Monday, March 5, 2018

Hank & Jim by Scott Eyman

Hank & Jim
The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart
by Scott Eyman
Hardcover ISBN: 9781501102172
Simon & Schuster
October 20017

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Their friendship was an oxymoron. They were polar opposites and they were two peas in a pod. Actors Henry Fonda and James Stewart couldn't have been more different from each other or more the same. Fonda was a liberal and Stewart a conservative. They didn't agree on politics, morality or relationships. But their mutual respect for each other meant they agreed to disagree. They shared a deep love for acting even if they both approached their careers very differently. When fame reared it's ugly head, they both understood that the key to keeping their sanity was to not bring work home with them. When Hank and Jim were together the conversation was never about work and sometimes it was about nothing at all. They both appreciated silence and could just be together without saying much. They met before they became major stars and stayed friends through their successes and trials and tribulations. Other people came and went but their friendship lasted until the bitter end.

Historian Scott Eyman's Hank & Jim explores one of the most enduring and fascinating Hollywood friendships in film history. The narrative follows the parallel lives of two movie legends from their salad days during the Great Depression, to their transition to Hollywood and the many movies and theatre productions to come. It also explores Fonda's five marriages and his relationship with his son Peter and daughter Jane as well as Stewart's marriage to Gloria and raising their two sets of twins. In between it all was Margaret Sullavan, the vibrant yet troubled actress whom enchanted Fonda (she became his first wife) and Stewart (he longed for her but she was always out of reach). The book also details their WWII years when Fonda served in the Navy and Stewart in the Army Air Corps.

This book could have easily been called Hank & Jim & Friends because there is a lot of information about Fonda and Stewart's friendships with other key figures including Burgess Meredith, Gary Cooper, James Garner, John Swope, Joshua Logan, and especially Leland Hayward. But overall this book paints a portrait of two men who had two distinctly different careers as actors, even when they worked as University Players or in the several films they worked on together. Eyman discusses their many films and, especially is the case with Fonda, their many Broadway and off-Broadway productions. None of their films are discussed too in-depth so that they could all be highlighted as they occur in the timeline of Fonda and Stewart's respective careers.






The biggest takeaway from reading Hank & Jim was how Fonda and Stewart understood and respected each other. This was the foundation of their friendship. It's the reason why it lasted so long and why it was so special.

This book is incredibly well-organized. It flips back and forth between Fonda and Stewart following their lives and careers in tandem. Even with all the switching, the transitions were so smooth that I never felt lost. It's clear that Eyman did a thorough job at researching this book. He interviewed Shirlee Fonda, Brooke Hayward, Kelly Stewart and others who knew both principal figures well including Robert Wagner, Norman Lloyd and more. Peter and Jane Fonda are heavily quoted. Eyman credits the late Robert Osborne in being instrumental in the genesis of the book.

While I usually love Eyman's books, I never quite found Hank & Jim all that engrossing. I struggled to finish this one in a way that I haven't with other dual biographies. I have heard from other classic film enthusiasts who read and loved this book. I've also heard from at least one other person who shared my same reaction. The preface and epilogue are brilliantly written and I would definitely go back to the book to re-read those. I just wasn't as captivated by the meat of the book. With that said, if you have a keen interest in both figures, I would highly recommend giving this book a try.

Hank & Jim by Scott Eyman is a well-researched and thorough look at an enduring friendship of two major Hollywood legends.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of Hank & Jim to review!

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