21 december, 1937
Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda was born on December 21, 1937 in New York City to legendary screen star Henry Fonda and socialite Frances Ford Seymour. It was the second marriage for both her parents; Henry was divorced from actress Margaret Sullavan and Frances was the widow of a wealthy industrialist, George Tuttle Brokaw. In addition to her younger brother Peter Fonda, Jane had a half-sister, Frances "Pan" de Villers Brokaw (1931-2008), from her mother's first marriage. When Jane was twelve, Henry Fonda left Frances for a younger woman (21-year-old Susan Blanchard, who became his third wife). Devastated, Frances checked herself into a sanitarium and committed suicide there on April 14, 1950 by slitting her throat with a razor that she'd hidden in a framed photograph of her children. Jane was told that her mother died of a heart failure, but learned the truth months later while leafing through a movie magazine. She eventually obtained her mother's medical records and learned that Frances had been sexually abused, which may have been the reason for the emotional problems that had plagued her throughout adulthood.
Jane first became interested in acting in 1954, when she was prompted by director Joshua Logan to appear in an Omaha Community Theatre production of "The Country Girl" with Dorothy McGuire. She graduated from the all-girls Emma Willard boarding school in 1955, then enrolled at the women's-only Vassar College, where she rebelled by ditching classes, drinking, and living it up at nearby men's universities. Jane dropped out of Vassar after finishing her sophomore year, then went to Paris to study painting. When that did not work out, Jane returned to New York and got a job as a secretary, but was soon fired. Jane ultimately decided to pursue a film career and was accepted into the Actor's Studio, where she received her training from Lee Strasberg. She did some modeling to pay for the acting classes, and was prominently featured in many major magazines in the late 1950s, including Vogue, Life, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar and Ladies' Home Journal.
Extraordinary talent, a famous last name, and a lot of exposure generated from her modeling career helped Jane land the lead role in Tall Story (1960), a romantic comedy directed by Logan and co-starring Anthony Perkins. Even though it was her first film, Jane received above-the-title billing in the opening credits and was played up as a major new star. However, Jane hated the experience and couldn't stand her character, a girl-next-door cheerleader who goes to college for the sole purpose of finding a husband. She decided that she never wanted to make another movie again and spent the next two years doing a series of plays on Broadway, including "There Was a Little Girl" (1960) which earned her a Tony Award nomination. In 1961, Jane was named Woman of the Year by the Hasty Pudding Theatrical Society. She came back to Hollywood only when she was offered a role that was the complete opposite of the one she had played in "Tall Story," that of prostitute-turned-heroine Kitty Twist in Walk on the Wild Side (1962). The film co-starred Laurence Harvey, Capucine, and Barbara Stanwyck, but it was Jane's beauty that carried the day. Her next two films, both released in the fall of 1962, were met with widely varying degrees of success. The Chapman Report (1962), which had her playing a frigid young widow, was slammed by critics and earned her that year's "Worst Actress" award from the Harvard Lampoon organization. In contrast, Period of Adjustment (1962) was a critical and commercial hit for Jane and her up-and-coming co-star, Jim Hutton. She received her first Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress.
In 1963, Jane starred opposite Peter Finch in the formulaic melodrama In the Cool of the Day (1963), followed by the innocuously fun romantic comedy Sunday in New York (1963) with Rod Taylor. In the summer of that year, Jane went to France to start shooting the crime thriller Les félins (1964) with Alain Delon. While in France, Jane also starred in the erotic drama La ronde (1964), in which she broke ground by becoming the first major American actress to do a nude scene in a foreign film. The film was directed by Roger Vadim, who at 35 was twice divorced from actresses Brigitte Bardot and Annette Stroyberg, and had recently sired an illegitimate son with his 19-year-old protégé, Catherine Deneuve. Initially, Jane had reservations about Vadim because of his frowned-upon past, but couldn't resist his charm. They fell in love and soon moved in together, eventually marrying on August 14, 1965. Back in Hollywood, Jane played the title role in the smash hit western satire Cat Ballou (1965), proving her a big box office draw. The next year, she starred opposite Marlon Brando and Robert Redford in The Chase (1966), generated further controversy with her nude scenes in La curée (1966) directed by Vadim, and played a frustrated spinster torn between Jason Robards and Dean Jones in the comedy Any Wednesday (1966), which earned her another Golden Globe nomination. Jane's success continued with roles in Otto Preminger's Hurry Sundown (1967) opposite Michael Caine and the hit adaptation of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park (1967) with Redford.
