Hollywood legend has it that Bette Davis was forced to talk to a blank wall rather than her co-star Henry Fonda during filming of her close-ups in Jezebel; the reason was that he had repaired to New York to attend the birth of his daughter Jane.
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A child of privilege, the young Jane Fonda exhibited the imperious, headstrong attitude and ruthlessness that would distinguish both her film work and her private life. The teenage Fonda wasn't keen on acting until she worked with her father in a 1954 Omaha Community Theatre production of The Country Girl. Slightly interested in pursuing a stage career at that point, Fonda nonetheless studied art both at Vassar and in Europe, returning to the States to work as a fashion model. Studying acting in earnest at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio, Fonda ultimately starred on Broadway in Tall Story, then made her film debut by re-creating this stage appearance in 1960.
A talented but not really distinctive player at that time, Fonda astonished everyone (none as much as her father) by becoming one of the first major American actresses to appear nude in a foreign film. This was La Ronde (1964), directed by her lover (and later her first husband) Roger Vadim. The event was heralded by a giant promotional poster in New York's theater district, with Fonda's naked backside in full view for all of Manhattan to see. Vadim decided to mold Fonda into a "sex goddess" in a series of lush but forgettable films; the best Fonda/Vadim collaboration was Barbarella (1968), which scored as much on the actress' sharp comic timing (already evidenced in such American pictures as Cat Ballou ) as it did on her kinky costuming. In the late '60s, Fonda underwent another career metamorphosis when she became involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Her notorious visit to North Vietnam at the height of the conflict earned her the sobriquet "Hanoi Jane," as well as the enmity of virtually every ex-GI who fought in Southeast Asia.
Even so, Fonda's film stardom ascended in the early '70s; in 1971, she won the first of two Oscars for her portrayal of a high-priced prostitute in Klute (her other was for Coming Home ), and Fonda's career flourished despite a sub-rosa Hollywood campaign to discredit the actress and spread idiotic rumors about her subversive behavior (one widely circulated fabrication had Fonda destroying the only existing negative of Stagecoach because she despised John Wayne).
In the 1980s, the actress realized several personal and career milestones: she worked with her father on film for the only time in On Golden Pond (1981); she assisted former peace activist Tom Hayden, whom she had married in the early '70s, in his successful bid for the California State Assembly; and she launched the first of several best-selling exercise videos. She also won an Emmy for her performance in the TV movie The Dollmaker (1984). After her marriage to Hayden ended in the early '80s, Fonda married media mogul Ted Turner in 1991 (the couple would divorce in 2000), and began curtailing her film appearances, all but retiring from the screen after her lead role opposite Robert De Niro in 1990s Stanley & Iris. Fonda was no less the social activist in the 1990s than she was two decades earlier; among her projects was the production of several "revisionist" dramatic specials and documentaries about the history of Native Americans, duly telecast on Turner's various worldwide cable services.
Just when it seemed audiences might have seen the last of Fonda on the big screen, she proved that she had no intention of retiring. The 2000's would see the veteran actress continuing to star in a vareity of projects, like Monster-in-Law, Georgia Rule, and Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi