Thursday, February 6, 2014

Jimmy Stewart — The Real Thing

by Bart Bull
published in Vogue (excerpt)

On the wall nearby is a precisely rendered watercolor of a red-brown horse, a little swaybacked with age, standing alone outside a weathered stable. He gets up, stands to gaze at Henry Fonda’s painting of Pie, the horse Stewart rode in movie after movie. “This is when he was — he had to be, had to be twenty-eight years old. Half quarter-horse, half Arabian. I rode him for twenty years. Hank Fonda did this on his days off, and I didn’t know anything about it. That was Pie.” They were making Cheyenne Social Club,  and the air was too thin for the old horse, the altitude too high. “He couldn’t make it. He couldn’t make it.”

Staring at a friend’s portrait of another friend, he can’t help but admire it once more. Fonda and Stewart were practically the last of their generation, and now there’s just one of them left. But there’s more to it than that. “This friendship with Fonda over the years was tremendous. I valued it so much. Tremendous friendship, tremendous admiration for him. He was good at his job if anybody was ever good at his job. It was a terrible thing to lose him. Which happens so much, you know. I think about it every once in a while — I try not to think about it. I’ve lost so many — I’ve lost so many people. You think of somebody and then you think, ‘When did she die?’”

The rims of his eyes go moist, nearly wet, not quite. Not quite. He won’t cry, not here, to be observed and written about in a magazine. Instead, he speaks, quickly now, to distract himself. “But Fonda was a wonderful, close friend.”   The eyes contain.

Now he’s the last one left, the last star of his era. He doesn’t know why it’s worked out that way, and clearly it bothers him, confuses him just a little. When he was headed off to England during the war, his father slipped the Ninety-first Psalm into his hand — “For He shall give His angels charge over thee. . .” and maybe that helps explain it some, but it’s hard not to wonder. His last movie was made half a decade ago, but even as the unseen voice on the current Campbell’s soup ads, he moves miles past the typical too-sweet lemonade commercial grandfather, lulling us with that querulous voice and then always adding more edge than we could expect. If he were sent the right script, something he could sink his teeth into, would he be ready to do another picture?

“Sure,” he answers. Not a moment’s hesitation, none of his legendary pauses. “Sure.” No stammer, no stutter. “Sure. Sure.”

He considers a moment. “Can’t play cowboys anymore.”

3 comments:

Bart said...

Jimmy Stewart's last movie with Pie, his horse, was The Cheyenne Social Club, not Cheyenne Autumn. The painting Henry Fonda did of Stewart and his horse was presented to Stewart directly after the shooting and Pie, to everyone's sorrow, died two days later.

Anonymous said...

Actually, he was supposed to ride Pie in that movie but he was too sick. See below for an interview excerpt:
"Somebody came up before we did this and said, "How are you ever going to get the horse to do this?" I said, "Well let me talk to him." And there was a feller who worked with me a lot with the horse by the name of Jack Sanders, wonderful little Western feller. And I talked to Pie. It was three o'clock in the morning with all the lights up. And I said, "You just start here and go to the other end and stop." And Jack Sanders was at the other end. They said, "How long is this going to take?" I said "Do it right now" and Pie did it. And the last picture that Hank Fonda and I made, The Cheyenne Social Club, Pie was getting old. We did it in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Pie got sick and I couldn't use him the whole time. And, unbeknownst to me, Hank painted a picture of the horse in watercolour. He's an excellent artist - watercolours, oils, ink, lithograph, anything. He has an amazing talent. When we got home, he brought me the picture and two days later Pie died. It was a great loss. But I have Pie in our library and I consider him a friend."

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