Jane Fonda: A life in many parts -- many of them contrasting, all compelling

Jane Fonda has entwined through much of my life. Like her, I assumed the U.S. was in Vietnam for all the right reasons. (I was there myself, assuming we were up to good,) And like many people, I've seen her work ever since, some of it superb. Now there's a terrific documentary Monday (Sept. 24) on HBO; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Looking back, Jane
Fonda sort of agrees: Her life has been big, odd and very

At 80, the current
Fonda – analytic, sometimes apologetic – is a huge leap from the
one Hollywood nurtured. “I was a kind of a pretty girl who made
movies,” she said. “And (I was) kind of hedonistic.”

Then everything
intervened – Vietnam, feminism, new-age cinema ... and some major
men, from Roger Vadim to Ted Turner. “They were all so brilliant,”
Fonda said. “They could teach me things and take me farther than I
had ever gone. And ... they weren't boring.”

That's one of the
things that makes her life intriguing. Here is a strong feminist who
spent much of her life around guys who tend to overshadow. “It took
her a while, as she (has) said, to find her own narrative,” said
Susan Lacy, who has created an HBO documentary.

That explains why
“Jane Fonda in Five Acts” has guys' names for four of the acts –
Henry, Roger, Tom, Ted. Then “Jane” is the final act. “To
fully realize herself,” Lacy said, “she needed to be on her own.”

The “Henry” was
her father – a decent but stoic man who married five times. His
movie characters stood up for the common man; still, he railed when
she had activists at his house, complaining that they'd better not be

He “saw his
friends' careers and lives destroyed because of McCarthyism,” Fonda
said, “and ... he was afraid there would be a resurgence of
McCarthyism that would take me down.”

Those concerns
wouldn't be until her later phase. At first, Henry Fonda's kid was
just a promising starlet. As a teen-ager, she was Miss Army Recruiter
of 1954. At 22 – after prep school, Vassar and some modeling –
she did movies, especially romantic comedies.

Later, there were
some light films she likes. Fonda speaks well of “Cat Ballou”
(1965, with an Oscar-winning Lee Marvin) and “Barefoot in the Park”
(1967, with Robert Redford). But there were many others, including
“Sunday in New York,” in 1963. “I don't like that one. That's
why I fled to France.”

She lived a
two-continent life, making some films in the U.S. and three in Europe
with Vadim. They married in 1965 and it was in France that her
activism soared.

“I had met
American soldiers in Paris and they told me what they had seen and
done,” Fonda said.

They gave her a
book, “The Village of Ben Suc,” that had a big impact. “I
didn't even know where Vietnam was. And after reading that book and
talking to these men, the coin shifted.”

It was a big shift.
“My father was in the second World War,” she said. “I was so
proud of that; he was so proud of that. I really thought that if we
had men fighting, they were one the side of the angels.”

She erred, she said,
particularly in being photographed smiling at an anti-aircraft gun in
Hanoi. The smile, she said, involved a song the soldiers had just
sung for her, but it was a mistake.

“I'm proud that I
went to Vietnam when I did,” Fonda said, “and I'm proud that the
bombing of the dikes stopped ....But I'm so sorry that I was
thoughtless enough to sit down on that gun .... The message that that
sends to the guys who were there and their families – it's horrible
for me to think about.”

She married
activist/politician Tom Hayden from 1973 to '90 and cable pioneer Ted
Turner from '91 to 2001. She also saw her acting career revive, via
cable and streaming. Long after her two Academy Awards – for the
1971 “Klute” and the 1977 “Coming Home” -- Fonda has received
Emmy nominations for HBO's “The Newsroom” and for Netflix's
current “Grace and Frankie.”

And yes, her
activism remains. A sequel to the 1980 “9 to 5” will reflect
that, she said. “Today, a lot of the workforce is hired by an
outside company and sub-contracted back .... So if there's a problem,
where do you go? Who do you complain to?

“So it's much
worse. Although I do think probably sexual harassment will tend to
drop because guys are scared. Ha-ha.”

-- “Jane Fonda in
Five Acts,” 8-10:15 p.m. Monday, HBO

-- Reruns often,
including 4:15 p.m.Tuesday, 5:40 p.m. Saturday and 1:45 p.m. Monday,
Oct. 1