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Jane Fonda Biography


Home > Actresses > F > Fonda, Jane > Biography


Birth Name: Jane Fonda
Born: 12/21/1937
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA


Born in New York, NY on Dec. 21 1937, Fonda's childhood required staying in her pathologically cold father's good graces, where having a perfect body and being "on the winning team" were of primary importance, while emotional expression was met with disgust and disdain. When she was 12, her 42-year-old mother, socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw, slashed her own throat with a razor - the actress was told that she had died of heart failure, but learned the truth months later while leafing through a movie magazine in art class. A year later, Fonda began seriously hating her own body, resulting in bulimia and an addiction to Dexedrine that persisted well into her forties. Meanwhile, she was sent to the all-girls Emma Willard boarding school in Troy, N.Y., and despite initially resisting entry into her legendary father's profession, Fonda appeared with him in the Omaha Community Theatre production of "The Country Girl" (1954). Following boarding school, she attended Vassar College, but left to go to Paris and study painting. Upon her return, Fonda began a modeling career, appearing on the covers of Esquire, Vogue and Ladies' Home Journal.

Now convinced that acting was her path, Fonda began studying her craft at the Actors Studio with famed coach Lee Strasberg in 1958. Soon, she embarked on her film career by co-starring in Joshua Logan's movie version of the Broadway play "Tall Story" (1960), co-starring Anthony Perkins. That same year, the film was released she was nominated for Broadway's 1960 Tony Award as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) for "There Was a Little Girl." Early films like George Cukor's "The Chapman Report" (1962) hinted at her promise and she was quickly cast in several more films. In 1963, Fonda returned to France to work on a film with director René Clément, "Les Félins" (1964), where she met and fell in love with Roger Vadim, a Parisian intellectual horrified by anything that smacked of the bourgeois. Vadim encouraged Fonda - whom he married in 1965 - to rid herself of supposedly outmoded qualities like sexual jealousy by introducing her to polygamous encounters and remaking her image into the type of "sex kitten" that populated his risqué films. Meanwhile, Fonda showed glimpses of maturity in Arthur Penn's "The Chase" (1966) and added to her range in movies like Otto Preminger's "Hurry Sundown" (1966) and Gene Saks' adaptation of the Neil Simon play "Barefoot in the Park" (1967), opposite Robert Redford.

However, it was not until she was truly independent of both her father and Vadim - who helmed her big-haired, pouty-lipped sex symbol turn in the sci-fi satire and 1960s pop culture artifact "Barbarella" - that she became more resolute and aggressive; consequently, becoming one of the best young actresses around. As a hard-as-nails babe in Sydney Pollack's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969), Fonda helped make the compelling tale of a Depression era dance marathon an existential allegory of life with a riveting, unblinkingly fierce nihilism. She earned her first Best Actress Oscar nomination for the role. The shift in her acting direction coincided with a radical new socio-political phase in her personal life. Reports of the Vietnam War, unfiltered through U.S. media, shocked her social circle in France, and her mentor Simone Signoret brought Fonda to a Paris antiwar rally to hear famed leftist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and others. The actress, who was looking for an escape from the "permissive, indolent life" she had led with her soon-to-collapse union with Vadim, threw herself into the anti-war movement - as well as supporting Native American causes and the Black Panther Party - cut her hair into a trendsetting brown shag, and redirected her acting energies.

In Alan J Pakula's "Klute" (1971), Fonda really came into her own. The much-matured actress built on her previous role, winning a Best Actress Oscar for the complex study of an emotionally unstable prostitute. Fonda, for the first time, evinced a star's greatness on screen. But despite subsequent triumphs, she would never top her superb performance as Bree Daniels in "Klute." In 1970, she took her revolutionary role to heart, going on the road, visiting GI coffeehouses, and marching and speaking, which prompted the FBI to closely monitor her. She was arrested on drug charges that were later dropped. She met antiwar activist Tom Hayden - then a counter-culture lightning rod for political change. They subsequently married in 1973 just days after her divorce from Vadim. Meanwhile, in 1972, Fonda made her infamous journey to Hanoi, North Vietnam, which perhaps engraved her in the American consciousness more deeply than any of her films. Carried away by singing a song she had memorized for the Vietnamese people, Fonda found herself in the seat of a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun, where she was snapped in a highly publicized photograph. The image caused a furor in the United States, and prompted an ill will toward the actress among Vietnam veterans and supporters of the war that would linger and haunt the actress for the remainder of her life.

