Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Award For Worst Book of 2006 Goes To...

Marc Eliot, for Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Come on up, Marc, and accept your award!

Seemingly five minutes after my review of Eliot's book appeared at, Mr. Eliot launched an attack against me in the comments section. The comments oddly disappeared Saturday (they have since been reinstated). Eliot tried blaming his mistakes on bad copy editing and contended that I had read the British edition of the book (I checked the book out of the library in Studio City, CA).

I stupidly wasted some time writing a reply to his comment that was as long as my original review, and Eliot replied with a stream of bitchy, puerile invective. He told me never to buy or read another of his books, then said I got it from the library because I was too cheap to buy a copy.

You can imagine my delight today when I searched the internet to see if I could find a cached copy of the page and recover the comments.

Instead, I discovered Scott Eyman's review in the New York Observer, where he points out some of the same problems in Eliot's book I hit on in my review.

Eyman concludes his review:

You might expect a style this barbarous in a book about sports—as Hunter Thompson observed, sportswriters as a breed generally don’t have enough sense to empty warm piss out of their boots. But no sportswriter who manifested such transcendent ignorance of his subject would get a book contract.

There is no—repeat, no—excuse for a book this badly written, this reportorially suspect. Does no one edit anymore? Does no one care?

But if that wasn't enough, here's Dennis Drabelle's brief review in the Washington Post:

But Jimmy Stewart is marred by mistakes, clichés, careless writing and gush. German novelist Erich Maria Remarque was not Jewish, as Eliot states, but Roman Catholic. To say that Stewart and his wife considered building a house "just off the coast of Pacific Palisades" puts the putative dwelling in the ocean. Referring to Stewart's leading role in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Eliot writes, "Jefferson Smith, like his three historical namesakes (Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, Jesus Christ) is a purist and literalist." Not even someone playing anagrams, I submit, can make "Jesus Christ" into a namesake for "Jefferson Smith." When his subject scores at the box office, Eliot reaches into his vocabulary and comes up with "Jimmy Stewart had become a superstar and everyone wanted a piece of him now." II could go on, but you get the point. For insight, you might want to consult this book; but for precision, I would stick with Gary Fishgall's 1997 Pieces of Time: The Life of James Stewart.

When I criticized Eliot's book for being an assemblage of material from previously published sources, he boasted that he interviewed Frank Capra, Jr., Kim Novak, and Stewart's daughter.

In the New York Review of Books, Geoffrey O'Brien says:

Stewart himself seems to step in to help out his biographer by animating what would otherwise be a succession of anecdotes, statistics, and plot summaries.

On the same point, here's Christopher Silvester's review in the Telegraph:

None of these toothsome nuggets is included in Eliot's book. Can it be that he hasn't seen Munn's biography, which isn't mentioned in his list of sources? If so, it is an extraordinary oversight by a responsible biographer. Indeed, this is a lazy book. Eliot has interviewed hardly anyone, whereas Munn interviewed more than 30 people in addition to the Stewarts themselves. If you want some fresh angles on Stewart and are prepared to overlook the stylistic deficiencies, I suggest that you buy Munn's book, out now in paperback.

By now, I hope that Eliot has fallen off his chair and is lying on the carpet, foaming at the mouth while experiencing a grand mal seizure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the book negative to Stewart? I usually point to Stewart when someone said that Hanks is the most versatile actor "ever"and I like Hanks.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Peter L. Winkler said...

Stewart comes away from Eliot's biography largely unscathed. Stewart died nearly ten years ago, and in that time, no scandal or story of bad personal behavior has emerged. Eliot only interviewed three people in his book-Frank Capra, Jr., Kim Novak and Stewart's daughter. Obviously, they have nothing bad to say about him.

Stewart comes across in the book as the honorable, decent, modest man that he was.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

. . . and a great actor.

6:48 PM  

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