Jane Fonda is an American actress, writer, political activist, former fashion model, and fitness guru. She rose to fame in the 1960s with films such as Barbarella and Cat Ballou. She has won two Academy Awards and received several other awards and nominations. After 15 years of retirement, she returned to film in 2005 with Monster in Law followed by Georgia Rule two years later. She also produced and starred in several exercise videos released between 1982 and 1995.
Jane has been an activist for many political causes, one of the most notable and controversial of which was her opposition to the Vietnam War. She has also protested the Iraq War and violence against women. She describes herself as a liberal and a feminist. Since 2001, she has been a Christian. She published an autobiography in 2005.
Born in New York City, the daughter of actor Henry Fonda and socialite Frances Ford Seymour, and named Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda. Henry Fonda had distant Dutch ancestry, and the surname Fonda originates from Eagum, also spelled Augum or Agum, a village in the heart of Friesland, a northern province of the Netherlands.
The “Lady” part of Jane Fonda’s name was apparently inspired by Lady Jane Seymour, to whom she is distantly related on her mother’s side. Her brother, Peter Fonda (born 1940), and her niece Bridget Fonda (born 1964), are also actors. Fonda had a half-sister, Frances, who died in 2008. She is the mother of Vanessa Vadim from her marriage to Roger Vadim and Troy Garity from her marriage to Tom Hayden.
At 15, Fonda taught dance at Fire Island Pines, New York. She attended Greenwich Academy in Greenwich, Connecticut. Before starting her acting career, Fonda was a fashion model, gracing the cover of Vogue twice. Fonda became interested in acting in 1954, while appearing with her father in a charity performance of The Country Girl, at the Omaha Community Playhouse. She attended The Emma Willard School in Troy, New York and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, where she was an undistinguished student.
She recalled that at the age of five, she and her brother, actor Peter Fonda, acted out Western stories similar to those her father, Henry Fonda, played in the movies. After graduating from Vassar she went to Paris for two years to study art. Upon returning, she met Lee Strasberg and the meeting changed the course of her life, Jane saying, “I went to the Actor’s Studio and Lee 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. 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!”
Her stage work in the late 1950s laid the foundation for her film career in the 1960s. She averaged almost two movies a year throughout the decade, starting in 1960 with Tall Story. In Walk on the Wild Side (1962), she played a prostitute, and earned a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. Jane’s career breakthrough came with Cat Ballou (1965).
In 1968, she played the lead role in the science fiction spoof Barbarella, which established her status as a sex symbol. In contrast, the tragedy They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969) won her critical acclaim, and she earned her first Oscar nomination for the role. She won her first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1971, again playing a prostitute in the murder mystery Klute. She won her second Oscar in 1978 for Coming Home, the story of a disabled Vietnam War veteran’s difficulty in re-entering civilian life.
Jane had long wanted to work with her father, hoping it would help their strained relationship. She achieved this goal when she purchased the screen rights to the play On Golden Pond specifically for her father and herself. The film (1981), which also starred Katharine Hepburn, brought Henry Fonda his only Academy Award for Best Actor, which Jane accepted on his behalf, as he was ill and home bound. He died five months later.
Fonda continued appearing in feature films throughout the 1980s, she ended the decade by appearing in the romantic drama Stanley & Iris (1990), which was her final film for 15 years.
For many years, Jane was a ballet enthusiast, but after fracturing her foot while filming The China Syndrome she was no longer able to participate. To compensate, she began actively participating in aerobics and strengthening exercises under the direction of Leni Cazden. The Leni Workout became the Jane Fonda Workout and thus began a second career for her, which continued for many years. This was considered one of the influences that started the fitness craze among baby boomers who were then approaching middle age.
In 1982, Fonda released her first exercise video, titled Jane Fonda’s Workout, inspired by her best-selling book, Jane Fonda’s Workout Book. The Jane Fonda’s Workout video eventually sold 17 million copies: more than any other home video. The video’s release led many people to buy the then-new VCR in order to watch and perform the workout in the privacy and convenience of their own homes. Fonda subsequently released 23 workout videos, five workout books and thirteen audio programs. Her most recent workout video was released in 1995.
After retiring from the film industry in 1991, she returned to the screen with the box office success Monster-in-Law. In July 2005, the British tabloid The Sun reported that when asked if she would appear in a sequel to her 1980 hit Nine to Five, Fonda replied “I’d love to”.
In 2001, Fonda publicly announced that she had become a Christian. She stated that she strongly opposed bigotry, discrimination and dogma, which she believes are promoted by a small minority of Christians. Her announcement came shortly after her divorce from Ted Turner. Fonda stated publicly on Charlie Rose in April 2006 that her Christianity may have played a part in the divorce, as Turner was known to be critical of religion.
Jane Fonda at a book signing, 2005 On April 5, 2005, Random House released Fonda’s autobiography My Life So Far. The book describes her life as a series of three acts, each thirty years long, and declares that her third “act” will be her most significant, due in part to her commitment to the Christian religion, and that it will determine the things for which she will be remembered.
Fonda’s autobiography was well received by book critics, and was noted to be “as beguiling and as maddening as Jane Fonda herself” in its Washington Post review, pronouncing her a “a beautiful bundle of contradictions.” The New York Times called the book "achingly poignant."