Google "Jane Fonda +hate site" and you get 10 million results.
Sarah Palin, in contrast, gets 109 million. Obama: 101 million. George Bush: 106 million. Donald Trump: 37 million.
But it's not just raw numbers that matter here. It's context. Palin, Obama, Bush and Trump are contemporary figures. Jane Fonda is a 73-year-old actress who had her last box office hit thirty years ago. So why is she hated?
Mostly, it's for something that happened forty years ago --- at the height of the Vietnam War, she visited North Vietnam. There she not only sat on an anti-aircraft gun and made a "public service" announcement to American bomber pilots, she visited a POW camp. There she met some captured soldiers. They slipped her messages to bring to their families --- and she promptly turned them over to the North Vietnamese, who tortured (and, in one case, killed) those prisoners.
Wait! That never happened!!! But that untruth is a measure of the controversy that has swirled around Jane Fonda for most of her adult life. Actress, sex symbol, feminist, activist --- in every sphere, she presses buttons.
Some of these buttons reflect the sickness of our society. A sex symbol who likes sex and who plays a sci-fi goddess and a prostitute --- that gets our blood pumping. A public figure who skips the USO tour to organize coffee houses for dissidents in the military --- imagine what they've said about her at the VFW. A bra-burner who shows women how to feel strong --- that didn't fly with the crowd that likes their women barefoot-and-pregnant.
But there are also internal buttons --- the buttons pushed in her by her parents, her producers, her lovers. These are the fascinating buttons, because only by learning about them can we hope to understand why the best single word to define Jane Fonda is "driven." And these, blessedly, are the buttons that fascinate Patricia Bosworth in her massive (600 page) biography.
Patricia Bosworth is a biographer's biographer. She wrote the best book on Diane Arbus. Her Montgomery Clift biography is beyond compelling. It's not just her sensitivity and insight that make her so good. It's her life history (she was a Broadway actress for a decade) and her work ethic (the Fonda book took a decade). It doesn't hurt that she knows Fonda well and that, as a result, Fonda did not discourage friends and family from seeing her.
In this book, Bosworth delivers the ultimate goods --- the family story. It's well known that Henry Fonda was emotionally remote and that her mother committed suicide. Bosworth turns those observations into a narrative. She shows us, time and again, how Fonda mistreated his wife; as a little girl, Jane once watched her mother crawl naked across the room pleading with him to talk to her. (He didn't.)
Fonda has said, "All my life I've been my father's daughter." But her mother was also key. As a girl, Jane would come into her mother's dressing room while Frances Fonda was checking for the slightest weight gain. She told Jane: "Lady, if I gain any extra weight I'm gonna cut it off with a knife." Any wonder that Jane Fonda was obsessed with her body and became bulimic?
Pleasing a man. Showing no flaws. Expressing herself with her body. This is the triangle that will rule her life.
Bosworth can analyze brilliantly, but her real genius is as a reporter --- she takes you, again and again, into the room. Her account of her romance with Roger Vadim feels very much like the whole story. It was downhill from there. Bosworth's account of Fonda's relationship with activist Tom Hayden is simply shocking --- in this book, he lived off her, cheated on her, dominated her. Why did she stay with him so long? By then, you understand --- just as you understand why she stayed with Ted Turner, who cheated on her within a month of their marriage.
"An actress is more than a woman, an actor is less than a man," Oscar Wilde said. Maybe. But in Fonda's case, definitely. This is a woman who needed to be the biggest star in the world, and made it. And when that faded, she re-invented herself. Now she's doing it again, speaking out about the vitality that's still possible in the AARP years. Clearly, she'll never be satisfied.
You can look at a life like that and see desperation. Or you can see how a badly damaged child forges a successful identity --- or, at least, a workable persona. Patricia Bosworth sees it both ways. You will close this book with admiration for the writer, compassion for the actress ... and great relief that your life is so much less twisted.