American Rebel: Eastwood bio a disappointing read

While I remember the song from Rawhide I don’t recall ever having seen it. For me, Clint Eastwood’s career would have begun with A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

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Leopards and actors and Cary Grant

I rewatched for the nth time (I’ve lost track) Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby (1938). Apart from being great fun each time I watch it, this time was a bit different having read Marc Eliot’s book, Cary Grant: A Biography, and having previously watched Cary Grant: A Class Apart (a documentary on the second disc of the two-disc special edition DVD).

Here’s why this is interesting: Seeing Bringing Up Baby, at least as I do, you would think Cary Grant is in full command of what he’s doing — the ever skillful and brilliant, Cary. However, what you find out is that that is anything but the case.

Grant had had huge success with the previous year’s The Awful Truth (1937). However, he never took credit for its success because he had no idea how he had done it. He felt it was a fluke. He had been extremely anxious over his character, not sure how to play him, copying many mannerisms and stances of his then director, Leo McCarey.

Following closely on The Awful Truth, he was worried again about how to play his character in Bringing Up Baby and, compounding this, “… he was afraid to make a movie that was too stylistically similar in which his performance would not be as good.” (From Eliot’s biography of Cary Grant, p. 178.)

“Hawks then suggested to Grant that he look at some of the films of Harold Lloyd. Grant did and was so taken with the comedian’s style of acting that he actually copied it, almost gesture for gesture, in putting together his interpretation of David Huxley, down to the thick horn-rimmed glasses, one of Lloyd’s cinematic trademarks.” (Eliot’s biography of Cary Grant, p. 178.)

Still, while his template may have been Harold Lloyd what ends up on screen is pure Cary Grant, albeit with a Lloyd influence and the Cary Grant of a certain period of his career (younger, pre-Hitchcock etc.).

Of course, background isn’t necessary to enjoying this comedy classic. It may even get in the way until you’ve seen it a few times. It’s one of the great screwball comedies, peppered with absurdities and the better for it.

For what it’s worth, here’s the assessment I wrote a while back of Bring Up Baby (the two-disc special DVD edition).

Two men, one Hitchcock

I recently finished reading Marc Eliot’s Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Because I was reading it, I also watched a lot of Jimmy Stewart movies, which I’ve posted about before. Now I’m reading (or, rather, re-reading) Eliot’s Cary Grant: A Biography.

In many ways, you couldn’t find two actors more different. For example, one was a pretty straight-laced American, almost a poster child for the 1940s, 1950s middle-America image of what a man should be.

That would be Jimmy Stewart.

The other was bisexual (despite his famous romantic image), had a long term relationship with another well-known male actor, and was British.

That would be Cary Grant.

They had one thing in common though: Alfred Hitchcock. Both actors did some of their best work, if not the best work of their careers, with Hitchcock.

Their differences, however, are likely why Hitchcock used them and in many ways those differences defined how he used them (and why).

Last night I watched North by Northwest and remembered that Jimmy Stewart had wanted to be in the movie (having recently done Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo with Hitchcock) but didn’t get the part – Hitchcock didn’t want him. He wanted Grant. (The director waited to pick his lead until Stewart was involved, and obligated to, Bell, Book and Candle, so he could use that as an excuse for not choosing Stewart, so as to soften the blow – they were friends.)

So in the Hitchcock movies, what is the difference between Stewart and Grant? Why did it make a difference to him? Just a whim?

Nope. Each represents something different, a way Hitchcock wants the audience to relate and think about his lead actor. Put succinctly: Stewart is everyman, Grant is fantasy. Stewart is the guy you relate to as yourself, Grant is the guy you relate to as the man you would like to be. In a way, it’s reality on one hand, image on the other.

Each actor did four movies with Alfred Hitchcock. In both cases, Hitchcock made at least one masterpiece (in my opinion). With Stewart, it was Vertigo. With Grant, it was North by Northwest. The former is a kind of study of men, image and reality, and how the unconscious buggers us up. The latter is a kind of study too except it’s more like a master class in filmmaking, in how to get an audience, hold an audience and make one of the most entertaining movies ever through a masterful plot perfectly executed.

You could say Cary Grant’s character is an everyman in North by Northwest, and on the surface that is true. He certainly is in terms of the story on the page. However, when you cast Cary Grant (which you have to believe was a very deliberate, thought-through choice), you don’t have an everyman. You have Cary Grant, an image even Cary Grant said he couldn’t be. On the other hand, when you cast Jimmy Stewart you’re casting an average guy, a run-of-the-mill schmo, an everyman.

(As a not particularly related aside, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart appeared in at least one movie together, 1940’s The Philadelphia Story.)

