Re-watched HARVEY the other week for the first time in many years. If made today it would be a wacky Steve Carrell comedy (The uptight family man who loosens up after being visited by a 6′ tall talking rabbit that only he can see) or awkward Jim Carrey comeback drama #47 (regular guy fears he’s losing his mind after being visited by a 6′ tall talking rabbit that only he can see) or some other such thing that would miss the point. The modern cinema doesn’t allow for the same level of magical realism that it once did; this is neither good nor bad. It just is. Times have changed. But if you haven’t seen the film, you should, and don’t let the rabbit bit fool you into thinking this is some kind of kids’ film – HARVEY is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and largely concerns Jimmy Stewart’s family attempting to have him committed to an insane asylum.
In any event, I realized that I didn’t know much about Mr. Stewart beyond his usually amazing performances, and so set about to learn more about the man.
Let me quote the defunct British band Lush on this one:
If you want heroes keep them safe
They don’t stand up to life
So lock them in your soul and lose the key
Mr. Stewart was a bona-fide war hero, seeing a lot of airborne action in WWII. No one can question the honor and courage in this. But after the war he became rabidly anti-Communist, pro-McCarthy, and volunteered to spy for J. Edgar Hoover. He was very pro-blacklist. And to his dying day he never saw anything wrong with this.
Here’s another fun tidbit (from IMDB): “Actively supported the presidential campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964, after Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act.”
Elia Kazan gets vilified, and Jimmy Stewart – who took much more extensive action against Hollywood during those dark days – gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom (from Reagan, natch).
Some things, once learned, can’t be forgotten. It will be tough to watch Jimmy Stewart’s films with the innocent eyes I had before, just as it’s tough to watch the performances of a certain 80’s teen star who killed a girl in a car accident – his performances after that date all have a heaviness about them. (I’m not naming names to preserve YOUR innocence, in case you don’t know who I’m talking about.)
I want to know. But really, I don’t want to know.