Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Jane Fonda

In this day-and-age of cradle-to-grave celebrity, it may seem odd to consider that there was once a time when a star's newborn baby wasn't automatically a star itself; as show business continues to evolve into a thing which is more about heredity than talent, those over forty who've been famous from birth - people like Jane Fonda - assume a greater importance for having done it all before. For all the mis-steps she's made, the life and career of Jane Fonda ought to be studied by Suri and Shiloh and Violet for whatever lessons - good or ill - they might be able to glean from them.

PhotobucketWhen she was born, on this day in 1937, it made news mainly because it forced a halt in production at Warner Bros. on the Civil War-era film Jezebel (1938), which her father Henry Fonda was making with Bette Davis. They were the earliest headlines in her life, and by far the nicest ones as well; the 1950 suicide of her mother Frances Ford Seymour was largely kept out of the papers, which in those days reserved their most salacious headlines for ordinary people. By the time the Press came gunning for Jane Fonda in 1972, though, its traditional reticence towards character assassination had all but evaporated.

Fonda started out as a model, appearing twice on the cover of Vogue; her acting debut was a 1954 Omaha charity performance of The Country Girl with her father, and in 1958 she joined the Actors Studio under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg. The transition from theatre to movies was a bumpy one, but 1965's Cat Ballou (co-starring Lee Marvin) is generally credited as her breakout role; it's also the year she married her first husband, French director Roger Vadim.

The next twenty years could be considered her rollercoaster years, seeing as they did acting and personal triumphs interspersed with scandal and derision. Her films of this era include Any Wednesday (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), Barbarella (1968), They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), an Oscar-winning performance in Klute (1971), Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), a second Oscar-winning performance in Coming Home (1978), The China Syndrome (1979), Nine to Five (1980), On Golden Pond (1981) and Agnes of God (1985).

All of this acclaim came despite the fact that through most of this time Fonda was better known as Hanoi Jane, whose name still raises the ire of Vietnam vets who can't be bothered to listen to her side of the story of how she came to be photographed atop a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery, let alone reconcile her patriotism with opposition to an unjust, unlawful war. Still, the popular impression that activism hurt her career simply doesn't bear up under the weight of her filmography.

In 1982 a second (or third, or fourth) career came to her via the fitness craze of the early 1980s; she produced her 23rd and last workout video in 1995. By the outset of her decade-long marriage to Ted Turner in 1991 Fonda had all but retired from show business.

Still stunning in her 70s, Fonda has begun to feel her way into movies again, but refuses to be cowed into tacit silent support of the Iraq war by her experiences in opposition to the one in Vietnam; having embraced Christianity without the hypocrisy and hatefulness of the born-again, she wrote a memoir in 2005 entitled My Life So Far.

We can only hope for a second volume as action-packed as the first...

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