I didn't know a lot about James Stewart's World
War Two service. That's been fixed now with Mission, a newest from Robert D. Matzen, who
before gave us Fireball (the Carole Lombard crash), Errol Flynn Slept Here (his
fabled Mulholland manse), and Errol and Olivia (their filmpartnership and
offscreen drama). Background is by way of saying that Matzen has delivered
another sock volume, as in give-up-sleep-to-read account of Stewart's hurtle
through air combat that odds should dictate he'd not survive. Again, the
real life stuff tops whatever Hollywood
might confect later. This may be reason Jim ducked war topics after
mustering out with ribbons and officer status. Turns out he was at bulls-eye of
rawest fighting our side engaged, Matzen recounting horrors to make complete
sense of Stewart's darkened postwar persona. Safe to say there
would have been no Vertigo or The Naked Spur, at least with JS, had not war
forged a way more complex player than what aw-shucked earlier in boyish work.
Stewart family and background are deftly drawn.
He'd come close as reality would permit to Norman Rockwell upbringing, stable
family, religious observance, ancestry given to military service. Jim must have
seemed an oasis of normalcy amongst Hollywood
folk borne of harder scrabble. Is that what drew women so fiercely to him?
Matzen explores that part, and let'scede right off that no one's dug so deep
as here. I knew gals flipped for JS early on, but not to such astonishing
degree as Matzen reveals, Stewart's a daily prewar struggle to stay single in face of
femme aggression to make Axis effort look like lawn croquet (among names in
pursuit: Ginger Rogers, Norma Shearer, Loretta Young, Olivia DeHavilland, ---
all in earnest). Through the duck and (between) covers, Jim learned flying,
inspired via Lindy hero-worship, and was in position, so he thought, to engage
the fight skyward. Trouble was, he was underweight, Matzencapturing well the
intensity Stewart lent his struggle to qualify. This war occupied him more than
movies before or after would. As limned so vividly by the author, Jim would
stand for a generation of men forever changed by years they served and fight
they made to survive.
Stewart flew frightful bombing missions, over
and over into jaws of death. Read all this and you'll know the miracle that
he came home sane (I'd have beena Section Eight after mere training in
these crates). Matzen himself flew across and saw sites from which Stewart's group took
off. He traced survivors who knew and served with the actor. Mission is full of
data never unearthed before. I hadn't thought it possible to so feel the danger
of air battling from mere recite in words, but Matzen captures it here.
You'll want to stay off too high a chair for this one. Parts of Missionshook me up
pretty bad. Guess I never appreciated just what hell these pilots went through.
Matzen makes all that clear as blue sky. If you've watched and enjoyed James
Stewart in films (haven't we all?), then Mission
will be a must. The book will enricheverything you see of him --- certainly
did for me. It even added layers to recent HD-on-TCM screening of Dear Brigitte,
let alone the many good ones Stewart graced. I'd not recommend any star bio higher. To learn more about Mission and to order the book, visit www.goodknightbooks.com.