, his biography isn’t all that interesting except for the fact that he was the major motion picture star of the fifties. I can still recall scenes from “Broken Arrow” (with Jeff Chandler as Cochise). Playing cowboys and Indians around age 8 or 9 I was always Cochise. I recall sa My audio book for the last week has been a bio of James Stewart who was the ubiquitous actor of my childhood and early adulthood. Stewart made dozens of films or “pictures” as they called them in those days. Truth be told, his biography isn’t all that interesting except for the fact that he was the major motion picture star of the fifties. I can still recall scenes from “Broken Arrow” (with Jeff Chandler as Cochise). Playing cowboys and Indians around age 8 or 9 I was always Cochise. I recall saying to a friend that my name was Cochise because my arrows were a little bit yellow. Can’t recall if I was serious or making a bad play on a pun. I felt I had things in common with Mr. Stewart. We were both tall and very skinny. And, I can attest that when, at a later date, I found myself in the same room with him, an event I will get to, I noted that he was the narrowest human I had ever seen. That is, looking at him straight on, he was not very wide. “Thin” doesn’t really describe it. Stewart came from Indiana, Pennsylvania where his dad ran the local hardware store and was a pillar of the Presbyterian church. That’s something else we had in common—fathers who took a life long interest in influencing our lives and who found church going to be of the utmost importance. James Stewart as a personality is what one might expect of a boy from the midwest. He was a staunch Republican, exempt from McCarthyism, and best friends with Ronald Reagan. He wore a toupee, something I didn’t know and had a hearing problem from middle age on. He was a hero of WWII. Not a fake hero but the real deal. A bomber pilot who rose from private to Lt. Colonel during the course of the war who was continually promoted to more responsible command positions. He continued as a reservist and eventually achieved a star although his promotion to general was opposed by Senator Margaret Chase Smith on the grounds that there were more deserving officers. He became a family man at forty, marrying a divorcee with a couple of boys. Before that he had affairs with lots of actresses most notably Marlene Dietrich. With the exception of the time out for WWII his biography is pretty much a recounting of picture after picture. I’ve seen a lot of them and this week took time to watch “Winchester 73” and “Call Northside 777”. Jimmy Stewart is a very effective and very watchable actor. The only contemporary actor who might have played all the Jimmy Stewart roles is Tom Hanks. There was an edginess to Stewart the actor, however, that Hanks doesn’t have. When I was a kid living in Vancouver, Washington we learned that they were filming a Jimmy Stewart movie called Bend in the River up near Mt. Hood. We jumped in the car on a Sunday and headed up toward the mountain and were rewarded with a distant view of a wagon train circled in a clearing down below the hiway. I got closer to Stewart, in his role as General Stewart, in 1967. I was at a base in NE Thailand when the Secretary of the Air Force with his entourage dropped in. I was an intelligence officer for the Air Commando Wing stationed there and, as was always the case with intelligence shops, worked in a windowless building. It was an inadequate facility with small briefing rooms connected by a long hallway. The main briefing room was full of pilots so the Secretary’s entourage couldn’t squeeze in. The Secretary, Harold Brown, who later became Secretary of Defense under President Carter, stood in the doorway and his followers trailed down the hall. I was just inside the door describing what was going on in a whisper to Secretary Brown who whispered the info to the next guy and so on down the line like “Pershing at the Front“. The briefing over, the pilots made their way out squeezing past the Secretary and his posse who then circled through the briefing room glancing at maps and charts, then exiting. The last guy was General Stewart wearing tan 1505s, a short sleeved khaki outfit. It was just me and General Jimmy. He picked up a map of Laos and studied it a bit then turned to me as if to ask a question. I was waiting for his characteristic stutter, looking forward to answering. But he changed his mind and put the chart back on the easel, nodded and left the room. It would have been a violation of military courtesy to ask for an autograph. It’s hard to know exactly what impact James Stewart’s films had on me. Watching his old pictures I have a sense he was a strong role model. I know for certain that his film “Strategic Air Command” was not the movie that tipped me in the direction of the Air Force. That distinction belongs to “A Gathering of Eagles” with Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor (1963). In a demonstration of shallowness, I was overwhelmed with the idea of how good I would look in the Air Force’s tan Class A uniform. I joined the next year, the same year the Air Force dumped the tan for a blue uniform that looked like something a bus driver would wear. Things don’t always work out the way you want them to. I don’t usually read or listen to show biz bios. But I’m glad I spent some more time with Jimmy Stewart. I didn’t get to know him very well on our first encounter.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brigita Soldo

