Frequently cited as one of the world’s finest actresses, Jane Fonda is a star who exudes class and intelligence. The Fonda acting dynasty includes brother Peter and niece Bridget, though it is Jane’s talent that shines through most. Liz Kenny reports.

Born to film director Henry Fonda and socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw in New York City, 1937, Jane showed little interest in the performing arts as a child. She grew up in a lifestyle of wealth and privilege, attending the best schools in the country, yet her early life was marred by tragedy.

When Jane was 12, her mother died, she was told, of a heart attack. It wasn’t until a classmate handed her a magazine much later that she learned the real story. Her mother had committed suicide whilst in a mental institution. She has since spoken of a lonely childhood, she and her brother Peter spent more time with hired servants than their own father, who was frequently away on film sets.

After graduating from Vasser College, Jane studied painting in Paris and even worked as a secretary for a while, invaluable experience no doubt for her later role in Nine to Five. She also enjoyed success as a model, gracing the cover of Vogue twice. Back in New York she chanced upon Lee Strasberg’s infamous actor’s studio, training ground for Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Al Pacino and practically everyone who is anyone in the world of acting.

Becoming a student there changed everything. Lee recognised Jane’s talent and gave her the confidence she was looking for, says Jane “It was a turning point in my life, I went to bed thinking about acting, I woke up thinking about acting. It was like the roof had come off my life!”

After a few years of theatre work, she made her screen debut in Tall Story (1960) alongside Anthony Perkins. It was to be with comic western Cat Ballou in 1965, aged 28, that she made her breakthrough role. Her most memorable films include Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford (1967) and the only film she made with her father, On Golden Pond (1981).

fonda-barbaJane is possibly best known as the lead in Barbarella (1968) the cult classic, which created one of the most iconic images of Sixties cinema. It was directed by her then husband, Frenchman Roger Vadim, with whom she had a daughter Vanessa.

She has since spoken of her insecurity with Vadim, even someone as beautiful as Jane would feel intimidated by his previous lovers, which included Brigit Bardot and Catherine Deneuve. The couple split in 1973 after 8 years of marriage. That same year she married left-wing political activist Tom Hayden, and together they had a son, Troy Garrity.

In the Seventies she finally found her confidence, winning academy awards for Klute (1971) and Coming Home(1978), as well as receiving many more nominations. She also became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam war, earning her the nickname ‘Hanoi Jane’ from the right-wing media. She had travelled to Vietnam in 1972 and was pictured sitting astride an anti-aircraft gun.

It was a case of misplaced idealism, Jane had wanted to highlight the suffering of ordinary Vietnamese at the hands of American missiles. She has since spoken of her regret at the way she created the controversy but remains unrepentant in her political convictions. Jane has also been outspoken on the subjects of Women’s rights, Civil rights and other controversial causes.

Finding herself “not blacklisted but greylisted” by Hollywood, her career turned to a  different avenue- fitness! Jane was responsible for kickstarting the Eighties aerobics craze, when her poses in spandex leotards could be seen adorning books and videos across the country. She released 23 workout videos in total as well as books and audio programmes, ‘Jane Fonda’s Workout Video’ sold 17 million copies, more than any other home video of that time.

fondajIn 1991 she married media mogul Ted Turner. The marriage lasted 10 years and after her divorce Jane declared herself a born-again Christian. She returned to the screen for Monster in Law(2005) alongside Jennifer Lopez and is also known as one of the faces of L’Oreal. She has also published her autobiography ‘ My Life So Far’.

Jane Fonda will be most remembered for creating a legacy of thought provoking, intelligent cinema. Not to mention those legwarmers.

5 Responses

  1. J.Candy

    I am sorry, but I cannot agree that someone who has had as much cosmetic surgery as Miss Fonda is reported to have had, should be declared a style icon.
    It smacks of insecurity and low self esteem as do her purported battles with eating disorders. Hardly Vintage style icon material, especially with other glamorous and more confident examples to choose from.
    Your pictures show her as a young woman.
    What about showing ageing style icons? Honor Blackman for one.
    Ms. J. Candy

  2. Lena

    Hi Ms Candy,

    Well, the young Jane Fonda was actually a really natural beauty and someone with huge amounts of style.

    I think her battle with eating disorders and alleged plastic surgeries reflect more on the pressures of the film industry rather than her style or looks.


  3. AliceJean

    Does it really matter how great beauty is achieved? In her youth she was a breathtaking natural beauty, and a very talented actress (lets not forget), and in her older age she still looks stunning – good for her ! Dont we all have insecurities and hangups? In an industry where beaty is perhaps somewhat overvalued, is it any wonder Jane chose the path to retaining beauty that she did. I for one intend to go down the cosmetic surgery path as I age if I can afford it, and I dont consider myself insecure, infact, I wear full 1950’s vintage every day and am the only one in my little town of 16,000 people that does – it takes a hell of alot of courage, not insecurity, to do that. I actually feel that people who do not live out their dreams and follow their heart are the insecure ones. As for me, I do not judge anyone on the way they achieve their beauty, I simply enjoy the fact that people make an effort to make the world a more interesting, unique and beautiful place. Thank you Jane Fonda for giving us so many memorable films and beautiful images by which we are inspired, for confidently living by your convictions, and for giving women everywhere the hope that age need not mean a loss of beauty – in heart and face. Thanks for your great articles, you lovely people at Queens of Vintage !

  4. Liz

    Wow! Miss Fonda has certainly split the Vintage Queenettes down the middle. It’s like the 70s all over again! I think Jane qualifies as a Style Icon because she has genuinely made some unique, thought provoking movies and never been afraid to nail her political colours to the mast. Which in Hollywood certainly , is very daring. There are so many iconic women to choose from, everyone has their own role models, not everyone will agree with the choices. I think Jane’s acting talent has earned her a QoV profile and Barbarella made a big impact on 1960s fashion. Peace!! xxx

  5. Ric

    I’d like to offer a small correction that is arguably peripheral to the main theme of the article. Jane’s father Henry was not a film director, he was a renowned actor with a long and successful career. There are many people, of which I am one, who would take the position that, within the Fonda acting dynasty, his is the talent that shines through.

    …and I adore Jane. Always have. Thank you for writing the article.