For a period in the 1970s, Jane Fonda was one of the most controversial stars in Hollywood. Today, she’s a legend. The daughter of an acting dynasty, Fonda has been in the spotlight since birth. Since then, she’s managed to strike out on her own and make herself a household name—for better or worse—in her own right. Here are 46 facts about Jane Fonda.
Jane Fonda Facts
1. Silver Spoon
Jane is the daughter of legendary actor Henry Fonda and troubled socialite Frances Ford Brokaw. The jet-set pair had Jane on December 21, 1937 in New York City, just a few days shy of Christmas.
2. Bow Down
Fonda has a famous namesake: King Henry VIII’s beloved and doomed wife Jane Seymour. Seymour is a distant ancestor of Fonda’s mother.
3. Flying High
Fonda is unashamed of her naughty side: She’s proudly admitted to being a member of the “Mile High Club.”
4. Quickie Wedding
As a young actress, Fonda had an extremely troubled love life. She was married no less than three times, with each union ending in divorce. Her first husband was famed director Roger Vadim—but though it lasted almost a decade on paper, she married her second husband, activist Tom Hayden, just three days after finalizing her first divorce. Talk about messy.
5. Making Rank
In her early career, Fonda was infamous for her sexpot good looks in films like Barbarella. It paid off. In 1995, Empire magazine named Fonda one of the sexiest stars of all time; she came in at 21.
6. Sibling Rivalry
The Fondas were truly an acting dynasty. Jane followed her father Henry’s footsteps to Hollywood, but so did her baby brother Peter Fonda. The youngest Fonda gained his own fame for the revolutionary film Easy Rider.
7. First Brush With Tragedy
Despite their reputation as the golden family of Hollywood, the Fondas hid a dark secret behind the scenes. Though she looked glamorous and perfect, Jane’s mother Frances actually struggled mightily with her mental health. In 1950, she lost her battle and tragically committed suicide while seeking treatment at Craig House psychiatric hospital.
8. Cover Girl
Fonda was legendarily beautiful as a young girl. She was even a successful model before she was a household name in Hollywood, and appeared on the cover of Vogue twice before getting into acting.
9. Daddy’s Little Girl
Fonda adored her dad, but his love was often cruel. Henry was a strict and distant 1950s father, and he even wanted to control how his daughter looked. As Jane later confessed, “I was taught by my father that how I looked was all that mattered, frankly. He was a good man, and I was mad for him, but he sent messages to me that fathers should not send: Unless you look perfect, you’re not going to be loved.”
10. College Drop-out
She attended Vassar College briefly, but dropped out to fly to Paris and study art for six months instead. Now that’s what I call a study abroad opportunity.
11. In High Demand
Fonda worked hard for her money. Starting in 1960, the burgeoning starlet averaged two movies a year for the next 10 years of her career.
12. Blessed Are the Poor
Fonda’s marriage to Tom Hayden was desperately unhappy. Obsessive and controlling, Hayden was deeply uncomfortable when Fonda showed any signs of her wealth, and the couple lived in a very modest house together. Reportedly, Hayden even got sick of the sight of Fonda’s expensive Cartier watch, so she had to change it to a Timex. What would you know? They divorced in 1990.
13. Bad Girl
In 1970, Fonda started getting a bad reputation, particularly after one explosive incident at the Cleveland airport. After finding a whopping 105 bottles in her luggage that contained roughly 2,000 pills, authorities arrested the starlet. Then things got even worse. Fonda reacted to the arrest by allegedly kicking both a patrolman and a customs agent.
14. Can’t Touch This
But appearances can be deceiving. The government actually dropped the charges on Fonda after learning the real story. For one, the pills were vitamins and legitimate prescriptions. As for the assault charges? Police dropped them too after they discovered that the customs agent had chased Fonda into the women’s restroom.
15. Food for Thought
Fonda’s life in the spotlight had devastating consequences. She started modelling in her vulnerable teenage years and picked up some bad habits along the way. She’s since confessed that during that time, she started suffering from an eating disorder—bulimia more specifically—that followed her well into her 30s.
As a young woman, she says she mostly survived on coffee, cigarettes, and strawberry yogurt.
16. And the Oscar Goes to…
In 1982, Jane’s father Henry won his only Academy Award for Best Actor for On Golden Pond; father and daughter had starred in the film together. However, by the time the Oscars rolled around, the elder Fonda was ill on his deathbed and couldn’t come to accept his award, so Jane went up to take it in his stead.
