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Jane Fonda Profile

“Jane Fonda is American film royalty. A bright light first introduced to the world as the daughter of Henry Fonda, the world watched as she found her own voice and forged her own path as an actor and a cultural icon. Today she stands tall among the giants of American film.” –Sir Howard Stringer, Chair of the American Film Institute Board of Trustees

One of the finest actresses of her generation and indeed of American film, Jane Fonda has won the Best Actress Academy Award twice, with an additional five Oscar nominations and numerous other awards including an Emmy and seven Golden Globes. On June 5 of this year she added to her accolades the 42nd AFI Achievement Award, considered the highest honor for a career in film. The tribute special from the award ceremony will air on Turner Classic Movies at 8 and 11 p.m. (ET) on August 1 as part of the 24-hour salute to Fonda that kicks off this year’s Summer Under the Stars festival.

With a filmography of some 50 titles, Fonda forms the prototype of an adventurous and adaptable performer who changes with the times, moving from adorable ingénue to provocative sexpot and, finally, a mature and sensitive actress who specializes in tough, independent characters. She has courted controversy, especially in her political activism, but earns respect with her fearless approach to both acting and living. She has said that "The challenge is not to be perfect – it is to be whole."

Born Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda in New York City in 1937 to Henry and Frances Seymour Brokaw Fonda, Jane began acting as a teenager after being prompted by director Joshua Logan to appear with her father in a production of The Country Girl at the Omaha Community Theatre in her father’s home state of Nebraska. After joining the Actors Studio in her early 20s, she made her movie debut as the winsome heroine of Tall Story. This comedy about college basketball was directed by Logan and co-starred Anthony Perkins as a gangly player who falls for pretty coed Fonda.

Fonda showed off her early acting range in her second feature, Walk on the Wild Side, an adaptation of the Nelson Algren novel, by playing a feisty young prostitute in Depression-era New Orleans. She is a standout in a cast that also includes Barbara Stanwyck, Laurence Harvey, Capucine and Anne Baxter. In Period of Adjustment, a film version of Tennessee Williams’ only stage comedy, Fonda is both funny and touching as a skittish bride rushed into uncertain marriage with a Korean War veteran (Jim Hutton).

A series of breezy movies, adapted from successful Broadway plays and set in a fantasy version of New York City, showed Fonda’s flair for sophisticated comedy and established her as a leading heroine of lightly risqué romantic farces of the 1960s. In Sunday in New York, she plays the prim sister of an airline pilot (Cliff Robertson) who has a double standard for men and women when it comes to premarital sex. Any Wednesday casts her as the mistress of a business tycoon (Jason Robards) who visits her once a week – on Wednesdays – until a younger man (Dean Jones) catches her eye. Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park (1967), the biggest hit of the trio of films, stars Fonda and Robert Redford as newlyweds coping with an inconvenient apartment and their clashing personalities.

Her other films of that decade included In the Cool of the Day, a romantic adventure between a married man (Peter Finch) and a younger woman (Fonda), with picturesque locations in Greece; The Chapman Report, an episodic sexual drama in which Fonda plays a suburbanite who suffers from frigidity; and Cat Ballou, a comic Western in which she plays the title character, a plucky schoolmarm-turned-outlaw, opposite Lee Marvin in his Oscar-winning double role as a drunken cowboy and his evil brother.

The "sex-kitten" aspect of Fonda's image came into full focus with Barbarella (1968), a futuristic fantasy directed by her first husband, Roger Vadim. A French-Italian production based on a French comic strip, the movie finds Fonda in very little clothing and bizarre erotic situations. She then made a quantum leap as an actress and earned her first Academy Award nomination with an indelible performance as the bedraggled heroine of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), a study of the grueling dance marathons of the 1930s. The hard-to-please critic John Simon wrote in The New York Times, “As Gloria, that fine little actress, Jane Fonda, graduates into a fine big actress.”

Next came the psychological thriller Klute, which brought the Oscar itself for Fonda's searing portrayal of Bree Daniels, an alienated yet sympathetic call girl who is threatened by a killer. Fonda, a stickler for preparation, researched the role by interviewing and getting to know a number of real-life prostitutes. This is one of those instances where the actor disappears into the role; critic Pauline Kael wrote that "Fonda is very exciting to watch: the closest closeup never reveals a false thought, and seen blocks away, she's Bree, not Jane Fonda, walking toward us." Her work is considered by many to be among the most powerful and strongly defined performances of the 1970s, a decade celebrated for its psychologically acute acting. Her performance here more than holds its own with the work of such male counterparts of the period as Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino.

Kael also wrote of Fonda that “There isn’t another young dramatic actress in American films who can touch her.” Donald Sutherland, who played the title role in Klute, offered this analysis: “Jane is more specific than most of us. She’s well disciplined and knows what she wants and where she’s going and works objectively to apply all her information to that intention. With Jane, the character and force is embodied in her persona, and it’s a lovely, delicate and self-deprecating human.”