1968 saw the release of two movies in which Jane was directed by her husband. The first was Histoires extraordinaires (1968), in which Jane and her brother Peter played out an incestuous theme. Then, she played the title role in the notorious sci-fi sex farce Barbarella (1968). Jane's feelings about the film have changed over time from proud to embarrassed to indifferent, and she now accepts "Barbarella" for what it is: a charming camp classic that, for better or worse, has become the film that she is best known for. On September 28, 1968, Jane and Vadim had a daughter, Vanessa Vadim. Jane didn't take much time off for motherhood, returning to work three months later to start shooting her next film. The film was They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), a haunting, powerful period piece depicting the desperation of the Depression Era. The film was a big hit at the box office, and Jane's lacerating turn as the cynical malcontent Gloria electrified critics. Giving the performance of her life, Jane received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Unfortunately, she lost the award to Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). Nonetheless, Jane was now the most in-demand actress in the world and could have her pick of any role she wanted. She did exactly that, and her follow-up to "Horses" was a stunner. In 1971, Jane played a sexy hooker being targeted by a serial killer in New York City in the hit thriller Klute (1971), and was again nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. This time, she won.
In the midst of all this success, Jane experienced an early midlife crisis. Unhappy with her "permissive, indolent life," she left the unfaithful, carefree Vadim (whom she'd been supporting financially since their courtship) and threw herself into politics as the Vietnam War reached its height. She also became a radical activist for almost any leftist cause, including desegregation, women's rights and environmental issues, and supported the Black Panther Party and the Red Power movement. Jane rallied all over the nation, which prompted the F.B.I. to closely monitor her. In November 1970, while returning to the U.S. after giving a speech at a college in Canada, Jane was arrested at Cleveland Airport for drug smuggling. She had no drugs, and the pills she was arrested for carrying turned out to be vitamins (she got out of jail almost immediately). In July 1972, just months after winning the Oscar for "Klute," Jane took a two-week tour of North Vietnam and visited the capital city of Hanoi. She made a public service announcement to American bomber pilots and was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery, appearing as if she were shooting at incoming American planes. The photograph was seen around the world, and what actually happened has often been wildly exaggerated. (One of the most popular myths was that she turned smuggled messages from American soldiers in POW camps over to their captors, and the men were tortured to death because of her actions.) Jane was branded a traitor and given the nickname "Hanoi Jane." Decades later, she is still despised by many.
In the fall of 1972, Jane became pregnant with her second child by fellow antiwar activist Tom Hayden. Vadim was also expecting a baby with his latest girlfriend, heiress Catherine Schneider, but he and Jane had put off filing for divorce. On January 16, 1973, Jane and Vadim finally divorced, and she married Hayden three days later. On July 7, 1973, Jane gave birth to a son, Troy Garity. He was given his paternal grandmother's surname because the names "Fonda and Hayden carried too much baggage." Meanwhile, Jane's career had taken a setback as a result of the scandal she caused with her trip to Hanoi. Despite having recently won an Oscar, Jane claimed she was "greylisted" because President Richard Nixon had conservative state legislators introduce measures that would condemn or ban her films. Conservative theater owners went along, and studio executives didn't want to take a chance on her. Indeed, Jane's next three films had received scant distribution and went virtually unnoticed. Both Tout va bien (1972), a French picture she made with Yves Montand, and Steelyard Blues (1973), a comedy with previous co-star Donald Sutherland, barely opened in brief limited releases, while her adaptation of A Doll's House (1973/II) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival but subsequently went straight to television. Jane took a four-year hiatus from acting, during which she formed her own production company, IPC films, to produce vehicles she hoped would return her to star status. 1977 was Jane's comeback year. She starred with George Segal in the hit comedy Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) and portrayed author Lillian Hellman in the superb drama Julia (1977), which earned her a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, and another Oscar nomination. Jane then produced and starred in Coming Home (1978), as a Marine officer's wife who volunteers at a Vietnam veterans' hospital and has an affair with an amputee played by Jon Voight. The film was another hit for Jane and she won her second Oscar. She followed with two other successful films released the same year: the western Comes a Horseman (1978) with James Caan and the comedy California Suite (1978) with Alan Alda. Jane was on a roll, and 1979 proved to be an even more successful year for her. She received a fifth Oscar nomination for her role as an ambitious reporter who witnesses a cover-up of an accident in a nuclear power plant in The China Syndrome (1979) with Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas, and reunited with Robert Redford for the romantic adventure The Electric Horseman (1979), her seventh hit in a row. Jane was at the peak of her career, and American audiences had clearly forgiven her. She even won the People's Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Actress. Still, the hatred of many Vietnam War veterans would never cease.