She said wryly on stage, “I’ll bet when he heard it just now, he said ‘Hey ain’t I lucky?’ As if luck had anything to do with it.”
17. Je Ne Sais Quois
Those six months in Paris did Fonda good: She’s fluent in French.
18. The Acting Bug
Fonda had always nursed a dream of acting, particularly as she grew up watching her father perfect the craft. However, she was too insecure about her talents to consider it a real option—until she met director Lee Strasberg. Strasberg saw something in her, and according to Fonda, the meeting changed her life forever.
As she said, “Strasberg told me I had talent. Real talent. It was the first time that anyone, except my father—who had to say so—told me I was good. At anything.”
Strasberg, first form left
19. Fonda Got Back
Jane Fonda gets a shout-out in Sir Mix-A-Lot’s one hit wonder “Baby Got Back,” but it’s not exactly flattering. Though Fonda’s exercise videos became famous, Mix-a-Lot apparently isn’t a fan. As he sings in the song, “So your girlfriend rolls a Honda / Playin’ workout tapes by Fonda / But Fonda ain’t got a motor in the back of her Honda.”
20. Acting out
The 1970s were a decade of controversy for the actress. A lifelong supporter of civil rights, Fonda was a prominent and loud protestor of the Vietnam War, and even traveled to North Vietnam in 1972. For a time, her political beliefs got her all but blacklisted from Hollywood productions—and the US government even put her under surveillance.
21. Work It
In 1982, Fonda released her first at-home aerobics video, Jane Fonda’s Workout. It was a total sensation—in fact, it became the best-selling VHS in history.
22. A Royal Visit
The set of On Golden Pond was a star-studded event, and not just because both Jane and her father Henry were there. According to Fonda, Michael Jackson also visited the set—and went skinny dipping wth her.
23. If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…
The US military has long held a grudge against Fonda for her actions in Vietnam. In 2005, a Navy veteran even spat tobacco at her during a book signing, saying that he considered the act “a debt of honor. She spit in our faces for 37 years. It was absolutely worth it. There are a lot of veterans who would love to do what I did.” Fonda, for her part, refused to press charges.
24. Musically Gifted
Life is good when your father is a famous actor. When little Jane Fonda wanted to learn how to play the guitar, she didn’t have to settle for any old music teacher. Legendary rock star David Crosby, most notably of The Byrds as well as super group Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, taught the girl how to play guitar.
25. Golden Girl
Fonda has two Academy Awards for Best Actress: she won for the detective thriller Klute and then for the drama Coming Home.
26. Looking for Love in the Wrong Places
The death of Fonda’s mother Frances had an enormous impact on Jane well into her adult life. According to the actress, she was often desperate for attention and validation from men, particularly “alpha males,” all the way up until she was 62 years old. Fonda traces these insecurities back to not having a positive female role model growing up.
27. Can’t Please Everyone
When Fonda burst onto the scene in the early 1960s, people went wild for her. One publication called her “the loveliest and most gifted of all our new young actresses”—but some reviews were a lot meaner. The same year as this praise came out, the Harvard Lampoon also gave her a dubious honor by naming her “The Year’s Worst Actress.”
28. Siblings Stick Together
Although Jane and her brother Peter had a complicated relationship with their father, they were utterly devoted and loyal to each other. Even when Jane was under immense heat for her political activism, her baby brother always stood up for her. He was even once arrested for defacing a public poster that read “Feed Jane Fonda to the Whales.”
29. Working on My Night Moves
Fonda really was no stranger to scandal: She played a sex worker both in her Academy Award-winning role in Klute as well as her 1962 film Walk on the Wild Side. She had a good humor about these parts, and once quipped about her type casting, “Working in Hollywood does give one a certain expertise in the field of prostitution.”
30. Clever Girl
At the height of her career, Fonda was a critics’ actress if there ever was one. Heavy hitters like Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, and Jonathan Rosenbaum were all head over heels for her nervy, intelligent acting style. As Kael once put it, “As an actress, [Fonda] has a special kind of smartness that takes the form of speed; she’s always a little ahead of everybody.”
31. Shag-a-delic, Baby
Fonda’s role in the film Klute was so popular at the time, her short hairstyle in the movie even started a trend called “the Klute shag.”
32. Like Father, Like Daughter
In 1982, Henry and Jane Fonda became the first father-daughter pair ever nominated for individual Oscars in the same year; they were both up for their work in On Golden Pond. Even better, to this day they’re the only father and daughter to have both won Oscars for a leading role category. Talk about an acting dynasty!
33. Second Choice and Second Rate
Chinatown is one of the classic Hollywood film noirs, and the producers desperately wanted Fonda to play the lead role of Evelyn Mulwray—except Fonda shocked them all by turning it down. Left with their hands empty, producers ended up giving the part to the infamously temperamental actress Faye Dunaway, all for the insultingly low price of $50,000.
34. Lost Loves
With a face like that and a Hollywood history spanning back decades, it’s no wonder Fonda has had some steamy celebrity relationships. Among her most famous rumored beaus are Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and Tinseltown lothario Warren Beatty.
35. Hard Labor
Fonda has three children, but her first pregnancy with her daughter Vanessa Vadim was the most traumatic. Doctors had to deliver the little girl with forceps, and the whole process was so disturbing for Fonda that she slipped into a violent postpartum depression after the birth. Her depression got so bad, she was only able to breast-feed her baby for three weeks.
36. Losing out
When renowned director Elia Kazan was casting for his upcoming film Splendor in the Grass, Fonda was one of his top choices—but the young actress made a huge mistake. Kazan asked her if she was ambitious, and Fonda responded “no,” thinking to herself that “Good girls aren’t supposed to be ambitious.” Kazan went with Natalie Wood instead, and to this day, Fonda believes she would have gotten the part if she said yes.
37. Going Incognito
People are so used to Fonda’s glamour-puss image, she claims that if she walks around in public without wearing any makeup, no one recognizes her.
38. Passion Play
Actor Warren Beatty has a particularly saucy memory of doing a kissing screen-test with Fonda for the film Parrish. As he retells it, “We were thrown together like lions in a cage and told to kiss. Oh my God! We kissed until we had practically eaten each other’s heads off.” Jane? Doesn’t even remember this screen-test at all, and neither actor got the part.
39. Facing Facts
When Fonda was just starting out, insiders told her to go through drastic measures to change her looks. And I do mean drastic: They recommended that she surgically break her jaw and reset it, as well as pull out her back teeth, all to create a gaunter look. Thankfully, Fonda declined to take this stellar advice.
40. The Naked Truth
Today, Fonda is famous—among other things—for her willingness to bare it all, even in her advanced age. Few people remember, though, that she’s been doing this forever. In 1964’s La Ronde, she became one of the first major American actresses to appear nude in a foreign film; Italy even charged her with obscenity for the role.
41. By the Numbers
Fonda is one smart cookie: She has a confirmed IQ of 132, which experts generally consider the top tier.
42. Legends Only
There’s a particularly juicy urban legend about Fonda during her Vassar years. According to the story, the uppity college had regular afternoon tea at the Rose Parlor for all the elegant young ladies. Well, the rebellious Fonda absolutely refused to adhere to the dress code of “gloves and pearls.” When the school confronted her about it, she came up with an ingenious plot.
She “surrendered” and showed up to the parlor in the required pearls and gloves—except she wasn’t wearing anything else.
43. Family Secrets
When Fonda’s mother Frances died, it was tragedy enough—but the family’s reaction was even more heartbreaking. They tried to cover up the suicide completely, and told Jane and her brother Peter that their mother had died from heart failure instead. To ensure the secret was airtight, Jane’s father even canceled their magazine subscriptions and hushed up the high school staff.
44. A Little Light Reading
Fonda didn’t know the truth of what had happened to her mother until much later; she only found it out while reading a movie magazine during study hall in school.
45. Hanoi Jane
Fonda’s 1972 visit to Vietnam incited an enormous scandal after a photograph emerged of her sitting on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. The American people were immediately vengeful and snidely called her “Hanoi Jane”—but Fonda says that’s not the whole story. She admits that the photograph is her one big regret, but claims the Vietnamese may have coerced her into taking the photo.
According to her recollection, she was listening to a song when the Vietnamese led her to the gun, sat her down, and took her picture before she knew what was happening. As she said, “It is possible that it was a set up, that the Vietnamese had it all planned. I will never know…If I was used, I allowed it to happen…a two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever.”
46. Mid-Sized Fun
In his 1986 autobiography, John Phillips of the rock group The Mamas and the Papas made a truly shocking confession. Phillips claims that he went over to Fonda’s house and got up to some pretty steamy stuff. According to the rock god, he, his wife Michelle, Fonda, her husband, and Warren Beatty engaged in a “mid-sized” bedroom romp together.
I have one question: Why is Warren Beatty always in these stories??
The Mamas and the Papas