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Fonda, Jane - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social/Economic Impact, Chronology: Jane Fonda

fonda’s film acting actress

(1937-)

Overview

Jane Fonda was a member of a famous American theatrical family and received many of the industry’s highest awards. Her multi-faceted career has included acting in films and television, starring in and marketing exercise videocassettes, and writing various non-fiction books, including Jane Fonda’s New Pregnancy Workout and Total Birth Program. In the late 1990s she retired from active business to focus on family and social causes.

Personal Life

Jane Fonda was born at Doctor’s Hospital in New York City in 1937 to future film star Henry Fonda and Frances Seymour Brokaw Fonda. Her mother, as a confident, wealthy widow, had married Fonda the previous year and along with her six year old daughter Frances (known as Pan) established residence in New York. Two years later Jane’s brother Peter was born, and soon after the family moved to the Brentwood section of Los Angeles.

Born into wealth, Fonda’s maternal lineage can be traced back to American Revolutionary leader Samuel Adams and to Jane Seymour, the third queen consort of King Henry VIII. Jane Fonda herself was called “Lady Jane” by her family almost from the time of her birth. The Fonda household accommodated cooks, maids, gardeners, and governesses. During her early childhood Jane’s brother was favored by her mother, leading to the development of a closer bond between Jane and her father. Her father’s film career was successful, but Henry was vocal about the types of roles he had to take in order to make it in Hollywood. It was this reality that Jane brought with her when she entered the film industry herself years later.

In 1949 the Fonda family relocated to Greenwich so Henry could act on Broadway. The following year, when Fonda was 13, her mother committed suicide after learning of her husband’s interest in a much younger woman, Susan Blanchard. Told that her mother died from a sudden heart attack, Fonda only learned the truth a year later from a magazine article. Both she and her brother had difficulty coping with their mother’s death and their father’s quick remarriage. Peter attempted suicide while his father was on his honeymoon with Susan, and later turned to drugs. Fonda developed bulimia and suffered from this condition until she was 35.

Fonda attended Brentwood Town and Country School in Los Angeles and then Greenwich Academy in New York for elementary school. She graduated from the female preparatory Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, and then entered Vassar. But Fonda never excelled academically, and she left college after only two years, much to the disappointment of her father.

Fonda turned a largely unhappy childhood into a successful life. In 1965 she moved to France to make films. There she met and married Roger Vadim. Vadim directed her in several movies, including Barbarella. Barbarella became both a cult classic and the film which many critics call a blemish on her acting career. In Barbarella, a science-fiction spoof, Fonda plays a beautiful astronaut who sleeps with every man who rescues her. Because of her status as a spokesperson for feminist causes, critics claimed that sexually exploitive film marred Fonda’s career and undercut her credibility.

During the Vietnam War, Fonda met anti-war activist Tom Hayden. Soon after Fonda obtained a divorce from Vadim and married Hayden. Together they protested the war, formed the Indochina Peace Campaign (later forming a film production company with the same name), and attempted to clean up American politics. In 1989 Fonda divorced Hayden, and two years later she married billionaire media mogul Ted Turner, settling into a much more domestic phase of her life.

Career Details

Fonda first appeared on stage in 1955 at the Omaha Community Playhouse in a fundraiser for her Aunt Harriet. Fonda’s father was also coaxed into taking a role in the production. He was quite surprised at his daughter’s natural acting ability, although he did not encourage her to enter the acting profession. Fonda, in fact, did not seriously decide on an acting career until four years later, when she began to study acting with Lee Strasburg, director of the Actor’s Studio. While taking her acting lessons, Fonda supported herself by modeling. She did quite well at that, appearing on the covers of Esquire, , Vogue, Ladies Home Journal, Glamour, and McCall’s magazines in 1959.

Strasburg taught a technique of method acting that used inner motivation from past experiences to drive each performance. Actors such as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Al Pacino were all schooled by Strasburg in method acting. Henry Fonda had expressed his dislike for the technique, but Jane found success in it. A number of people influenced her acting career, including her godfather, producer Joshua Logan, who signed her to a long-term contract. Immediately he cast her in a major motion picture, Tall Story, and in a Broadway play, There Was a Little Girl. Neither were critical successes. One play and three movies later, Fonda began to be recognized for her talents as an actress. In 1962 she bought her contract from Joshua Logan and began choosing her own roles.

Unfortunately, after a string of less noteworthy movies, her career languished. It was not until she met French director Roger Vadim, soon to be her first husband, that her film career improved. In France, Vadim made many movies with Fonda, including Cat Ballou and the screen adaptation of Neil Simon’s Broadway smash Barefoot in the Park.

Fonda returned to the United States in 1969 to take a lead role in They Shoot Horses Don’t They?; she received an Academy Award nomination for her performance. Two years later she played a prostitute stalked by a killer in Klute and won an Oscar for best actress.

It was with her Klute co-star Donald Sutherland that Fonda toured coffeehouses in the United States and later the Far East, in FTA, a satirical antiwar revue. During this time Fonda became known as “Hanoi Jane.” Fonda’s involvement in politics supplanted her work as an actress for a time, but by the mid-1970s she began to divide her time between political work and her career as a performer and producer of films.

