Jane Fonda in Five Acts: A Few Thoughts
Act III, scene ii
Last week, Patricia and I watched the HBO doc, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” by Susan Lacy (recommended). The five acts are based upon the men in her life—the men who seem to dictate who she is or what she‘ll become:
- Act I: Henry Fonda
- Act II: Roger Vadim
- Act III: Tom Hayden
- Act IV: Ted Turner
Act V is the happy ending. She becomes herself. That’s the narrative, the journey of discovery—the late-in-life realization that she doesn't need a man, or need to please a man, and that she's most herself when she's with other women. This narrative isn't without validity. It's just a little neat.
What goes unmentioned? Each man isn't just new: He upends the previous man. He's the opposite of the previous man. Henry Fonda, her father, is the all-American with staunch values and probriety, so, in the ‘60s, she winds up with Roger Vadim, a licentious Frenchman who isn’t particularly interested in politics, after whom, in the ‘70s, she marries Tom Hayden, wholly interested in politics and in fighting the worst aspects of capitalism, so, of course, in the ’90s, she is wooed and won by super-capitalist Ted Turner.
She doesn't have a “type,” does she? Or her type is the opposite of the previous type.
In the doc, she makes herself seem like the acted upon in all of this, the controlled, but some part of me wonders if she didn't do some controlling. She got to choose, after all. For all her insecurities, she was Jane Fonda. That counted for something. That always counted for something.
It's a shame she gave up on Hollywood around the time Hollywood was giving up on her for leading roles. In 1990, she co-starred with Robert De Niro in “Stanley & Iris” then didn't make another movie for 15 years: “Monster in Law” with Jennifer Lopez, when she was 68. One wonders what she might‘ve done if Ted Turner hadn’t come along. The roles she missed out on. What we missed out on.
It's a shame, too, that the doc was made before #MeToo broke. That would‘ve been an interesting conversation.
As for Henry? I still remember the GAF commercial he made in the early 1970s. He was doing his usual schpiel, and at the the end, a little girl goes up to him and reverses the definitions. “Aren’t you Jane Fonda's father?” she asks. And he gives the camera a kind of hapless shrug. I always found it charming. I wonder if Jane ever saw it?