cover image Jimmy Stewart: A Wonderful Life

Jimmy Stewart: A Wonderful Life

Jonathan Coe. Arcade Publishing, $27.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-257-7

With his leisurely, naturalistic delivery, his oddly graceful awkwardness and his ability to convey incorruptible virtue, Jimmy Stewart (b. 1908) has done more than any American, argues the author, ``to embody the often contradictory spirit of his country and give it convincing expression on the screen.'' Coe, a British journalist, traces the actor's journey from a small Pennsylvania town to his earliest theatrical experience in Princeton's Triangle Club, his rise through the ranks of Hollywood's studio system and his breakthrough to stardom in Frank Capra movies. After a wartime stint as a bomber pilot and squadron leader, Stewart suffered a run of bad luck in his choice of roles; but then Winchester '73 (the ``Casablanca of Westerns'') marked the emergence of a rougher screen persona for him and turned him into one of the top box-office draws of the 1950s. His role in that movie also foreshadowed the tormented characterizations he displayed in movies he made under the direction of Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock. In Vertigo , according to Coe, Stewart ``brought to the screen--without recourse to histrionics--emotional states more extreme than any that had previously been portrayed in mainstream cinema.'' Coe is a perceptive critic; his comments on Stewart and his 77-film career are worth reading. Photos. (May)