The first feature film produced by Fonda’s IPC production company was Coming Home. Her performance as the initially dutiful wife of a flag-waving Marine captain who falls in love with a paraplegic war veteran earned Fonda a second Academy Award. Ironically, Jane Fonda earned two Academy Awards before her famous father won one.

IPC also produced The China Syndrome, Nine to Five, the television movie The Dollhouse, for which Fonda won an Emmy for outstanding actress in a dramatic special, and On Golden Pond, the movie she filmed with her father and Katharine Hepburn. The plot of On Golden Pond paralleled Fonda and her father’s own relationship in many ways. It was Henry Fonda’s last role before his death and the highest grossing film of 1981. Although Jane Fonda did not win the supporting actress Oscar for which she was nominated, she did accept the Oscar for best actor on behalf of her father, who was too sick to attend the ceremonies.

In a very different kind of business move, Fonda established her first exercise studio in 1979. Following the studio came records, books, and videocassettes. Fonda’s own fit and trim body, exposed in a bikini in On Golden Pond proved to be a powerful advertisement as a health craze swept the United States in the early 1980s. In 1981 Jane Fonda’s Workout Book topped charts for best-selling books; Jane Fonda’s Workout Record went double platinum (2 million copies sold); and Jane Fonda’s Workout remains one of the best-selling videocassettes in history. In a shrewd move, Fonda used previously recorded music for which the artists had forgone their royalties. As Fonda’s workout tapes sold millions, no royalties had to be paid.

Fonda continued to make controversial movies, including Agnes of God. Based on the equally-controversial Broadway play, Fonda first checked to see if the Roman Catholic Church had taken a position on the content of the play. As she told biographer Christopher Andersen, “I did not want to become embroiled in any Catholic controversy.” The following year she played an alcoholic actress who blacks out and wakes up next to a dead body in The Morning After, which earned her a seventh Academy Award nomination.

Fonda starred in a few more films, but in 1996 she confirmed in a Good Housekeeping article that she had left her film career, stating: “After a 35-year career as an actress, I am out of the business. That’s a big change. Work in many ways has defined me.” Although she left behind her acting and producing career, Fonda was far from idle. In 1996 she published a cookbook, Jane Fonda: Cooking for healthy Living . She also created, with the help of a physiologist, a new series of workout tapes called The Personal Trainer Series. Her goal with the new series was to design a program that anyone could stick with, stating in Good Housekeeping, “Anyone can do 25 minutes.”

Social/Economic Impact

Jane Fonda has had an enormous effect on the motion picture industry, has raised a nation’s level of consciousness about a variety of societal and political issues, and has helped create the home video industry. One of the first things she did was overcome the loss of her mother and establish a name for herself in the same field as her father. Her training and talent enabled her to reap awards in the movie industry, and she used the prestige of being an award-winning actress to make the movies she wanted to make.

Chronology: Jane Fonda

1937: Born.

1954: First appeared on stage.

1959: Modeled for five magazine covers.

1960: Debuted in film Tall Story.

1971: Won Academy Award for Best Actress in Klute.

1979: Opened Jane Fonda Workout Studio in Beverly Hills.

1982: Released first of 16 exercise videocassettes

1987: Forced to apologize for past political activism by townspeople in Waterbury, CT.

1991: Married Ted Turner on her 54th birthday.

1996: Published cookbook.

While starring in controversial roles, she further stirred up controversy by speaking her mind. Her leftist political views alienated Fonda from many Americans. In fact, while filming the socially conscious film about adult illiteracy Stanley and Iris in 1988, Fonda was met with hostility and resentment and references to “Hanoi Jane” from 16 years earlier. These protests led to her first public apology for her Vietnam-era activities.

Fonda introduced the word “workout” to a nation and fueled the fitness craze that would continue throughout the 1990s, simultaneously proving to be a keen businesswoman. Fonda moved from radical to respectable in the eyes of the American public, enduring the collapse of two marriages, and acknowledging new-found faith in a greater power than herself. In the early 1980s Jane Fonda was one of the most respected and admired women in United States.

Her drive for personal achievement has diminished since her marriage to Ted Turner. Her fitness enterprise was driven by her commitment to exercise, but she eventually scaled back on her original beliefs on exercise duration. She came to believe that attitude was more important to optimal health than thinness. As reported in Good Housekeeping, this shift is reflected in the exercise video released in 1996 “that substitutes shorter, more moderate workouts for the more strenuous exercise she used to promote” for women to stay fit.

By 1993 over 10 million exercise tapes had been sold from the Fonda Video Fitness library, and Fonda herself remained healthy and fit, even as she turned 60. She remained politically active, particularly as a board member for the Turner Foundation, which focused on the environment and population growth. Fonda was personally interested in reducing teenage pregnancy through self-esteem role modeling programs.

Fonda held many conflicting roles during her varied career. She was a sex symbol feminist, a bulimic health instructor, a vocal anti-capitalist, and captain of an exercise empire. Fonda will be remembered for her movies, her activism, and for the inspiration she gave to the fitness movement. But perhaps most inspiring is Fonda’s ability to continue to grow and evolve. This strength led to the many fruitful phases of her life.

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