I read a new book called Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart, by Scott Eyman. What an interesting book!
I’d always heard about Henry Fonda’s poor relationship with his daughter, Jane, but didn’t understand why it was so. I still don’t. Jane describes him as a pent-up guy, but his friendship with Jimmy Stewart was as intimate as he ever got with anyone. Together, they relaxed and had fun, which they couldn’t do separately.
They were both tall and skinny, laconic and shy, loners, with the same sense of humor―wry and goofy. They shared an apartment in New York in the 30s with Myron McCormick and Josh Logan, subsisting on rice. They attended art openings and gorged on hors d’oeuvres. Together, they built model airplanes.
Much has been written about Stewart’s war years as a B-24 pilot. Fonda served as an naval intelligence officer aboard the USS Curtiss in the Pacific. When a kamikaze was shot down and crashed twenty-five yards from the Curtiss, Fonda and two sailors dived on the plane and recovered maps and flight plans. Fonda determined the kamikazes launched from Pagan Island in the Marianas. An air strike stopped them.
Fonda had been aloof before the war; afterwards, he was remote. The silence during car rides or at the dinner table unnerved his children. He rediscovered his dad’s hobby of kites in the Navy, and began flying them, as large as possible, after the war. He’d be quiet and stressed until the kite was airborne, then become exuberant as a kid.
Both actors took a while to re-establish their acting careers. Fonda preferred the stage in New York and could go for years without making a movie. Stewart preferred making movies in California. Years could pass without them seeing each other.
In his later years, Fonda stitched complicated needlepoint patterns he designed himself. Most needlework on chairs and pillows in his home were his work. He also made macramé baskets. Like Stewart, he was an avid gardener and also kept bees.
Little is said about Fonda’s relationship with his parents, who both died in the 1930s. Stewart’s father never lightened up with his son, even when Jim was in his 50s. Many people remembered Fonda as cold. Stewart was easy-going, but no one really got to know him. Only when they acted did they show emotion.
Hank and Jim offers a fascinating look at two long-gone screen icons.