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The Friendship Of Jimmy Stewart And Henry Fonda Shows That Partisanship Can Be Overcome


Uber-liberal Orson Welles once offered as a reason for his friendship with the equally conservative John Wayne was that the latter had "better manners" than the director's liberal friends.

There is certainly a kernel of truth in this when viewed from our vantage point. There are of course some instances where conservatives go into the gutter—and if one considers Trump a conservative then "bad manners" are expressed from the highest office in the land. But by and large it is celebrity liberals today who are the most hateful.

A prime example is when liberal actor George Clooney mocked the Alzheimer condition of conservative Charlton Heston; and then refusing to apologize because Heston was the president of the "evil" NRA.

But once upon a time, liberal celebrities and conservative ones could shelve their differences and remain friends. The best example was the rock-steady friendship between Henry Fonda, a fervent liberal, and Jimmy Stewart, an equally fervent conservative.

In this good and very readable book, Scott Eyman shows that their differences were not just ideological, but extended into their personalities as well.  

Fonda was cold, and unresponsive except for angry outbursts and this affected his children; particularly Jane who dealt with her daddy issues via radical politics—a fist-clenching politics in stark contrast to her liberal anti-Communist father.

By contrast, Stewart had the more appealing personality. Gentle (even as a military commander) and openly affectionate, Stewart was, by Fonda's admission, a much better father.

These qualities filtered into their screen personas.  Eyman pithily shows how the emotionally repressed Fonda tasked audiences with searching for what he registered on-screen. Stewart, however, was more upfront, unafraid to express raw emotions and ordinary in a way that made this highly intelligent Princeton student approachable to audiences.

And yet despite, or because of their different personalities, these two engaged in what is today called a "bromance," which is a relationship so close that upon encountering them Welles believed they were homosexual lovers.

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