Reviews for Man Who Saw a Ghost : The Life and Work of Henry Fonda

Kirkus Reviews 2012 August #1
The story of a great American actor whose art was burnished by an anguished life. For McKinney (Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History, 2003), Henry Fonda (1905–1982) is very much a mystery: an affable common man on screen whose piercing blue eyes suggested dark depths. It was a face of wisdom and pain, which is why no one else has ever played Abraham Lincoln with so much quiet conviction. Fonda knew suffering, and he was the cause of suffering in others. He saw death up close--as a youth in Nebraska (where he witnessed a mob take over a local jail and lynch a black man) and as a soldier in World War II and in the suicide of his wife, Frances, a wealthy heiress who finally wearied of the demands of being Mrs. Henry Fonda. (A third wife, Susan Blanchard, would also divorce him for "extreme mental cruelty.") Though well liked as an actor, he was chilly and distant as a husband and an apparent controlling terror to children Peter and Jane. He may not have liked himself that much either, as there were possible suicide attempts of his own. Through it all, Fonda greeted every struggle with either stoic Christian Science hardiness or dogged denial, plunging into work to keep from dealing with the domestic turmoil. The face said it all. No one ever had a problem believing him as an actor. "Fonda's fate all along, his curse and his cure, has been to become the thing that haunts him," writes the author in this excellent work of biography. In rich, lyrical prose, McKinney deftly honors both the man and the mystery. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 May #1

A journalist whose work has appeared in the Village Voice, Film Quarterly, and elsewhere, McKinney aims for a nuanced portrait of all-American actor Henry Fonda. What ghosts haunted the man considered upright by some and icy by others?

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 October #1

In this comprehensive study of Henry Fonda's life and work, McKinney (Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History) reveals a solitary man thrust into the public eye by riveting films like The Grapes of Wrath, The Lady Eve, Mister Roberts, and 12 Angry Men. One of America's greatest actors, Fonda touched audiences even as he endured personal tensions and turmoil. Craving independence and immersed in the acting lifestyle, he found little comfort in family. He had five marriages and three children, Jane, Peter, and Amy, but his work always came first. In this biography of the actor, McKinney crafts a psychological account of a mysterious American icon. VERDICT Those interested in the intimate lives of the stars will appreciate the attention to detail and richness of research. Highly recommended for readers looking to complete their old Hollywood education. [See Prepub Alert, 5/1/12.]--Rochelle LeMaster, Medina Cty. Dist. Lib., OH

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 August #2

McKinney (Magic Circle: The Beatles in Dream and History) follows Henry Fonda's path from his Omaha origins to Hollywood heights. Throughout McKinney examines the contradictions in Fonda's persona from all angles: "His ego has usually manifested itself as aloofness; now it is an animal thing--prowling the dark wood, savage, protective of its territory." Film critiques probe the influence of various events on Fonda's performances (such as the suicide of his wife Frances); McKinney views what he calls his "psychological biography" as an effort to capture "a broad, deep, comprehensible sense of Fonda, the essence of his life and the weight of his work." Writing in the present tense, McKinney's self-conscious style often distracts readers from his subject. His need to tinker with ordinary language produces some oddities; rather than write "TV set," he substitutes "entertainment appliance." Despite much evident research into Fonda's tragedies and triumphs, in the end, McKinney undermines his own narrative with gimmicks. 14 b&w photos throughout; two 16-page b&w photos unseen by PW. (Oct.)

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