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Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman [Hardcover]

Patricia Bosworth

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Book Description

22 Sep 2011
As actress, activist, businesswoman, wife, and mother, Jane Fonda has pushed herself to the limit, attempting to please all, excel in every arena, be everything. We've read her version of her controversial life, yet nothing can prepare us for this genuinely revelatory account of Jane's engrossing, sometimes shocking journey. Supplemented by the psychiatric records of her suicidal, bipolar mother, Fonda's FBI file, and interviews with her intimates, this perceptive portrait strips away hype and the subject's own mythmaking. Patricia Bosworth shows us what a toll Jane's quest to excel (and please her demanding father, Henry) exacted and sheds light on truths she's glossed over: her rejection of her mother before her suicide; the death threats and self-doubts of her antiwar crusade; her second husband Tom Hayden's habit of putting her down while spending her fortune; the emotional downfall that led her to stop acting and marry Ted Turner. Lee Strasberg once said that Jane had "panic in her eyes," and it is this wounded but so familiar woman-human yet still heroic, the embodiment of a generation's conflicts and triumphs-whom Bosworth captures so utterly and definitively.

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Nothing about Fonda s life escapes the keen eye of Patricia Bosworth, who tells the life story of a cinema icon, one of the most intriguing women of our era. You will be enthralled from start to finish. --Kitty Kelley

The remarkable reconstruction of long ago events has a fly-on-the-wall viewpoint, written with such intimacy that it sometimes generates the strange sensation of being present with Fonda and her friends. With access to Fonda s FBI files and personal papers, plus extensive interviews with her family and colleagues, Bosworth has succeeded in capturing Fonda s step-by-step transformation from wide-eyed, apolitical ingénue to the poised personality of recent decades. --Publishers Weekly

The remarkable reconstruction of long ago events has a fly-on-the-wall viewpoint, written with such intimacy that it sometimes generates the strange sensation of being present with Fonda and her friends. With access to Fonda s FBI files and personal papers, plus extensive interviews with her family and colleagues, Bosworth has succeeded in capturing Fonda s step-by-step transformation from wide-eyed, apolitical ingénue to the poised personality of recent decades. --Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Patricia Bosworth is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. She has written acclaimed biographies of Montgomery Clift, Diane Arbus, and Marlon Brando. She lives in New York City.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An addictive, authoritative biography of a woman who wanted -- no, needed -- to be the world's biggest star 30 Aug 2011
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on
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.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Person and Story 4 Sep 2011
By R. Spell - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
This is an exceptional book about a controversial figure of a certain period in America. I doubt seriously if the book will be of much interest to the younger generation as they have no frame of reference for Jane Fonda as she did not continue her exceptional career as an actress or as an activist and therefore she has not been as high profile for a number of years. In fact, most younger people may only remember her as Ted Turner's wife sitting in the Braves box doing the Tomahawk. That's really sad because as this exceptional but very detailed book details, she is a fascinating creature who lived an incredibly full life including controversy that will follow her for the rest of her life for her episode in North Vietnam.

All this is detailed in this book. Probably the most insightful part of this book is her frame of reference of dysfunctional family life punctuated by her mother's suicide but other slights earlier are detailed in the book specifically by her father and his family relationships. Personally, I found the most interesting part to be her Svengali relationship with her husband Roger Vadim and how he molded her into the person she became until she broke his spell and became the activist Jane. Her "life education" of young adulthood modeling and acting in Europe is fascinating and worth the read alone.

Hanoi Jane is also covered in detail as well as her interesting relationship with Tom Hayden. Tom doesn't come off so well which is quite interesting that this man could be married to one of the most beautiful, intelligent women and probably never really appreciate it. One look at the magnificent cover here shows this appeal. This book has great depth in this controversial period as it does with other portions of her life. Will this change any minds of the many people who hate Jane Fonda? Absolutely not. But, it does give a fair account of how these events came about. Clearly, this was a bad war in which we should not have participated. Still it doesn't feel right to me to openly oppose America and cavort with the enemy IN THEIR COUNTRY. I had no real opinion of her on this issue and took no real offense to her visit but I respect the right of others who will not forget.

