Friday, June 13, 2014

The Seven Ages of Jane Fonda

Shakespeare said it: “All the world’s a stage . . .  and one man in his time plays many parts.” Jane Fonda is emphatically not a man, as she’d be the first to point out. But she’s had a remarkable life, full of entrances and exits, which is why she’s just been honored with the American Film Institute’s 42nd annual lifetime achievement award. (Videotape of the ceremony will be aired tomorrow night, June 14, on TNT, with an August 1 encore on TCM.)

That Shakespearean soliloquy from As You Like It  goes on to divide a man’s life into seven ages: the infant, the schoolboy, the young lover, and so on, all the way up to the old man approaching death “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”  Fortunately, Jane Fonda still seems to have her teeth, and much more. At 76, she looks and sounds quite marvelous, and she’s by no means ready to slip off to oblivion. But it’s fair to say that she’s been through at least seven ages, some of them overlapping. Several of these ages seem to dovetail with the interests of the various men in her life, to the point where one might assume that Jane was a malleable creature, molded in turn by a series of Svengalis. If that was once somewhat true, it is so no longer. Through the decades, as her addresses and her hairstyles have kept changing, she has clearly evolved into her own person.

So . . . here’s my take on the Seven Ages of Jane:

(1) Jane as ingénue: The only daughter of the famous Henry played a bouncy cheerleader in Tall Story (1960), a wacky schoolmarm-turned-outlaw in Cat Ballou (1965), and a ditzy newlywed in Barefoot in the Park (1967).

(2) Jane as sex goddess: For her husband Roger Vadim, who had previously discovered and then married Brigitte Bardot, Jane starred as the sexually provocative Barbarella (1968). Around this time, Newsweek ran a story titled “Anything Goes: The Permissive Society.” To highlight the collapse of social taboos, Newsweek displayed on its cover a provocative but discreetly posed nude shot of Jane—all bouffant hair, pouting lips, and white skin—on the Barbarella set.

(3) Jane as serious actress: She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her grueling role in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), and won for Klute (1971). There was another nomination for Julia (1977), and a second win for Coming Home (1978). Three additional nominations followed.

(4) Jane as activist: Many still condemn Jane for her 1972 visit to North Vietnam, where she naively posed seated on an anti-aircraft gun. This was the era of her marriage to anti-war activist Tom Hayden, and her outspoken political views stirred up much controversy.

(5) Jane as workout queen: Beginning in 1982 Jane’s exercise books and videos kicked off a national fitness craze. I personally survived more than one sweat-intensive workout at her Beverly Hills studio.

(6) Jane as Lady Bountiful: While married to cable-TV tycoon Ted Turner, she founded a center for adolescent reproductive health at Atlanta’s Emory University, and has since spearheaded other organizations supporting women.

(7) Jane as Hollywood legend: She is still performing, in movies and on Broadway. Remarkably, she appeared as Nancy Reagan in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

Something I really admire about Jane  Fonda: she gives great Oscar acceptance speeches. Unlike her close friend Vanessa Redgrave, she doesn’t always insist on airing divisive views when she’s in the spotlight. Witness her 1972 Oscar win for Klute, when she knew enough to keep her mouth shut.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I respect her as an actress and as a member of the Fonda dynasty; but those actions during the Vietnam War really sour her for me.

  3. I understand your feelings, Mr. Craig, but those actions took place long ago, in an era when few of us were at our best. For what it's worth, she has since been profoundly apologetic about that unfortunate propaganda photograph. It just goes to show what power public figures wield, for better or for worse, while the rest of us -- when we blunder -- at least have the benefit of anonymity.

  4. By the way, for those who wonder what Walter Matthau is talking about, and why his opening remarks are greeted with knowing laughter, the Best Actor winner of the previous year was George C. Scott, who had very publicly turned down his award for "Patton," and wanted nothing to do with the Oscar festivities.