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James-Stewart-early-publicity-pictureI’m a big James Stewart fan from his naïve characters to his western gunfighters to his psychologically tortured characters. I’ve got most of his movies, his two TV series, and even his radio series.

I became a fan in college when I had to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for an American history class. I loved the movie and started watching others. My second movie was It’s a Wonderful Life. Needless to say, after those two movies I was hooked.

I’m not the only one either. James Stewart is a national icon who avoided much of the bad behavior that so many TV and movie stars fall into.

I was a little hesitant to read Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend by Michael Munn because the first review I saw of the book seemed to make it sound like it was a book out to tear down Stewart’s public image.

So I passed. However, it was on sale as a Kindle version, I decided to chance it. I’m glad that I did. While some of the elements of the first review are in the book, the reviewer must have focused on the negatives because it bore little semblance to what I read.

Munn was friend of Stewart and his wife, Gloria, from the 1970s on. He writes in an easy flowing style that was filled with lots of personal anecdotes. It also included interviews with many of Stewart’s friends and co-stars.

Much of the story I was familiar with; Stewart’s shyness, his love of comics, his friendship with Henry Fonda, his war service, and his patriotism. However, I still enjoyed reading it again because Munn brought in some fresh viewpoints from his experiences and other stars’ experiences. 220px-Brig._Gen._James_M._Stewart

Some of the new stuff I read about was that he supposedly had an explosive temper. It took a lot to anger him, but when he reached that point, he was apparently a volcano. Luckily, it didn’t happen often.

Stewart supposedly did undercover surveillance for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. This was the most-interesting new tidbit. As hard as it is to believe, it is also believable.

He also had some complex love affairs, particularly with Margaret Sullavan.

The book also talks about the roles that Stewart was considered for and ultimately didn’t do. It is interesting to imagine how those films might have looked had Stewart been the start. It is also interesting how many of Stewart’s films were considered failures when they were released but have ultimately come to be considered classics.

The one thing I didn’t like about the book was that Munn seems to want to paint racist. Although he can’t show anything outright that would make a person think Stewart was a racist, he tries to read behind comments and actions of Stewart to see something. This was also the aspect that the review I first read played up.

All in all, it was a great book. It left me with a more well-rounded opinion of Stewart while still leaving intact my opinion that he was also a great American and a wonderful person.

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