In many respects a study in contrasts, Eyman’s remarkably absorbing, supremely entertaining joint biography of two Hollywood legends reveals just how immutable the bonds were between 'Hank' Fonda, an impious, New Deal Democrat with a volatile home life, and 'Jim' Stewart, a churchgoing, conservative Republican with a devoted family ... Eyman — whose previous books have chronicled the lives of John Wayne, Ernst Lubitsch, John Ford and Mary Pickford — spares few details, but they’re all good. In addition to the two actors’ career milestones, high and low, he covers their wartime military stints (Fonda served in the Navy, Stewart in the Army Air Corps), their romances (Stewart’s unlikely fling with Marlene Dietrich, the two men’s shared attraction to Margaret Sullavan), their trials of parenthood and the undying commitment they had to each other.
Some of the author's most impressive writing comes in his stories about the World War II years, with Fonda serving in naval intelligence and Stewart in the Army Air Corps. Both men volunteered for duty … In addition to his extensive archival research for this book, Eyman interviewed Fonda's widow and children, Stewart's children and many of the actors and directors who had worked with both men. Jane and Peter Fonda's memories of their father helped him understand and write about a very complex man. The result is an entertaining, richly documented biography that includes eight pages of photos capturing the actors at home and at work.
Eyman follows the two actors’ careers, but he does much more than that. He talks about their contrasting acting styles and personalities—Fonda the 'tightly coiled spring,' Stewart the natural, comfortable fellow—and he discusses their personal lives and their battles to find the right roles to showcase their unique abilities. He also explores the way their experiences in WWII affected their postwar careers. Stewart, in particular, seems to have emerged from the war (he was a bomber pilot) a noticeably more serious and less affable man. Eyman has a real knack for making the celebrity subjects of his biographies come across not only as celebrities but also as real people who live the same kinds of lives as the rest of us, just with different trappings. Another winner from a Hollywood-bio veteran.
Eyman movingly chronicles the relationship between these gifted performers, while also offering perceptive observations on their acting styles and work on stage and screen. This absorbing dual portrait deepens our appreciation for each man’s achievements.
...smart, generous chronicle ... Stewart found a way to show the darkness lapping just beneath his nice-guy mannerisms. Did he leave his old friend behind in the process? Eyman makes an equally eloquent case for Fonda’s art: the 'instinctive austerity,' the 'pointillist technique' that weds 'inner stillness' and 'vocal urgency,' the way in which the actor’s own walk 'works against the flow of life around him.'”
Fonda’s fraught relationship with his children also comes to the fore, especially through quotations from the extensive interviews Eyman conducted with family and friends of both Fonda and Stewart. Balanced analyses of their film and stage performances pepper the study, as Eyman perceptively charts the courses of two legendary Hollywood careers.