Celebrities

James Stewart’s heartbreaking final words on Henry Fonda: ‘I’ve lost my best friend’

Bend of the River: Trailer for 1952 western with James Stewart

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Stewart is among a stellar cast for the 1962 western classic How the West Was Won, which airs from 1:30pm on BBC Two today. He rubs shoulders with Hollywood greats in the form of John Wayne, Gregory Peck and Debbie Reynolds, for the eight-time Academy Award-nominated flick. It follows New England farmer Zebulon Prescott and his family as they head west in the 1830s, on a mammoth and courageous journey to a new town.

They come up against Indian tribes, the Civil War, as well as a wealth of legendary outlaws.

Among the cast was Stewart’s longstanding friend Fonda, himself a Hollywood heavyweight who was cherished by filmgoers the world over.

Their friendship lasted for some 50 years, and began when Fonda invited Stewart to be his third roommate in his Manhattan apartment in order to make the rent.

When Stewart left New York in 1935 for Hollywood, the pair once again shared an apartment, both gaining reputations for their perceived “playboy” lifestyle.

But when Fonda died in 1982, Stewart was heartbroken and only publicly commented upon it once.

According to the Scott Eyman biography on the pair, Hank and Jim, Stewart said: “I’ve just lost my best friend.”

Fonda passed away on August 12 at his Los Angeles home as a result of heart disease.

By his side was wife Shirlee, and two of his children, Jane and Peter.

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Reports from the time suggest Fonda had been suffering from prostate cancer, though this was not a direct cause of his death, but mentioned on his death certificate as a concurrent ailment.

Throughout Fonda and Stewart’s career, they starred in a further three films together, including On Our Merry Way, Firecreek and finally The Cheyenne Social Club in 1970.

The pair’s children remarked how the two would enjoy building and painting model airplanes when not busy with their hectic film schedules or other commitments.

While they evidently enjoyed each other’s company, they did have their disagreements, with Fonda a liberal Democrat, and Stewart a staunch Republican.

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And though the pair often rowed over politics, they didn’t let it affect the unique bond the two actors shared.

Oscar-nominated Director Peter Bogdanovich told Fox News in 2017 about the impact politics had on their friendship.

He said: “I talked to Fonda once about Jimmy, how they got along so well, considering that they were polar opposites politically.

“And [Fonda] said, ‘We just don’t talk about politics. We just don’t talk about it.’”

He continued: “They were delightful together.”

They did speak passionately about their shared experiences during World War Two, a rarity for actors to discuss particularly from Hollywood.

Bogdanovich added: “Most of the (Hollywood) people in the war wouldn’t talk about it.

“John Ford wouldn’t talk about it. Neither did Jimmy.

“And, I asked Fonda about it. But he didn’t answer. None of them volunteered anything.”

He noted how it was “too painful” for the pair to share, adding: “They didn’t want to appear to be trying to be heroic, bragging on themselves.

“They didn’t do that. It was just too serious of a situation to deal with it frivolously or in a casual way.”

How the West Was Won airs today on BBC Two from 1.30pm.

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