    3.5 stars. It wasn't bad and while at times it could've been less detailed about irrelevant things, it's still a biography and those more often than not leave much to be desired.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Donald Dewey's James Stewart: A Biography (Turner Publishing, $24.95, 512 pages) transcends the ho hum regurgitation of facts common to most film biographies in a remarkably frank, highly objective and brilliantly executed book, which neither relies on hearsay nor deifies a man who, for many, epitomizes the American ideal. Although the 88 year old actor has remained in seclusion since his wife's death in 1994, the author was able to research his book with the assistance of Stewart's three childr Donald Dewey's James Stewart: A Biography (Turner Publishing, $24.95, 512 pages) transcends the ho hum regurgitation of facts common to most film biographies in a remarkably frank, highly objective and brilliantly executed book, which neither relies on hearsay nor deifies a man who, for many, epitomizes the American ideal. Although the 88 year old actor has remained in seclusion since his wife's death in 1994, the author was able to research his book with the assistance of Stewart's three children and a host of others. Dewey, an award winning writer, earlier published a well received biography of Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni. Dewey tackles the general presumption that Jimmy Stewart was just being Jimmy Stewart on the screen, a premise enhanced by the frequent display of his trademark stammering, aw shucks persona on television. In fact, Dewey's biography rests on another presumption that "no other U.S. screen performer has shown as much range or delved into as many emotional nooks and crannies." He proves his contention as he traces Stewart's life from his roots in Indiana, Penn., to Princeton and Broadway and, finally, Beverly Hills. Dewey discovers that Stewart was far from the "natural actor" he seemed but more of an ever evolving craftsman motivated by a lifelong commitment to the acting trade, a dedication to hard work and the use of his imagination. The actor's name is synonymous with the upright Jefferson Smith fighting corruption in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), the dejected George Bailey wanting to end his life in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) or any number of comedies churned out in the 1930s and 1940s. However, Stewart's most commercially successful decade was the 1950s, during which he made no comedies. This period fittingly started with his role as drunken Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey (1950) and ended with that of shrewd lawyer Paul Biegler in Anatomy of a Murder (1959). In the interim, he took on embittered and psychologically complicated character roles in five westerns directed by Anthony Mann, which set a new criterion for graphic violence, and three more films by Alfred Hitchcock, including the now-classic Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958), the latter of which will be released in a digitally restored form in October. Most of his more than 75 movies, even those that are forgettable, are discussed in detail. As the author painstakingly examines Stewart's heroics in World War II, his lifelong friendship with Henry Fonda, his conservative stance and his relations with his wife and family, he reveals something of the reserved private citizen. In the Jimmy Stewart story, it comes as no surprise that the man who went to Hollywood really did have a wonderful life.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl Gatling

    He was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania. His dad ran a hardware store. Once Alex Stewart provided some hardware supplies for a traveling circus. They couldn't afford to pay him, so he took an accordion in trade. He took it home and gave it to his son Jimmy. It was the accordion that would turn out to be Jimmy Stewart's entree into show business. When he graduated from Princeton in the depths of the depression with a degree in architecture, there weren't a lot of new buildings going up. But he could He was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania. His dad ran a hardware store. Once Alex Stewart provided some hardware supplies for a traveling circus. They couldn't afford to pay him, so he took an accordion in trade. He took it home and gave it to his son Jimmy. It was the accordion that would turn out to be Jimmy Stewart's entree into show business. When he graduated from Princeton in the depths of the depression with a degree in architecture, there weren't a lot of new buildings going up. But he could make a little money playing for shows and dinner theater. Musical interludes led to a bit part in summer stock, which led to a bit part on Broadway, which led to being hired by MGM, which led to being one of the most beloved movie stars ever. (Starting out by being best friends with Henry Fonda didn't hurt, either.) This biography delves into many subjects: Stewart's strengths as an actor (His professionalism was under-appreciated because he was viewed as a "natural," someone who was just being himself onscreen, although he actually performed a great range of characters and emotions.), his war service, his love affairs with actresses as a young man, his later marriage, his political conservatism, and the losses of aging, but the meat of the book is filmography. Stewart's life is told movie by movie. There is a synopsis of each plot, descriptions of the events related to filming, and analysis of the critical reception. I thought this was both fitting and fascinating. In a sense, the movies he made were the life he lived. There are lots of great anecdotes. Plus a more complete picture emerges of a more complex man than most people remember. Stewart is thought of today mostly as a naive bumbler, but he played a great many other roles, some of them dark and violent. And being a professional, he always knew his lines, and he always gave his best, even if the movie as a whole was stupid (and some of them were). It may not always have been a wonderful life, but it was certainly pretty good.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I would have loved to read about the life of James Stewart but the read was too long winded. Starting the book about how no one in stewarts home town really was a fan and was just using him to further themself just put a sour note on the whole start of the book. While I don't doubt that truth behind the authors explanitation of things I really was looking for a simple read about an american film actor.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is one of my favourite biographies, about one of my favourite actors of all-time. A great book - easy to read and full of tales and anecdotes. What an absolutely top bloke he was. I would've been tempted to award 5 stars just for Mr Smith goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life... but the book itself is easily worth 5 stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steven Dzwonczyk

    Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorites, and this was a pretty good biography/filmography of the man.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Norah S.

    The whole theme of the book seemed to be what a nice guy he was... Then, at the very, very end, you find out he was prejudist. It made me sad.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tami

    The introduction was a little slow to get going, but now the story is picking up. Jimmy is one of my all time favorites, so now I'm learning more about him. Will add to this review when I'm done.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gerald Curtis

    The reason this book disappointed me is that it was perhaps 10% about James Stewart, one of my favorite authors, and 90% about the film industry and fellow actors.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

    excellant

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    Great biography --esp. when Dewey starts tracking his life through summations of each movie.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carl Smith-owens

  26. 5 out of 5

    James Fehr

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jenni Gile

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Dengate

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mikele Hansen

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