Maltin at the Bat

I grew up with Leonard Maltin. I don’t mean we flipped baseball cards and caught tadpoles; I mean one of my go-to books when I became interested in classic Hollywood as a teenager was the first book he wrote, Movie Comedy Teams detailing the Three Stooges, L&H, the Ritz Brothers, and my faves, the Marxes. I haven’t opened that book in years, but I still remember the narrative and every photo and caption because I read that book over and over and over.

Maltin was a child prodigy in film and began writing for Film Fan Monthly at the age of 13, then took over that periodical (at age 16) and ran it for 9 years. From there he began releasing his movie guides and became an on-air critic for Entertainment Tonight. Is there anyone among my readers who hasn’t owned at least one edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and consulted it before watching a picture to see how many stars Leonard gave it and why? In those dark times before the internet, there was nowhere else to find a thumbnail description of even something as obscure as The Secret Mark of D’Artagnan without Maltin and his guide. Today there’s imdb and Wikipedia, but back then, there was Maltin. Period.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen, Foreword by Leonard Maltin

Hollywood author and critic Leonard Maltin, now aboard the Mission team. (Photo by Jessie Maltin)

Leonard Maltin is a pop culture phenomenon, a guy who remains after all these years a big kid when it comes to movies, and I’m happy to report this particular phenom is writing the foreword for my just-completed book, Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe. It occurred to me that I could really use Maltin’s insights into Stewart, the war, and subsequent effects on his career. Leonard said he might be interested in such an assignment, send along the manuscript; so I did. I guess what he read was OK, because he said yes.

I’ve been giving a final look to the narrative the past few days because soon it will go off for galleys and I want it to be right—you know, t’s crossed and i’s dotted and all that. It’s easy to get so lost in the process that I’ll be sitting there and it’ll occur to me, “Wait, did I write that? I don’t remember writing that.” It is becoming a descent into madness among 117,000 words. There are places that make me laugh, give me chills, and reduce me to tears, all of which I consider to be good signs because the same thing happened with Fireball. It’s a different kind of a book, though, a different story and a different protagonist. Lombard was sexy and vivacious, someone you wish you could have known or at least experienced once. Stewart was an aloof man who was there and not there at the same time, an introvert without much to say who kept his significant intensities on the inside, and a guy who, as he aged, hid behind the persona he had created for the Tonight Show and other public outlets. He became what people expected to see, and behind his blue eyes were 50,000 memories of the war that he kept locked away and never related to anyone. The reason Mission is necessary is specifically because he wouldn’t talk, and what I discovered was that in refusing to let Hollywood exploit his wartime service for publicity purposes, he turned out the spotlight on a terrific cast of characters surrounding him in the Second Combat Wing of the Second Bombardment Division of the Eighth Air Force. You’re about to meet some great guys in Mission, guys Stewart knew and commanded, guys who in talking about their lives in combat allow us to know what Jim Stewart did in the war, who he flew with and against, and who died beside him. He wouldn’t tell us, but others tell us. We have these guys and the combat records, and from a great number of sources, including survivors who flew with him, I was able to recreate the war as Stewart knew it. The result is an adventure more fantastic than anything he ever enacted on-screen. In fact, it’s an adventure that could only be recreated today in a CG universe, at which point you wouldn’t believe it really happened. I assure you, it did.

Into this mix of Hollywood and war is about to step Leonard Maltin to provide his thought-provoking perspective, and the coolest thing of all? I get to be the first to read it.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen, Foreword by Leonard Maltin

Jim sports the Croix de Guerre, a medal awarded to all Eighth Air Force combat veterans at the end of the war. (Photo courtesy of the Jay Rubin Collection)

7 comments

  1. Congratulations, Robert, on getting that Leonard Maltin forward/endorsement. Movie lover and big kid that he is, he obviously really enjoyed the ride your Jimmy Stewart book took him on.

  2. 20 years ago, if I had suggested you ask Leonard Maltin to write a foreword to your book, you would have said: “No! He wouldn’t consider that! Would he?!?”

    All you had to do was ask!

    1. Well, a track record helps. What was I 20 years ago? Remember when our boss threatened me with, “Matzen, I could throw a pencil out the window and hit a writer.”

  3. Robert, I want to first say that your “Fireball” is immensely popular at my Hollywood Book Chat group at Facebook (it’s on my must read list). You have quite a following there! I’m looking forward to your book on Stewart’s war years. I read Smith’s “Jimmy Stewart: Bomber Pilot” when that came out, which I thought was excellent. However, knowing your dogged tenacity as a researcher (going to the Lombard crash site is most impressive and admirable), I trust you will give us much more insight into General Stewart’s experiences as an airman!

    I laughed aloud at your “Wait, did I write that? I don’t remember writing that” because I have done numerous times. (I wrote a biography on Peg Entwistle, and have a Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer book coming.)

    I also identify with the emotions that occurred with you during the writing and re-reading. I actually broke down in front of my girlfriend and wept like a child when I typed “The End” on my Entwistle manuscript.My editor, author Eve Golden (who spoke highly of “Fireball”), told me that biographers who experience such emotions during the process are the most passionate and trustful of all authors–poets notwithstanding.

    Congrats on getting Maltin. I had him in mind for my Alfie book, as he and Richard W. Bann (an acquaintance and source) wrote the OUR GANG/LITTLE RASCALS “bible.” Anyway, love your blog (especially the Lombards!) and please feel free to come to Hollywood Book Chat and post all about your books and related events and even links to here! There are about 70 published authors and film historians there, many you likely know or read, and lots of your fans, too!

    Best
    James Zeruk, Jr.

    1. James, I would like to first say, you and all your Hollywood Book Chat group are AWESOME! I promise you I’m going to read your Entwistle book because I’ve found her tragic but fascinating since Hollywood Babylon.

      I’m happy to report that Maltin came through with a foreword so strong that the editors didn’t change a word. Not one word, because it was one-shot perfect.

      I’m honored to have you stop by, James, and thrilled at the response to Fireball. I can only hope that book wasn’t lightning in a bottle, and that Mission will also get a positive reaction. As you know, it’s impossible to judge in advance whether the work will make it or not.

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