Jimmy Stewart rides again

I’ve just started reading Marc Eliot’s book, Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Having just begun, I can’t say anything about it’s merits, though I can say I read Eliot’s book from a few years ago, Cary Grant: A Biography and enjoyed it. I’m not sure why, but I like reading biographies of Hollywood’s luminaries of the “golden” years. I do have a theory, though.

I think I read these books because they prompt me to go back and rewatch movies, some I had almost completely forgotten about. In Stewart’s case, Wikipedia says he, “… appeared in 92 films, television programs and shorts.” So, although I have quite a few Jimmy Stewart films they are just a smidgeon of what he made. But they’re almost all good ones!

Last night, I decided to go through some of them and decided to start with 1939’s Destry Rides Again. If you haven’t seen Destry, you’ve no idea what you’re missing. It’s a western comedy, with Jimmy Stewart playing a gunshy lawmen brought in to bring order to the lawless town of Bottleneck. It also features Marlene Dietrich. You can take a look at my 2003 review here.

Jimmy Stewart, by the way, was named third Greatest Male Star of All time by the (AFI), just behind Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant.

And some other Jmmy Stewart movies I’ve written about:


I just found an old post, from 2005, regarding Eliot’s previous book (the one on Cary Grant). The post is titled: Cary Grant — who was that guy?

Movies, books and upkeep

I guess you could say I did a bit of house-cleaning with my blogs today – a sisyphean task to complete, but I gave it a go.

Although Piddleville continues to be an organizational mess, I made a few changes – temporary ones, I hope. (It needs some fixing). One was to create a “book review” section because I have a few movie related book reviews here and there. I added two today (yes, a very small start):

My Wicked, Wicked Ways – the Errol Flynn autobiography from 1959, and a wildly entertaining read.

The combustible Ava Gardner – the Ava Gardner: ‘Love is Nothing’ biography by Lee Server from a few years ago, also tremendously entertaining.

I don’t do a lot of book reviews but when I do it’s usually because I really enjoy the book, as was the case with both of these.

While I was at it, I also added a brief (and sadly lacking) review of one of my favourite movies, The Night of the Iguana (1964).

My Wicked, Wicked Ways – review

The Autobiography of Errol Flynn (1959)
by Errol Flynn

I just finished reading, and thoroughly enjoyed, My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Autobiography of Errol Flynn, originally published somewhere around 1959, available now through Cooper Square Press (part of Taylor Trade Publishing group).

Heavens, what a helluva good read. Is anything he says true? Well, maybe. Probably, at least some of it. But that’s not really the point, not for me.

It reads as if it’s the transcript of a recording of a great raconteur, a teller of tall-tales whose favourite tale is his own life. You get the sense of a man who is totally self-absorbed but, somehow, has such a winning personality you love him for it.

I originally picked up the book because I was interested in finding a unique character I might make use of in a story, a model for a supporting player. I had a vague notion that Errol Flynn might have some of the qualities I was looking for.

Well, geez … did I ever get my money’s worth in Flynn. It’s not simply a matter of a long, episodic tale of the picaresque variety, but also one of style. The words, syntax … everything that goes into creating a “voice” in writing, is here.

It’s the breezy voice of a kid who never grew up. In its conclusion, it’s also the voice of a kid who doesn’t quite understand how or why his life has gone the way it has.

For me, the incidents are less important than the personality that comes across (although the incidents are quite remarkable). Together, personality and incidents, it makes for an incredibly entertaining book.

The breezy tone of the adventures carries through for roughly the first two thirds of the book. The fantastic, tall-tale quality is richest as Flynn recounts his early life and his various adventures as he travelled the world, especially Tasmania, Australia and the south seas.

His accounts of his Hollywood life are equally entertaining while also being salacious and gossipy. The raconteur quality comes forth through what the book relates and how Flynn relates it.

Although the book overall is chronological, he bounces back and forth in time. This almost mimicks on the page the way someone tells a story orally as one thought prompts another.

Sometimes the jumps in time and subject are almost non-sequiters. Yet it never seems excessive or sloppy, simply stylisticly casual.

As the book winds down you get the sense Flynn is winding down. It’s almost as if he becomes disinterested. There’s a melancholy quality to the book as he becomes increasingly reflective.

While Flynn’s most winning quality seems to be a boyish charm, as the book progresses the negative side of that charm is immaturity. It’s this that seems to catch up to Flynn in the end.

Finally, the man at the end of the book comes across as one who is close to but not yet quite grasping the meaning of his life (pompous as that may sound). Or, to put it another way, time seems to catch up to Flynn. Age. The image we end up with is of a somewhat faded Hollywood star, alone at his beautiful Jamaican home, not entirely sure what remains of his life or what to do with what remains.

As the Wikipedia entry on Errol Flynn says, “By the mid 1950s, Flynn was something of a self-parody: heavy alcohol abuse left him noticeably bloated in his last years.” He died of heart failure in Vancouver a short time before this book came out.

Knowing something of the final years of Flynn’s life amplifies the melancholy of the book’s conclusion for the reader and makes its final line resonate in a sad way.

However, while this may be how it winds down it is certainly not the tone of the majority of the book. It is flush with a sense of fun and adventure and humour.

Flynn is a character, in the truest sense. He’s marvellous and if I had known him, I don’t think I would have trusted him any further than I could throw him.

(By the way, it sounds as if the writing of My Wicked, Wicked Ways was a great story too, or so the book’s introduction suggests. As another aside, Flynn originally wanted to call the book, In Like Me, as a play on the popular phrase, “In like Flynn,” a line that came about due to one of the episodes in his life.)

Originally posted in 2005 (or earlier).

My Wicked, Wicked Ways: