Jane Fonda: Barbarella And Bree Daniels, Then And Now
Actress Jane Fonda. (Photo by Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
In films such as Barefoot In The Park (1967), Barbarella (1968), Klute (1970), The China Syndrome (1979), 9 to 5 (1980) and On Golden Pond (1981), Jane Fonda built a career as a glamorous movie star and a serious, award-winning actress. Part of the Fonda acting clan, Jane is the daughter of Henry Fonda and the brother of Peter Fonda.
Much of Fonda's life, as we know it, has unfolded off-screen but in public. Her marriages to famous men and her political activism have sometimes overshadowed her career. But Jane Fonda's life story is a complex one; she transcends the profession of "actress" and inhabits the realms of icon, trailblazer, rebel, and living legend. Love her or hate her (and many people do claim to hate her), she is a celebrity who's seen it all and lived to tell about it.
A Child Of Hollywood
Jane Fonda, the daughter of the famous Henry Fonda, was born with celebrity status just by virtue of her name. Fonda began her now famous acting career in the 1950s after an unconventional childhood. Her mother committed suicide when she was only 12 years old. Following her mother’s death, her father, Henry Fonda, married a young socialite only 9 years older than Jane; a marriage that ended in divorce. Before acting, Jane Fonda was a dancer and began teaching dance at the age of 15.
Jane Fonda Was Miss Army Recruiting 1959
Though she would later become famous -- or notorious -- for her antiwar protesting, Fonda worked with the U.S. Army in 1959 as "Miss Army Recruiting." She made radio commercials touting the benefits of a career in the Army. Though she wasn't yet a movie star, she was famous as the daughter of Henry Fonda, who was a veteran, having taken a three-year break from acting to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Jane Fonda Was A Movie Star From Her First Film
Fonda earned her first ever big screen credit in 1960, for Tall Story, in which she co-starred with Anthony Perkins. She was soon jumping into risque roles, including Walk On The Wild Side, in which she played a prostitute, and The Chapman Report, which was a drama about sexual hangups that took the well-known Kinsey Report as its source material.
Critics And Audiences Couldn't Get Enough Of Jane Fonda In The '60s
Fonda was a critics' favorite from the beginning, winning the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer for her 1960 debut. She continued to pick up Golden Globe nominations throughout the '60s, for Period of Adjustment, Cat Ballou, and Any Wednesday.
Then Came 'Barbarella'
Jane Fonda became an intergalactic pinup in the 1968 film Barbarella, a sexy, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi movie directed by her husband Roger Vadim. There were many memorable moments, although none more than the opening sequence, in which she performs a zero-gravity striptease. She recalled for Good Morning America:
I was so nervous about doing this striptease where I end up naked that I drank a lot of vodka. I was drunk out of my mind and kind of moving to the song.
As luck would have it, the sequence she filmed wasn't good, so she had to do the shoot again -- this time, with "a major hangover."
Barbarella wasn't a critically acclaimed film, nor was it a huge financial success. But the movie encapsulated the time, pulling in ideas about science fiction, sexuality, and fashion that were swirling in the ether. In that sense, it's an era-defining movie (though some consider it a cult film) that lives on as a cultural artifact.
Jane Fonda Was Wrongfully Arrested In 1970
Following Barbarella, Fonda made They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, a film that earned her an Academy Award nomination. She also got into some trouble with the law, purportedly because of her politically aggressive views. She was wrongfully arrested for drug smuggling in 1970 at the Cleveland airport. Fonda gives her account of the story on her website:
They discovered a large bag containing little plastic envelopes marked (in red nail polish) ‘B’, ‘L’, ‘D’–signifying breakfast, lunch and dinner- that contained the vitamins I took with each meal. They confiscated that as well as my address book (which was photocopied) and arrested me for drug smuggling. I told them what they were but they said they were getting orders from the White House–that would be the Nixon White House. I think they hoped this “scandal” would cause the college speeches to be canceled and ruin my respectability. I was handcuffed and put in the Cleveland Jail, which is when the mug shot was taken. (I had just finished filming “Klute” so, yes, it was the Klute haircut).
Headlines across the country had the story of me being jailed on suspicion of drug smuggling. I was released on bond and months later, after every pill had been tested in a lab (with taxpayers money!) The charges were dismissed and there were a few paragraphs hidden in the back of papers that they were vitamins, not drugs.
Coming out of the '60s, Fonda seemed ready to leave behind the sex-kitten roles and do the serious acting she is known for today. Well -- yes and no. In 1971, she played the prostitute Bree Daniels in Klute. The movie took place in a seedy underworld, in which a police officer (Donald Sutherland) is trying to solve a case but gets tangled up with the Daniels, who is by turns alluring and standoffish. The movie was a hit, and Fonda's multifaceted performance won her the Academy Award for Best Actress.
A Trip She Regrets
Fonda's activism reached a kind of peak in 1972, when she journeyed to Vietnam and met with North Vietnamese troops. It's a complex story -- while she genuinely regrets the episode, some of the accusations against her were untrue. For a detailed look at the episode, read our post "Jane Fonda's 'Hanoi Jane' Episode, Examined."
The upshot of Fonda's ill-advised adventure in Vietnam was a permanent scar on her career. Some people will simply never forgive Fonda for doing whatever she did -- or whatever they believe she did.
A Professional Roll In The Late '70s
Though Fonda was unpopular with many Americans from the mid-'70s onward, it's in the years following the "Hanoi Jane" trip that she did some of her most acclaimed work. She won her second Oscar for Coming Home, which is a film that deals, in part, with the aftermath of Vietnam. She appeared in the nuclear-emergency movie The China Syndrome a poignant film in light of the disaster at Three Mile Island, in 1979, and was nominated for another Academy Award. In 1980, she co-starred with Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin in 9 to 5, a comedy that was the year's third-biggest movie (behind Empire Strikes Back and Superman II). On Golden Pond, released in 1981, found Jane Fonda sharing the scree for the first and only time with her father Henry. Jane had bought the film rights to this story of a fractured father-daughter relationship so that she could make the movie with her father, and the chemistry was electric in part because their real-life relationship had had similar challenges.
Fonda, The Workout Guru
Fast forward from Jane Fonda's acting and activist years, to her phenomenal fitness guru days. Fonda has always had a love of dancing and physical fitness. Later in her life and career she decided to share her enthusiasm of physical fitness with her fans, if not the world. Fonda has been the face and a spokesperson for women (if not everyone) for getting in shape.
Jane Fonda, Ageless Wonder
For some reason, Jane Fonda just never ages. She was beautiful then and still is, now. There is no doubt that Jane Fonda has had a rather successful, although tumultuous, career from the time she hit the public eye. Although some of her off-screen antics have landed her in trouble at times, she has been a constant force in our pop culture history, without a doubt.
After divorcing Roger Vadim, Fonda married political activist Tom Hayden in 1973. That marriage ended in divorce in 1990. From 1991 to 2001, Fonda was married to media mogul Ted Turner, and that union, too, ended in divorce.
Beginning in 1990, Fonda went into what appeared to be retirement, and didn't make another movie for 15 years. In 2005, she returned to acting in Monster In Law, and has continued to act fairly steady ever since. These days, Fonda is in her '80s, and appears on Grace And Frankie with her 9 to 5 co-star Lily Tomlin.
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