In 1980, Jane starred alongside Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton in Nine to Five (1980). The zany comedy about three secretaries who turn the tables on their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical boss was a surprise box office smash, becoming the second highest-grossing film of that year. Jane had long wanted to work with her father in hopes of repairing their strained relationship, and achieved this goal when she purchased the screen rights to On Golden Pond (1981) specifically for her father and her to star in with Katharine Hepburn. The film was an outstanding success, and won Henry Fonda his only Academy Award for Best Actor. He was too ill to attend the ceremony, so Jane accepted the award on his behalf; he died five months later. Jane's other 1981 release, Rollover (1981), was a rare commercial failure. Now in her mid-40s, Jane would act less and less as fewer plum film roles came her way. During this time, husband Tom Hayden was elected to the California State Assembly, but not without Jane's help (she donated over $1 million to his campaign, a staggering price for state-level election). In 1982, Jane released her first exercise video, "The Jane Fonda Workout," which sold over 17 million copies on its way to becoming the best-selling home video ever, and further contributed to her wealth. After three years away from acting, Jane won an Emmy Award for a rare television role in The Dollmaker (1984) (TV). In 1985, Jane gave a tour-de-force performance as psychiatrist Dr. Martha Livingston in Norman Jewison's religious thriller Agnes of God (1985). The next year, she received her final Oscar nomination to date for her portrayal of an alcoholic murder suspect in The Morning After (1986) opposite Jeff Bridges. Jane retained her status as an A-list actress, but only made two more films before the close of the decade: Old Gringo (1989) with Gregory Peck and Stanley & Iris (1989) with Robert De Niro, both of which failed to find an audience.
On Jane's 51st birthday in 1988, Tom Hayden told her that he was in love with another woman. The woman was Vicky Rideout, a political speechwriter 20 years Jane's junior. Jane became deeply depressed and went on to lose an estimated $30 million in the acrimonious divorce (Hayden was worth a mere $50,000 before they married and had refused to sign a pre-nup). Meanwhile, twice-divorced cable tycoon Ted Turner called Jane up and asked her out on a date. As it turned out, the pair had a lot in common (Turner also lost a parent to suicide) and a romance blossomed. Jane announced her retirement from acting after 30 years as a movie star, and married Turner on her birthday in 1991. She happily undertook conventional wifely duties for the first time in her life and no longer took high-profile ideological stands, although she remained active in philanthropy and founded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention in 1995. Jane and Turner were regarded as a power couple, and even though she caught him cheating on her just one month after their wedding, the marriage lasted eight years until they amicably separated in 1999. Their divorce was finalized in 2001, and Jane received a "generous" financial settlement from Turner and got to keep their ranch in New Mexico. In 2001, Jane was honored with a career retrospective by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. She spent the following years writing her memoirs and spending quality time with her family, which now included two grandchildren, Malcom and Viva.
In 2005, after more than 15 years away from acting, Jane was back on the big screen with a hilarious performance in Monster-in-Law (2005) opposite Jennifer Lopez. Though dismissed by critics, the film was a box office hit and introduced her to a whole new generation of audiences. That same year, she published her autobiography, "My Life So Far," which frankly detailed her eating disorders and prescription drug addictions in the past, as well as her contentious relationship with her father and her lifelong propensity to reshape herself to suit the men in her life. Jane also devoted 150 pages of the book to the Vietnam War, and apologized for the hurt she caused American soldiers. Jane's book reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 2007, she starred in Georgia Rule (2007), a comedy-drama that had her playing mother to Felicity Huffman and grandmother to Lindsay Lohan. Jane said that she's not looking to start a new career, but that her return to acting has been merely for the fun of it. In 2009, Jane went back on the Broadway stage to star in the original play "33 Variations," which earned her a Tony Award nomination. Most recently, she released a new exercise video called "Prime Time," aiming at older audiences.
Now in her 70s, Jane Fonda is vital as ever and positively thriving. Revered by the film community and a worldwide following of fans, she is a peerless living legend with a dynamic body of work unmatched by any other Hollywood actress.