Friday 30 March 2018

#BookReview Hank & Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart by Scott Eyman @ScottEyman1 @simonbooks

Hank & Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart by Scott Eyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

New York Times bestselling author Scott Eyman tells the story of the remarkable friendship of two Hollywood legends who, though different in many ways, maintained a close friendship that endured all of life’s twists and turns.

Henry Fonda and James Stewart were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood for forty years. They became friends and then roommates as stage actors in New York, and when they began making films in Hollywood, they roomed together again. Between them they made such memorable films as The Grapes of Wrath, Mister Roberts, Twelve Angry Men, and On Golden Pond; and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Destry Rides Again, The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, and Rear Window.

They got along famously, with a shared interest in elaborate practical jokes and model airplanes, among other things. Fonda was a liberal Democrat, Stewart a conservative Republican, but after one memorable blow-up over politics, they agreed never to discuss that subject again. Fonda was a ladies’ man who was married five times; Stewart remained married to the same woman for forty-five years. Both men volunteered during World War II and were decorated for their service. When Stewart returned home, still unmarried, he once again moved in with Fonda, his wife, and his two children, Jane and Peter, who knew him as Uncle Jimmy.

For Hank and Jim, biographer and film historian Scott Eyman spoke with Fonda’s widow and children as well as three of Stewart’s children, plus actors and directors who had worked with the men—in addition to doing extensive archival research to get the full details of their time together. This is not another Hollywood story, but a fascinating portrait of an extraordinary friendship that lasted through war, marriages, children, careers, and everything else.


As a BIG fan of Henry Fonda was I eager to read this book. I liked the idea of the book that it's a book about Hank and Jim, two very different men who became friends when they were young actors and stayed friends throughout their lives.

It was fascinating reading about how they started out in the theater, their lives before they become famous, dating women, marriages (Jim one time while Hank 5), WW2 and how they were decorated for their services, the high and low of their careers. And, of course, the twilight of their lives, when they started to lose good friends who passed away, and when they both got older and finally when Hank passed away and Jim had to go one without his best friend.

It's a fabulous book, and I loved how the friendship between the men lasted all through their lives, despite the difference for instance when it came to politics. Their shared loved for model airplanes was charming to read about. I also found the chapter about WW2 absolutely fascinating to read. So many Hollywood stars that fought during the war and it was interesting to learn that they both were more than figureheads that they actually did fight. And, that they didn't talk much about it later in life. Jim's children, for instance, had no idea what their father had done in the war, more than that he had been a soldier.

Then we have their personal life. Hanks marriages all failed until the very last one (Shirlee, who he was married to until his death) while Jim found the right woman, Gloria, who he was married to until her death. Hank's first marriage ended when his wife committed suicide and after that came a string of marriages that didn't work out at all while Jim was in his 40s when he finally found the right woman to marry. It's interesting btw how Margaret Sullavan came to play a big part in both their lives, Hank marrying her, then divorcing since they could not live together, while Jim had a crush on her that lasted several years.
It was a difficult birth, and Gloria stayed in the hospital for several weeks. Her release from the hospital provided her with one of her favorite stories about her dreamy husband. Jim went to get the car to pick her up, but sometime between leaving the hospital and getting in the car, he forgot that he was supposed to pick her up. Instead, he started driving home. Gloria knew her man. After twenty minutes of waiting, she told the nurse that he had forgotten about her. The nurse didn’t think such a thing was possible, but Gloria knew better. She told the nurse to take her and the babies upstairs. She would wait for the absentminded actor to remember what he had forgotten. On the way back home, Jim stopped at a photography studio to pick up some pictures. When the photographer asked after Gloria, Jim suddenly realized what he had done and ran for a phone. He’d be right there, he told her. 

I want to thank G.P. Putnam's Sons for providing me with a free copy through NetGalley for an honest review!

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