Rethinking Jimmy Stewart – Part 1

I’ve finally finished Marc Eliot’s book, Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Reading it was an interesting process because, as I did, I re-watched many of the movies Jimmy Stewart appeared in. Between the book and the movies, I’ve re-evaluated my opinion of James Stewart, both the actor and the man.

Truthfully, I didn’t really have an “opinion” of him prior to this as Jimmy Stewart and his movies were always a given for me. By this I mean that when I was young I would watch old movies with my mom and, of course, Jimmy Stewart starred in many of them.

Back then, I wouldn’t have thought about the quality of his performances. They were simply movies – some I liked, some I didn’t.

Not long after that, as I got a little older, I’d “stay up half the night,” as my mother would put it. This meant I stayed up watching The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. (I remember when it was just The Tonight Show and I remember when they tagged the “starring …” part to the title.) If memory serves correctly, it ran between 11:30pm and 1:00am (until it was reduced to a 60 minute show).

Jimmy Stewart was often a guest, as he was occasionally on other shows, like The Dean Martin Show (with The Golddiggers!) which my mom and I also watched, usually together.

I think my image of Jimmy Stewart as both a person and as an actor was determined, or defined rather, by the Jimmy Stewart I saw on these shows: avuncular, not too serious, friendly, quaint and drawling. Just a really nice guy in the way a lovable relative might be. There was a disconnect between the George Bailey of It’s a Wonderful Life, the Scottie Ferguson of Vertigo and the Lin McAdam of Winchester ’73.

It’s likely that business of first impressions. Because I came to Jimmy Stewart at the age I was, and he was in the latter portion of his life, he was (for me) defined by that latter half – which was accurate to some degree, but nowhere close to being complete. Once you get an initial idea in your head about someone it’s very difficult to shake loose of it.

But with Eliot’s book and a somewhat different eye as I watched some of Jimmy Stewart’s movies again, I am to some degree free of my initial idea of him and I think the opinion I now have is very much different.

I think now, as I never would have thought before (it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to think in these terms), Jimmy Stewart is easily placed high in the pantheon of Hollywood actors of the period considered The Golden Age.

And I think it’s very possible he should be placed at the very top. When I think of the kind of person he was and the body of work he produced it strikes me as nothing less than remarkable though, in one sense, perhaps inevitable.

Who would have thought that nice, drawling old guy could have produced such work?


I describe this as “Part 1” because it strikes me there must be a Part 2. What I don’t know is exactly how much I’ll find myself writing. I’ve scribbled enough about many of his movies, so hopefully I can restrain myself and just keep it to one more post … then move on!

Two movies, one Jimmy Stewart

I’ve been watching quite a few Jimmy Stewart movies lately because I’ve been reading his biography by Marc Eliot. It just seems the thing to do …

Over the weekend, I wrote up assessments of two of his lighter films, both directed by Henry Koster and both of which I’ve always enjoyed, though one is considerably better than the other.

The better of the two (by a long shot) is 1950’s Harvey, a movie that, as I write, perfectly articulates one aspect of Stewart’s personality. It’s what I think of as the aspirational Stewart, what he hoped he was or could be or, perhaps more accurately, how he felt the world should be. The other side of that coin would be the movies he did with Hitchcock and Anthony Mann.

The other movie was Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, which I wrote about here. What can I say? Although I know it isn’t a great movie it has its moments, actually does make me laugh, and has a nostalgic quality, at least for me. Yes, I like it.

A guilty pleasure? Perhaps, perhaps …

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?

Cary Grant — who was that guy?

I’ve been reading the Marc Eliot biography of Cary Grant (titled, appropriately enough, Cary Grant) and it’s interesting to see how Cary (Archie Leach) was an odd fellow while at the same time, in his oddness, a lot like the rest of us.

There’s a great deal in the book about Grant’s sexuality – was he straight, gay, bisexual, what? Assuming the accuracy of the account, which appears based on inference (though justifiable, I think, given what evidence is available), bisexual would be the best description. And while accurate, in a strictly categorizing way, I think a better descriptive word would be confused. Which is why I think Cary Grant was like the rest of us (though considerably better looking).

He sounds emotionally defensive, probably due to his childhood – like his parents and their relationship (and being told his mother was dead then learning, years later, she was actually in a mental facility). So he sounds like a guy, Archie Leach, who was lonely, having difficulty connecting, who created a persona to present to the world, “Cary Grant.” Cary was the guy up on the screen.

But slowly, after a while, he wondered if perhaps he hadn’t become Cary Grant, the image. Which reminds me of the Kurt Vonnegut line about, “…we are what we pretend to be.”

It’s interesting how we become certain people without necessarily realizing it until, one day, we wonder how we ever became that guy staring back from the mirror.