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Jimmy Stewart - The Truth Behind the Legend

Updated on April 2, 2010

For as long as I can remember I have been a huge fan of Jimmy Stewart. I can't remember the first movie I watched him in, it was most likely "It's a Wonderful Life" or "The Glenn Miller Story". But I remember from that moment on I never missed the chance to watch one of his numerous movies when they were being shown. So it's quite natural that I would want to learn more about the legendary actor which lead me to Michael Munn's biography on the actor "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend".

Published in 2006 Michael Munn covers Jimmy Stewart's entire life from his childhood in Indiana through each decade of his career, his service during the war, his struggle to find work post war right through to the sad day in July 1997 when Jimmy Stewart sadly passed away in his sleep. What is very striking straight off is that Michael Munn was extremely close to Jimmy Stewart and his wife Gloria, you get a real sense of not only his fondness for the legendary star but also that they were fond of him. It makes "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" such a wonderful book to read because it has a genuine warmth which comes across with out feeling too sentimental. When Munn disagrees with something he doesn't hold back in his critical assessment which gives it a balanced approach.

As with many biographies about movie stars "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" is a blend of life away from the cameras as well as in front. As such pretty much every movie, stage play, radio broadcast or TV show is mentioned and often not just in passing. You get a real understanding of what each film was about, the various issues which blighted production and more importantly Jimmy Stewarts own thoughts on each movie. That is one of the special things about this book is that so much of it is actually what Jimmy Stewart said and from when you read the first "Waal...." it's like the great actor is there reading it with you.

But whilst the various sections covering Stewart's numerous performances are fascinating it is the insight into his life away from the camera which is more revealing. "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" is littered with stories about his friendships and feuds with various stars such as Henry Fonda, Anthony Mann, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock as well as various loves of his life such as Margaret Sullavan and of course his wife Gloria. But also there are elements which for many would be quite shocking such as Stewarts run in with the Hollywood Mafia, his days working as a spy for Edgar J. Hoover and the fact that whilst he often played the amiable patriot in his day Stewart was just as red blooded male as the next bloke when it came to women all of which is quite a surprise.

Along with the various interjections from Jimmy Stewart which often come across like he is with you spinning a yarn about his time as a Hollywood star you also get tales from other stars. Due to their long friendship there are several interjections from Henry Fonda who seems to delight in telling us about their bachelor days which is quite eye opening and the likes of Lee Marvin chips in with his memories of working with Stewart, how he was this great actor who also had such a temper which he kept in check unless he needed to use it. All of which helps to build up another layer to Jimmy Stewart, he was very much how you saw him in films so there was a bit of George Bailey and Mr. Smith to him but likewise there was also a bit of Will Lockhart about him as well or should that be their was a bit of Jimmy Stewart in every character he portrayed.

Even though I have watched many a Jimmy Stewart movie "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" really reiterates what a huge star he was and the list of famous names he often appeared with and sometimes dated is remarkable. It literally plays like a who’s who of the great stars of Hollywood.

What this all boils down to is that "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" is a brilliant biography. It delivers such a wonderful and warm insight into the great actor. With the various interjections from Jimmy, his wife Gloria and various Hollywood stars it literally feels like they are all in the room with you reminiscing about their lives, movies and the swinging days of Hollywood. As Jimmy Stewart once said about the movies he was in "he hoped to give people little pieces of time that they remembered" well Michael Munn has delivered a biography that achieves the same, little pieces of Jimmy Stewarts Wonderful Life to remember.


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      Cynthia 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      I too really like old Jimmy Stewart movies and it is interesting to read your review of the book "The Truth Behind the Legend" by someone who knew him well-- it seems that biographies of movie stars are often written by seasoned biographers who usually don't know their subjects in the flesh, or if they do, not well. I often think of how Canadian writer Alice Munro once described people (common people, celebs, etc.) from the "Lives of Girls and Women" as "People's lives... [are]... dull, simple, amazing, and unfathomable -- deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum," So, it's not really too shocking to learn anything about anybody, but it is sort of humanizing of public figures like Jimmy Stewart to read that he had a bad temper and was a bit of a lady's man-rogue... we can all relate to human flaws. Thanks for the review!