Following her revolutionary interlude, during which she dabbled in writing, directing and for the first time producing, Fonda returned to mainstream success with her portrayal of Lillian Hellman that was the firm but anxious center of the biopic, "Julia" (1976). Although she clearly admired and identified with the searching, feisty, liberal role she was playing, she managed to alienate Hellman with the left-handed compliment that the writer was a homely woman who carried herself like Marilyn Monroe. "California Suite" (1978) teamed her with Alan Alda, another scion of a showbiz family, and allowed the actress to show off her new exercise-fit body as a precursor to her reign as a workout guru. "Coming Home" (1978), the first feature from her production company IPC, offered powerful insight into the effect of the Vietnam War on people at home and won her a second Best Actress Oscar.

IPC would produce "The China Syndrome" (1979), in which she played an ambitious reporter who happens to witness a near-meltdown of a nuclear power plant - a fortuitously released film that managed to cash in on the hysteria over a nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island just weeks after it appeared in theaters. Meanwhile, she co-starred in "9 to 5" (1981), a zany comedy about the conditions faced by working women, which co-starred Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton and grossed more than $100 million. The success of the film and Parton's title song turned into the short-lived sitcom, "9 to 5" (ABC, 1981-84), that Fonda produced and appeared on. Finally, after a few decades of waiting, she had the chance to act with her father for the first time on film in "On Golden Pond" (1981), which earned him a long overdue Best Actor Oscar - she was nominated as Best Supporting Actress - while enabling father and daughter to rehabilitate their relationship for posterity, leaving nary a dry eye in the house. The senior Fonda died shortly after his daughter proudly collected his trophy at the 1982 Oscar ceremony.

Of Fonda's subsequent films of that era, only "The Morning After" (1986) met with the kind of response to which she had grown accustomed, earning her another Best Actress Oscar nomination. "Rollover" (1981), with Alan J. Pakula as director, was pretentious and incomprehensible, while "Agnes of God" (1985) failed to make the transition from stage to screen. Away from the cineplex, Fonda and Hayden bought a 200-acre ranch north of Santa Barbara, where they established a performing arts camp for children of all backgrounds that operated from 1977 to 1991. In 1979, after injuring her foot on "The China Syndrome," Fonda began working on aerobics and strength training with Leni Cazden. Fonda captured lightening in a bottle when she released her first exercise video, "The Jane Fonda Workout" (1982). It sold over 17 million copies on its way to becoming the best-selling home video ever, as well as created a fitness sensation among the baby boomer generation. All throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Fonda released numerous exercise videos, workout books and audio programs that spawned a second career and helped usher in a new wave of health consciousness - as well as a fashion trend for stripped leotards and leg warmers. Despite the professional heights, Fonda suffered personal loss when she split with Hayden in 1988.

Her next film, "Old Gringo" (1989) - despite excellent performances from Fonda, Gregory Peck and Jimmy Smits - failed to find an audience. Even working with the esteemed Robert De Niro in the romantic drama "Stanley & Iris" (1991) did little to ignite her career. Then in 1991, Fonda married Atlanta-based media mogul Ted Turner on her 54th birthday and subsequently announced her retirement from film acting, distancing herself from the Hollywood community. She took over the Turner Foundation and worked tirelessly on issues of population control, children's health, adolescent reproductive health and sexuality, including launching the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention. For her 60th birthday, Turner gave his wife a $10-million charitable foundation. Although she later revealed that Turner was unfaithful only a month into the marriage, on the surface they seemed a happy, committed couple for nearly a decade before their split in 2000. Meanwhile, Fonda's Hollywood connection dwindled to a few high-profile, dressed-to-the-nines visits on Turner's arm to major events like the Academy Awards.

After an all-too lengthy absence from the big screen, Fonda made a welcome return in the comedy "Monster-In-Law" (2005) in a hilarious, vanity-free tour-de-force performance as an aggressive, much-married broadcast journalist who has lost her job and whose mental breakdown prompts her to take malicious action to prevent her only son's impending marriage to a sweet-natured temp (Jennifer Lopez). She also released a well-timed memoir, My Life So Far, in which she frankly detailed her contentious relationship with her father, her eating disorders and addictions, and her lifelong propensity to reshape herself to suit the men in her life. She also candidly made apologies for her Hanoi excursion, writing "I realize that it is not just a U.S. citizen laughing and clapping on a [North] Vietnamese antiaircraft gun: I am Henry Fonda's privileged daughter who appears to be thumbing my nose at the country that has provided me these privileges." She was, however, still unable to shake the Hanoi Jane moniker. Meanwhile, she turned in another sassy performance with "Georgia Rule" (2007), playing Georgia, the hard-nosed grandmother of an uncontrollable teenager (Lindsay Lohan) sent by her mother (Felicity Huffman) to her Iowa farm for some down-home discipline, thanks to Georgia's unbreakable and nonnegotiable rules. But while her feisty and carefree granddaughter stands to learn a thing or two, she unearths buried family secrets that will - regardless of what happens - bring all three women closer together.