After the war period her career really takes off. This is not meant to discount "Barefoot in the Park" and "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" made with the great Sydney Pollack. But movies like Oscar winning "Klute" and the controversial but moving "Coming Home", the first major film to deal with Vietnam and the emotional trauma show her fantastic ability. Later, she moved into more mainstream, moneymaking movies but not socially satisfying like "9 to 5" But special attention is applied to "On Golden Pond" due to the family connections and approaching depth of her father. Clearly a fascinating piece of art that seemed to parallel their relationship.

For most of this book we have an extreme left-leaning privileged actress who lives her life in a fascinating manner. But in her 50s she's hit by a tornado from the south, Ted Turner, a man that clearly would not be considered a feminists first choice. But this is where the book is even more appealing as this avowed Democrat who admits to not being around religious people unless they were Jewish, suddenly is thrust into a life in the deep South around conservative, Christian people. Maybe the greatest statement I can make of Jane is that unlike a lot of people, many of who will read this book and dislike it, she learned from these new friends and altered her life completely becoming an advocate concerning teenage pregnancy and a devoutly religious person. Life is to be learned from and this later chapter of her life shows that she was willing to grow and continue to learn.

This is a magnificent book of growing up in the last half of the 20th century and being one of the legends, good and bad, of this period. Life is to be lived and she accomplished a lot and lived by her standards only whether you agree with them or not. Be ready for a long read but chock full of information about a fascinating person and period of American and cinema history.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of detail - with much insight into Fonda's life,too 11 Sep 2011
By K. Corn - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had already read Fonda's autobiography My Life So Far before picking up Bosworth's book. Interestingly, Fonda had reservations about talking to Bosworth because Jane was writing My Life So Far at the time and was conflicted about another book being written about her. But Bosworth prevailed enough to create far more than a light book, full of fluff and praise. It goes well beyond that.

The result? An intimate and very personal look at both the high and low points of Fonda's life and career,including plenty of insightful info about Henry Fonda's often strained relationship with his daughter. Bosworth reveals that Henry's difficulties with women weren't limited to Jane. His marriages suffered because of his distant nature and inability to handle strong emotions (offscreen) .

Jane Fonda had early childhood traumas ( including one that involved her mother) that marked her for life. For those who do not already know about Fonda's mother, I won't add a spoiler. Add that trauma to father's less than nurturing nature and Jane was left with an insecurity that lasted for much of her life. She yearned for her father's approval and this yearning extended to her relationships with men whose praise she also sought.

From Fonda's childhood on, Bosworth creates a psychological study of Fonda.

But even though the book was very well- written I could not give it more than 4 stars. While I learned much about Fonda, I did feel the biography could have been tighter. Will it appeal to more than diehard fans of Fonda? I can't help wondering about that and did find it slow going at times.

Like it or not, there is no doubt that Bosworth did her research - and it shows - resulting in am ambitious work.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Written Bio of a Fascinating Subject 18 Sep 2011
By Erik NYC - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having read Patricia Bosworth's biographies of Montgomery Clift and Diane Arbus, I was looking forward to her book on Jane Fonda and I was not disappointed. A perceptive and intelligently written account of a polarizing, and seemingly ever-evolving, figure in American culture.

A few quibbles:

Fonda's life after the 1980s is given relatively short shrift, only filling about 35 pages in a 534 page book.

There is a reference on page 379 to "William Manchester, editor of the right-wing New Hampshire Union Leader." No, it was William Loeb, and the name of the paper is the Manchester Union Leader.
A few more New Hampshire-related errors appear on page 467, regarding the filming of "On Golden Pond." Bosworth mentions that the film was shot in Laconia, New Hampshire in the summer of 1981. Laconia is located to the south of Lake Winnepesaukee and "On Golden Pond" was filmed entirely on Squam Lake, which is north of Winnepesaukee (the primary town in the Squam area is Holderness). Also, the film was shot in the summer of 1980, and not in the summer of 1981---I was visiting Squam in August 1980 and observed the filming of one of the boating sequences. "On Golden Pond" was released in December 1981, close to a year and a half after principal photography had concluded.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am enjoying reading the book. 1 Jun 2013
By C. Siegel - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I recommend the book to anyone interested in behind the scenes life of Miss Fonda. In this book I am finding a few stories I never read before.
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