Lady Ja(y)ne: Quite Fonda the South

“To do life right, you have to feel like you’re growing up until the day you die.”–Jane Fonda

I’ll be quite frank: I never thought much of Jane Fonda. Growing up in the 80s, the little I did know of her was how many people frowned on her for her stance on Vietnam, how many people bought her workout tapes, and–later–how she married Ted Turner for his money. The first two of those things are true; the latter one is not. Miss Fonda refused any money from Mr. Turner when she left him in 2001. But I’ll get to that later.

Jane Fonda was born with the ostentatious name of Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda in 1937 (she’ll be 75 in December of this year). Tired of being called Lady, the tomboy announced to her elementary school class that from here on out she was, “Just Jane, with no Y.” Her bipolar mother killed herself when Jane was 12 and her brother Peter was 10. Though her mother had been emotionally distant and was in and out of mental institutions for much for Jane’s childhood, her suicide haunted Jane (and Peter, obviously) for years to come. But she claims in her autobiography My Life So Far that she took the opposite approach of her brother Peter, who cried and acted out for months after their mother’s death. Instead, Jane became what she termed “The Lone Ranger”; she threw herself into her schoolwork and did not openly cry about her mother’s death until well into her adult years, after plenty of therapy. She claims she only saw her father Henry Fonda–whom many have referred to as being stoic and cold–shed tears twice in his life: the first time was when FDR died, and the second and last time was when she poured her heart out to him right before he died. So she came by the lack of tears honestly, at least. But Jane Fonda is anything but cold and stoic.

Henry and Jane Fonda, 1959

It’s hard to summarize a life as winding and fabled as Jane Fonda’s very briefly. In fact, I won’t even try. She herself takes the liberty of dividing her life up into three acts in her 2005 autobiography. Married three times with two children and numerous step-children (and a black foster daughter whom she rescued from an abusive home in the early 80s), one would think the two-time Oscar winner had it all. But she’s the first to admit the many missteps she’s made, with the infamous “Hanoi Jane” photo from North Vietnam being the mistake she claims is, “unforgivable, and I’ll take it to my grave.” Among other regrets she has are living with bulimia well into her 40s, drinking heavily to numb the pain when she was trying to make her third marriage to a cheating Ted Turner work, and not being an involved mother to her oldest child (her daughter with first husband Roger Vadim, who was raised jointly by Jane in L.A. and Vadim in Paris). With all that said, Miss Fonda has accomplished much in the film industry, has been a tireless advocate for those she feels can’t speak for themselves (such as the Vietnamese during the war and victims of sexual abuse the world over), and has become a born again Christian after turning 60.

Jane during her activist heyday, early 70s

The main thing I took away from her autobiography is Miss Fonda’s profound sense of self-awareness. She admits this is due to years of therapy and schooling herself by reading motivational books, and it shows. But there’s more to her philosophy than just spouting off great quotes and explaining how she overcame the losses of two, very emotionally detached parents and divorces from three powerful men. After 62 years on this earth, she found her true self in the year 2000. How many people can really say that? Think about it…not many people take the time to truly find themselves. We all get so wrapped up in our shoehorned roles (those we think we are stuck in and limited to) and what we think this person thinks of us or that person expects of us, that we lose sight of our true calling. Many people didn’t agree with her anti-Vietnam activism, but she stayed true to herself. She could’ve just as easily stayed put in France and/or Hollywood and made more 60s fluff films, but she knew in her heart of hearts that she couldn’t do that. Whether or not one agrees with her political stance, it’s admirable that she got out of her comfort zone to do what she felt like was right at the time. She also admits in the book that she has a tendency–to this day–to speak before she thinks. I empathize with her on that point, as most of us who have this character flaw mean well in spite of all the feet we put in our mouth.

