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Pieces of Time: The Life of James Stewart
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Pieces of Time: The Life of James Stewart

3.7 3
by Gary Fishgall

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When James Stewart died in 1997 at the age of eighty-nine, the star of Vertigo and more than seventy other film classics left the world a rich legacy of unforgettable screen performances. Pieces of Time, Gary Fishgall’s portrait of the personable actor everyone knew as “Jimmy,” reveals Stewart to have been a man who,


When James Stewart died in 1997 at the age of eighty-nine, the star of Vertigo and more than seventy other film classics left the world a rich legacy of unforgettable screen performances. Pieces of Time, Gary Fishgall’s portrait of the personable actor everyone knew as “Jimmy,” reveals Stewart to have been a man who, off-screen, bore a striking resemblance to the boyish persona that won America’s heart on-screen: decent but stubborn; hardworking but not particularly ambitious; wealthy but content with one sweater, a good pair of shoes, and an old Volvo.

From his childhood in small-town Pennsylvania and performances in undergraduate plays at Princeton, Stewart made a remarkable leap to Broadway and then to MGM in its heyday. He skyrocketed to celebrity, starring in such films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and The Philadelphia Story (1940), for which he won his first Oscar. He was the first box-office star to enlist in the armed forces during World War II and he returned to Hollywood a decorated hero, having flown more than twenty bombing missions over war-ravaged Europe. He channeled his sense of self-sacrifice and honor into such memorable postwar performances as small-town hero George Bailey in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Later in Stewart’s life, Alfred Hitchcock and other distinguished directors encouraged him to explore the darker aspects of his amiable screen personality through complex characters such as L.B. Jefferies in Rear Window (1954) and “Scottie” Ferguson in Vertigo (1958).

Written with the support of his family and based on interviews with the actor’s friends and colleagues, this definitive biography gives the facts of Stewart’s stellar career as well as backstage stories involving Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Kim Novak, and other Hollywood legends. Pieces of Time is a delight for any fan or film buff who wants to revel in the magic of Stewart’s wonderful life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997) is widely viewed as the All-American boy-next-door. Fishgall (Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster) supports this view as he meticulously profiles the Hollywood legend in a comprehensive biography. The exhaustive research presented here gives a full account of Stewart's career. Part of Stewart's "All-American" image comes from his birthplace: a small, modest town in Pennsylvania. With values rooted in family, community and God, Stewart lived a life that was somewhat less glamorous than the average Hollywood star's. He studied architecture at Princeton, served as a bomber pilot in WWII and enjoyed one stable marriage (to Gloria Hatrick McLean). He successfully raised four children and maintained strong ties with his family back home. Meanwhile, he appeared in 79 films, 12 TV programs and 10 theater productions. This impressive rsum, coupled with his humanism and sincerity, made Stewart one of the most-loved actors in film history. Although Fishgall's intensive delving into Stewart's life, including detailed descriptions of the making of his films, may end up wearying readers not already smitten with Stewart, fans of the man who brought George Bailey and Elwood P. Dowd to life will relish this enthusiastic life. (Sept.)
Library Journal
One of the most endearing actors of our time, Jimmy Stewart appeared in over 70 films and led one of the most successful careers in Hollywood. Fishgall's (Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster, LJ 9/1/95) well-written biography portrays Stewart as a man very much like the one he portrayed on screendedicated to work, family, and country. After playing small roles in minor Broadway productions, he secured an MGM contract. In looks and manner, he was not the typical Hollywood male star, but his all-American characteristics appealed to audiences, and in only five years he became a leading man. He served as a bomber pilot in World War II but in 1946 resumed a career that would span a half century. The main focus of this biography is Stewart's work; each film, television appearance, and stage production is covered in detail with reminiscences from co-workers as well as critical and public evaluations. Stewart's recent death will increase demand for a new biography, and this one is recommended for public libraries.Phillip Oliver, Univ. of North Alabama Lib., Florence
Kirkus Reviews
A paint-by-numbers biography of the star of such classic films as It's a Wonderful Life, Harvey, Rear Window, and Vertigo.

With his lanky good looks, his earnest, genial demeanor, the recently deceased Stewart often played the prototypical American. His naturalistic style of acting, with its frequently parodied starts and stammers, seemed effortless, but as Stewart once remarked, "If I give a natural appearance on the screen, you can be damn well sure I'm working at it." He had no intention of becoming an actor, but a few amateur theatrical productions at Princeton soon had him hooked. He was quickly discovered by MGM, and by 1941 he was a top star with a clearly identifiable and beloved screen persona. After harrowing service during WW II as a bomber pilot, he returned to Hollywood and proceeded to make a series of notable films with Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann in which he deliberately subverted his prewar image to telling effect. But despite a few flashes here and there, this biography does not rise to the level of its subject. Preferring catalog to character, the author leapfrogs relentlessly from film to film, as if that was all that made up a life. Throughout, Fishgall (Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster, 1995) reduces Stewart to little more than filmography leavened with a few familiar anecdotes, while psychological insight, analysis, and dissection of craft are mostly relegated to the sidelines. Fishgall has done an impressive amount of work, watching all of Stewart's scores of films, interviewing anyone with the slightest connection, reading all the requisite memoirs, but given the shallows in which he operates, he could have gotten by with half the effort.

It may have been a wonderful life, but this isn't a wonderful biography.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Gary Fishgall is the author of Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck: A Biography, and Gonna Do Great Things: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. He has been an actor, director, theater administrator, drama critic, reporter, and teacher. He lives in St. Louis.

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Pieces of Time: The Life of James Stewart 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Nonni More than 1 year ago
I have always been very fond of Jimmy Stewart yet had never read a biography on him. This was extremely well written, thorough and enlightening. Great job by author, Gary Fishgall. A must read for Jimmy Stewart fans!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As someone who has really enjoyed Jimmy Stewart's movies, I enjoyed learning more of the facts about him and his life. He comes across as the person I imagined he was, but the book is written as basically a compilation of just that: facts. There isn't much human interest involved in the reiteration of his life. I would have liked a more personal picture of the man and his life. Worth reading if yuou're a fan, but the book itself won't make you one.
joansie More than 1 year ago
A well-written biography, and Jimmy's war record is admirable. But he was a virtuous, conservative man, and though his films are usually enjoyable, this biography is kind of boring. Not the fault of the writer by any means. Jimmy got up, went to the studio, made movies, went home to wife and kids, was in bed by nine. Not the stuff to make a razzle-dazzle book. But I will always love Jimmy Stewart, and his fans will probably like his story.