Fonda's follow-up to Klute was Tout va Bien French director Jean-Luc Godard's study of an American journalist (Fonda) and her French filmmaker husband (Yves Montand) coming to grips with their civic responsibilities during a time of political and economic upheaval. Her other films of the period include Steelyard Blues (1973), a low-budget anti-establishment frolic with friends Sutherland and Peter Boyle, and Fun With Dick and Jane (1977), a delightful comedy in which she and George Segal play a struggling couple who make ends meet by robbing drug stores.

Fonda was again Oscar-nominated for Julia (1977), a biographical drama in which she plays Lillian Hellman, then won her second Oscar for her moving performance in Coming Home (1978) as a naive married woman who falls in love with a partially paralyzed Vietnam vet (fellow Oscar winner Jon Voight). Of the latter performance, critic Judith Crist wrote in The New York Post that, while Voight dominates the film, "Fonda paints unforgettable portrait." In accepting his Oscar, an emotional Voight remarked that Fonda’s “great dignity as a human being is very moving to me.”

After the Western Comes a Horseman and the Neil Simon comedy California Suite (both 1978) Fonda was again nominated for The China Syndrome, in which she is a television reporter who inadvertently witnesses an accident at a nuclear power plant. Jack Lemmon, also nominated, is the plant engineer who takes desperate measures to prevent another possible meltdown. Lemmon said that he considered Fonda as “one of the three finest actresses in the world,” along with Anne Bancroft and Maggie Smith. Fonda is a reporter again in The Electric Horseman (1979), a romantic adventure with her Barefoot in the Park costar Robert Redford as the title character, a washed-up rodeo champion fighting rampant commercialism. The popular comedy Nine to Five (1980) casts Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton as three female employees who take farcical revenge on overbearing boss Dabney Coleman.

Among her Oscar-nominated performances, her role in On Golden Pond (1981), which placed her in the Supporting Actress category, is especially close to Fonda’s heart. It was only film she made with her father, Henry, with whom she had shared a sometimes-difficult relationship. In this adaptation of Ernest Thompson’s Broadway comedy-drama, the Fondas play a conflicted father and daughter who achieve a reconciliation of sorts. Jane Fonda said in a 2011 interview that “To have found a play in which the father-daughter characters so mirrored our own real-life relationship was amazing. To have been able to say those words to him and to have the resolution at the end of the movie…I feel so lucky to have done that.” For this, his valedictory performance in movies, Henry Fonda won his only Oscar.

After winning a Best-Actress Emmy for the TV movie The Dollmaker (1984) and acting opposite Anne Bancroft in the psychological drama Agnes of God (1985), Fonda won her final Oscar nomination to date for her performance in The Morning After (1986). In this thriller she plays an alcoholic actress who wakes up one morning to find a murdered man in her bed! After two more movies, Old Gringo (1989) with Gregory Peck and Stanley and Iris (1990) with Robert De Niro, she took a 15-year sabbatical from acting to pursue other interests – chiefly her third marriage, to media mogul Ted Turner, whom she wed in 1991. (Her second husband was activist Tom Hayden.)

In the meantime Fonda had enjoyed enormous success as a fitness guru, releasing almost two-dozen exercise videos that revolutionized the fitness industry and, over the years, sold a record-setting 17 million copies. In addition to anti-war activism, her causes have included feminism, Native American rights and her charitable organization, the Jane Fonda Foundation. She is also an author, having written an autobiography, My Life So Far (2005), and Prime Time (2011), a combination memoir and self-help book. Also among her credits are several as film producer; through her company IPC Films (later Fonda Films) she produced some of her own projects. She has two children, Vanessa Vadim and Troy Garity, and two grandchildren, Malcolm and Viva Vadim.

In recent years Fonda has again been flexing her formidable acting muscles. The role of Jennifer Lopez’s domineering mother-in-law in the commercially successful comedy Monster-in-Law (2005) marked her return to the screen. Her other recent features have included Georgia Rule (2007), Peace Love and Misunderstanding (2011) and Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013), in which she plays Nancy Reagan. Fonda, who had appeared on Broadway in her earlier years, earned a Tony Award nomination for her leading role in the drama 33 Variations (2009). Since 2012 she has played the recurring role of Leona Lansing, powerful CEO of a major media company, in the HBO series The Newsroom. Earlier this year it was announced that she will star in a Netflix comedy series, Grace and Frankie, opposite her good friend and Nine to Five costar Lily Tomlin.

In a 2013 interview with The Washington Post, Fonda was asked how her attitudes about acting had changed over the years. “I think I am a braver performer now,” she said. “I take more risks as an actor. I think I am a better actor than I was, because I know myself better and because I am a happier person... I was ready to go back, and I find joy in it.”

by Roger Fristoe

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