Poster for the 1968 film directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim

I could share a plethora of quotes from the book, but here’s a few that stuck out to me and that I’d like to share. Miss Fonda is a brilliant writer and had no help writing My Life So Far besides the editor that Random House assigned her. Here’s some quotes and the page #s they’re from:

“I simply didn’t know anymore what I knew or wanted or thought or felt–or even who I was in an embodied way. I would become whatever I felt the people whose love and attention I needed wanted me to be. I would try to be perfect. It was safer there. It was a survival mechanism that served me well–back then.” (20)

“I am still baffled by those who feel that criticizing America is unpatriotic, a view increasingly being adopted in the United States since 9/11 as an excuse to render suspect what has always been an American right. An active, brave, outspoken (and heard) citizenry is essential to a healthy democracy.” (246)

“Winning the Academy Award (for ‘Klute’ in 1971) was a huge event for me as an actress; whatever else happened, I would always have that. But nothing really changed in my life–not that I expected it to. Yet there’s always a vague hope that such acclaim will make everything else fall into place. It doesn’t.” (280)

“Eighty percent of American people, according to a recent poll, have stopped believing in the war and think we should get out, think we should bring all of you [soldiers] home. The people back home are crying for you. Tonight when you are alone, ask yourselves: What are you doing? Accept no ready answers fed to you by rote from basic training on up, but as men, as human beings, can you justify what you are doing? Do you know why are are flying these missions, collecting extra combat pay on Sunday? The people beneath your planes have done us no harm. They want to live in peace. They want to rebuild their country.” (from a radio broadcast she did in Vietnam, 305)

“I wanted to make the marriage work and so chose not to see what I later learned was evident to all our friends: that Tom constantly put me down. I always viewed it as a joke, and thus didn’t see the comments and behaviour as put-downs. By choosing denial, I had permitted inferiority. It would take another passage through another marriage, to Ted Turner, for me to fully emerge, popping up like a periscope to look around and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute! This is who I am! I need you to deal with it.'” (403)

“I realized I had to make a choice between life and a living death. I had to move toward the light or succumb to the darkness. I had an unusually full, interesting, demanding life that was important to me: my family, my films, my political work. I was going a mile a minute, developing films, winning awards, raising money. People were depending on me. Plus, I wanted to make a difference, and that’s hard when you’re under a nictitating membrane. It wasn’t worth it, blowing my life.” (405)

“I spent a lot of time in Dad’s garden during those days of mourning, sitting under one of his fruit trees sorting out my feelings. While I still had a long way to go, in hindsight I see that this was a first step in my learning to be still, to be and not to do. I was grateful for having had ‘On Golden Pond’ with him and that I’d managed to tell him I loved him before it was too late. I could feel myself making peace with the fact that though he hadn’t given me all I had needed from him, he’d given me plenty.” (446)

“On top of it all, [Ted Turner] dropped me off at the airport two hours early, because he had to go to the private airport next door, where his jet was waiting to take him to Atlanta, where he was going to a fiftieth-anniversary celebration of ‘Gone With the Wind’ (he owned it)–with a girlfriend who’d rented a Scarlett O’Hara gown just for the occasion. He was, of course (could I have doubted it?), going as Rhett Butler. He didn’t want to be late. Okay, so we left it there. It felt bad. So much performing and then this. Off to the next one. I thought, ‘Well, I had a lot of fun with this guy. He’s totally amazing and I definitely have a crush, but I must have bored him to death. I didn’t say anything interesting.'” (after her first weekend away with Ted in 1989, 484)

“The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention has been active in Georgia for 10 years, and each year we have probed deeper into the lives of adolescents to discover what factors impel them to have babies when they are not yet themselves. We have learned that small things–like being rocked, held, and gazed at–can enable a child to remain resilient even in the face of unspeakable abuse and neglect. […] That’s why G-CAPP works with pregnant young women and mothers to assure they will know how to do this. I know from my own mothering experience that these skills don’t always come naturally but that they can be learned.” (regarding the charity she founded in Atlanta in 1995, 520)

“Have you noticed how we are presented with the same lessons, over and over and over, before a tipping point is reached? The lessons we need to learn circle round us, closing in, until finally we are ready to take them in. Take them in. Those are the words that matter, because until I had embodied the lessons I was supposed to learn, absorbed them into the warp and woof of my being, they didn’t ‘take’; they remained a head trip and didn’t lead to changes in my behaviour.” (530)

“It’s not that I was entirely conscious of what was happening to me. It was like a slow letting go at the very center of myself. My relationships with people began to shift. I wasn’t reactive anymore (amazing , if reactive is what you’ve been most of your life). I was detached, yet my heart had opened. The space between me and other people seemed filled with a new, vibrating energy that grew exponentially more intense when I felt connected to other women. In the ‘old days,’ I would go to a party and wonder, ‘Will they like me? Will I be pretty enough? Interesting enough?’ Now I was coming into a party thinking, ‘Do I really want to be here? Is there anyone I want to connect with?'” (560)

The last quote, and the one most applicable to the theme of this blog, actually takes up the entire page 563 of My Life So Far. You should be able to click on the photo I took of the page below if need be and read it easily (and plus, the font of this book is very pleasing–Miss Fonda notes that it’s Photina, a typeface designed by Jose Mendoza in 1971). In a nutshell, Miss Fonda is explaining why she decided to stay in Atlanta after her divorce from Ted Turner. (Spoiler: Southerners are nicer than most other people, and they stay truer to themselves and their heritage.) By the way, the reason she didn’t get any money in her divorce from him is because she didn’t need any. Having acted, produced, and owned her own business (Jane Fonda’s Workout), she refused to take a dime from him. Good for her!

Though she has since sold her condo in Atlanta (or at least, she rents it out) and moved back to L.A. to enjoy a career renaissance and a new boyfriend (music producer Richard Perry), Jane Fonda still considers herself a proud, adopted Southerner, as she very well should. I’m ashamed after reading her delightful autobiography that I, like many people, judged her at face value as just another pretty face who’s been married too many times. But the same could be said of Liz Taylor, and her activism for AIDS research has already outlived her. One other thing I wanted to add is a line from her “About the Author” notes on the inside back flap of the dust jacket: “[Fonda] now focuses her time and energy on activism and philanthropy, in such areas as adolescent reproductive health, pregnancy prevention, and building resiliency in girls and boys by addressing destructive gender stereotypes.” Destructive gender stereotypes…think about that for a moment, if you never have.

Jane Fonda & Anthony Perkins, publicity still from 1960’s ‘Tall Story’ (her first film)

Miss Fonda’s blog, which is very informal and full of great snapshots that she’s so fond of taking, can be seen *HERE*. My Life So Far, which I highly recommend as possibly the best celebrity autobiography I’ve ever read, can be purchased *HERE*. If you’ve made it this far through this rather lengthy book report blog entry, might I reward you with some more breathtaking photos of Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda, AKA “Just Jane, with no Y.” There’s also a final, smashing quote from her at the very bottom of the blog entry. Thanks, as always, for reading my ramblings!

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Hipster Jane!

‘Cat Ballou’ (1965)

Fonda lounging around, 1962

Infamous mug shot, which she now merchandises

‘On Golden Pond’ cast in 1981: Hepburn, Fonda, & Fonda

Jane presents her father his Best Actor Oscar for ‘On Golden Pond’ in 1982. He was unable to attend, so she accepted it for him. He died five months later.

Jane gettin’ her fitness on, to the tune of 17 million ‘Workout’ videos sold. (Like Liz Taylor and her perfumes, this is easily where Jane made most of her money.)

Miss Jane Fonda in 2012…if you got it, flaunt it!

“It took me a long, long time to realize that we are not meant to me perfect. We’re meant to be whole.”–Jane Fonda, ‘Oprah’s Master Class’, 2012

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  1. Jane Lynch: Party(ing) Down & Growing Up « Southern Aristocracy

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