Today is the 78th birthday of the author, activist, actor and all-around badass Jane Fonda. Her Note to Self that she filmed last week is something each of us can take to heart, understand, and put into action for ourselves. She is uncompromisingly authentically amazing. Watch Grace and Frankie and Youth. Her current work is some of the best of her life. The world is a better place because she is in it.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Jane Fonda is an American actress best known for her acting career, political activism and aerobic-exercise videos. The daughter of acclaimed actor Henry Fonda, the actress has won two Oscars.
Born Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda on December 21, 1937, in New York City, Jane Fonda has enjoyed a tremendous career as an actress. She comes from a Hollywood dynasty of sorts. Her father Henry was one of the top actors of the 20th century. Her brother Peter and her niece Bridget have also had their share of success on the big screen.
Fonda faced some challenges growing up. Her father could be cold and distant. Her mother, socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw, committed suicide when Fonda was 12 years old. Not long after her mother’s death, Fonda developed an eating disorder, which she struggled with for years. She attended boarding school and then went to Vassar College. Leaving college, Fonda went to Paris to study art.
Fonda returned to New York and did a bit of modeling for a time. Before long, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. In 1954 she co-starred with her father, Henry Fonda, in a production of The Country Girl. Fonda began to study her craft with Lee Strasberg at the famed Actors Studio a few years later.
Fonda’s career seemed to really take off in 1960. She made her film debut in Tall Story (1960) with Anthony Perkins. On Broadway, Fonda netted a Tony Award nomination for There Was a Little Girl. She continued to juggle theatrical and film work over the next few years. Working with director George Cukor, Fonda starred in the romantic comedy The Chapman Report (1962). She shared the Broadway stage with Celeste Holm in Invitation to a March and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple around this time.
In the late 1960s, Fonda recreated herself as a type of sex kitten under the direction of her French filmmaker husband Roger Vadim. This new look was most evident in the 1968 science fiction tale Barbarella
She soon shed this image for more serious dramatic roles. She scored her first Academy Award nomination for 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Two years later, Fonda took home her first Academy Award for her work on Alan J. Pakula‘s thriller Klute, which co-starred Donald Sutherland.
In addition to her acting, Fonda became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. She traveled to North Vietnam in 1972—a visit that caused an uproar back at home. Many were particularly upset by Fonda’s decision to pose for photos while sitting on an antiaircraft gun, one used to shoot at American troops. She was given the nickname “Hanoi Jane” and seen as a traitor for her support of the North Vietnamese. Fonda also fought for social causes, serving as a spokesperson on issues of civil rights and women’s rights.
On the big screen, Fonda continued to deliver strong performances. She starred as playwright Lillian Hellman in Julia (1977) with Vanessa Redgrave. The following year, Fonda won her second Academy Award for the Vietnam War drama Coming Home with Jon Voight. She also starred in the hit thriller The China Syndrome (1979) with Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas around this time.
Another significant role for Fonda came a few years later. She co-starred with her father Henry in On Golden Pond (1982). The film explores the dynamics of a family during a visit to their summer home. Art mirrored life in this case, with Fonda playing daughter to her real-life father. Katharine Hepburn also starred as Fonda’s mother. The film gave her father his first and only Academy Award win as best actor.
Around this time, Fonda also found herself spearheading a national health craze. She launched an immensely successful series of aerobic-exercise videos.
In 2005, Fonda made a dramatic return to the public eye. She appeared in her first film in almost 15 years with Monster-in-Law, which also starred Jennifer Lopez and Michael Vartan. That same year, Fonda published an autobiography, My Life So Far. More film roles followed, including playing the title character in the 2007 film Georgia Rule with Lindsay Lohan.
Working on the small screen, Fonda landed a recurring role on the media-focused dramatic series The Newsroom in 2012. She also played former First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 2013 film The Butler. The following year, Fonda played the matriarch in the family dramatic comedy This Is Where I Leave You with Jason Bateman and Tina Fey.
In 2015, Fonda teamed up with longtime friend Lily Tomlin for the series Grace and Frankie. The show looks at two women who work to rebuild their lives after their husbands fall in love with each other and leave them. Martin Sheen plays Fonda’s husband, Robert, and Sam Waterston plays Tomlin’s husband, Sol. That year Fonda also delivered a standout performance alongside Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in Youth, earning a Golden Globe nomination for supporting actress.
Fonda has been married three times—all of these unions ended in divorce. Her marriage to Vadim lasted from 1965 to 1973, and they had a daughter named Vanessa together. Then she married activist and politician Tom Hayden in 1973. They welcomed their son Troy Garity that same year. When Troy was a teenager, Fonda also unofficially adopted a young African-American girl named Mary Williams. Williams later wrote about her life with Fonda in the 2013 memoir The Lost Daughter.
After divorcing Hayden in 1989, Fonda soon found love with media mogul Ted Turner. Married in 1991, the pair stayed together for a decade. The couple divorced in 2001, reportedly over Fonda’s newfound Christian faith.