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'Hank & Jim': New book offers captivating look at the longstanding friendship of Fonda and Stewart

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Author Scott Eyman where he writes his books in West Palm Beach, Florida, October 30, 2016. Eyman has written thirteen books, including biographies of Hollywood legends such as John Wayne, Ernst Lubitsch, Cecil B. DeMille, and Louis B. Mayer. He also collaborated with Robert Wagner on two books. (Photograph by Greg Lovett)2 / 3
Scott Eyman's new book, "Hank & Jim," is an absorbing look at the 50-year friendship between Henry Fonda and James Stewart. (Submitted photo)3 / 3

You and your friend have a lot in common.

You both laugh at the same idiotic things, enjoy the same food and drink (often together), and you share similar experiences. You've taught your friend a lot and you've been a willing pupil, too. If you're both lucky, as in the new book "Hank & Jim" by Scott Eyman, it'll be that way for decades.

Born into a large family in Nebraska in May of 1905, Henry Fonda once recalled an aimless, directionless childhood. That's surprising, since young Hank was a focused boy who always insisted on perfection in everything he tackled, including hobbies, studies, and acting, which he embraced when a local woman invited him to join the community theatre. When he realized that he loved acting — and he was good at it — Hank received the blessings of his parents to move to New York City, to see where his dramatic talents might take him.

James Stewart was born almost exactly three years after Hank, in a similar small town in Pennsylvania. His father was a businessman who owned a hardware store and who made sure that his children weren't insulated from others unlike them. Young Jim was an easy-going, affable boy who loved animals and model airplanes; in fact, he'd once considered entering a Naval Academy but, while in prep school, he realized that he loved acting — and he was good at it. Even at college, he wanted to see where his dramatic talents might take him.

While at Princeton, Jim briefly met Hank but their meeting was unremarkable: they shook hands, exchanged small talk, then went their separate ways but they had mutual friends so it was inevitable that they'd meet again. Eventually, they shared rooming houses, a love of practical jokes and of gardening, and an obsession with flight. Hank was a Hollywood success first, then Jim. Jim won an Academy Award first, then Hank. They both spent time in World War II, for which they were reluctant to talk. And they shared an obsession with one irresistible woman...

You click through channels on a quiet evening, and find an old black-and-white movie on TV. Those are fun to see — and so is "Hank & Jim."

Much like those classic movies, author Scott Eyman takes readers on a trip back to an innocent time, when drama was for stage or camera only and, because few stars bothered with bodyguards, fans enjoyed more accessibility. It was a time when an actor might be ashamed at his own personal marry-go-round, while other marriages were forever but Eyman also lets his subjects romp: we see bed-hopping and scandals here, as well as stories that frame the lifelong friendship of two stars, as told by themselves, friends, and children.

And on that note, readers who are tabloid-familiar with either man may also shed a tear...

This book is a movie-buff's dream: there are surprises in here, reminisces, and plenty of "awwwwww"-inspiring moments. For Hollywood watchers and bio-fans alike, "Hank & Jim" is an uncommonly good read.

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