Jane Fonda has resilience, guts and intelligence. This is a book written with wit, honesty and a full life. She has written her life in three acts, gathering, seeking and beginning. It is filled with insight from a life of privilege but not much love. Along the way, she shares her memories and what she has learned that she thinks is relevant.
In Gathering, Jane starts with her earliest memories, the love she had for her father, and the distance she felt for her mother. When her mother and father divorce, life changes and life with mother is not a bed or roses. Upon reflection, mother was mentally ill and had all the symptoms. She spent a great deal of time in mental institutions, and then she died, and Jane and her brother and step sister were left with grandmother and/or the newest girlfriend of her father, Henry. Life was tough and Jane grew up aching for love from her father. She rarely felt she measured up. This is the period of life where she grew her resilience, she learned to live and love, and started her career as an actress of some renown.
In Seeking, Jane lives her life with three ex-husbands, all of them remain friends and she has good things to say about them all. They all contributed to her life, but she felt stifled by marriage. She had two children and loved them, but she admits she was not there for them. She realizes now with her grandchildren what she missed. Jane became famous and the world was hers, but as she said, she began seeking the woman she was to become.
Jane is in the Beginning phase of Act 3, now, exploring her life. She lives life on her terms. She became a protester and lived her life for causes and is still embroiled in them. She is trying now to make up for lost time with her children, giving them lessons she learned along the way. This has been a marvelous life in many ways, and she realizes that life has been good to her.
This is a book that is written with love and lessons learned. I enjoyed it immensely, Her writing style is filled with tales that gave her experiences such vivid realism. Her insights into women and their fight to achieve a life of their own is startling. She has studied many areas of her interests, and she shares those lessons. This is a book I would recommend to every woman and to every man.
Highly Recommended. prisrob 03-14-11
Let's get real here, we've all heard of Jane Fonda. You know, that Jane Fonda. Daughter of Henry, beloved movie star world-wide. Girl did ok for herself as an actor, too, won Oscars for "Klute," and "Coming Home," an Emmy for "The Dollmaker." You'd have to say she achieved stardom herself. Proved herself no slouch as a producer either, "On Golden Pond," "9 to 5," "China Syndrome." Made three notable marriages, to Roger Vadim, influential French new wave movie director; Tom Hayden, political activist; Ted Turner, extremely rich successful businessman/sportsman, owner of television's CNN and TCM, the Atlanta Braves baseball team, winner of yachting's premier race, the America's Cup. Girl went from movie stardom to notoriety as "Hanoi Jane" during the Vietnam War. And then on to phenomenal success as a fitness guru. So, whew, okay, that's done.
Well, our girl managed to surprise me several times in this book. For starters, I'm roughly the same age cohort as Jane, prewar baby who grew up, whether she liked it or not, with the baby boomers. Now, heaven knows, I'm a totally noncelebrated person, nevertheless, I felt a great deal of resonance between Jane's life so far, and mine. We did a couple of the same trips, in our own ways, and bumped heads up against the same obstacles. Furthermore, early on in the book there's a photo of a fake family picnic staged for "Harpers Bazaar," at the fancy house in pricey Greeenwich, Connecticut, where the Fonda family lived in the late 1940's -early 1950's. Plainly visible in picture: outdoor laundry drying rack, a square, bowl-like shape with a lot of clothes lines in it, stuck into the ground of the garden on a metal post. My family's first--only-- house, in undistinguished New York suburb of Valley Stream, Long Island, had exactly the same drying rack out back. Of course, I helped my mother hang laundry, and the Fondas probably had a servant to do it: still, it made my spine tingle.
Another surprising feature of Jane's childhood was the physical proximity, and intense social relationship, of the Fonda family, and the family of star Hollywood agent Leland Hayward,( Henry Fonda's agent, by the way,) in both California and Connecticut. At one time we would have called it only-in-Hollywood, now I guess we see more of it. Now pay attention here: Henry Fonda's first wife was the beautiful and charming stage and movie star Margaret Sullavan. In the fifth month of that marriage, Sullavan left Fonda, starving actor, for successful New York theatrical producer Jed Harris. And eventually worked her way to powerful Hollywood player Leland Hayward. You've got to say her three children by Hayward might almost have been Fonda's. But meanwhile, Fonda had gotten successful and married again, a beautiful New York society widow (hence the Connecticut residence),who had been married to immensely rich George Brokaw. Fonda doesn't mention it, but Brokaw was also Clare Booth Luce's very useful sugar daddy first husband. Got all that?
Sadly, both Sullavan, and Jane's mother, were to commit suicide while their children were still young, within a few years of each other. And not too much later,one of the Hayward children, Bridget, killed herself.
As the author discusses her childhood, her early career, and the Vadim marriage, I found her surprisingly honest and direct. But with the entry into her life of Tom Hayden, and his exit from it, her language gets more stilted and jargon-filled.
Fonda's discussion of the Hanoi Jane episode also surprised me, and caused me to raise my opinion of her somewhat. She'd already told us she was bulimic from her teens to her forties: bulimia upsets your body's electrolytes, so you aren't necessarily making the best decisions, and it thins your bones. While running for her plane in Paris, Fonda rebroke a foot. A broken foot hurts like the devil (I've had one) and she probably should have canceled the trip right then, but let's be real about it. So she was in pain. Fonda also insists that her record indicates she always backed the troops, if not the war, and it does seem to.
But it can be said that Fonda, as an actress, was simply playing at being a real-life political activist at this time, and that her ego got the better of her. She was not traveling with a delegation, as was the wisest course,and as almost every other visitor to Vietnam did, even the highest-profile ones. Nor was she an experienced political person like Ramsey Clark, for example, who also went to Vietnam. She was on her own, and even the most experienced political persons don't generally travel on their own. They carry planeloads of advisors, to help them avoid just such a sticky situation as Jane got herself into.
I found her discussion of the way the Nixon administration reacted to her growing criticism of the Vietnam war to be fascinating, and unfortunately, an excellent predictor of the way the current U.S. administration is reacting to those who criticize our current war. The FBI produced 20,000 pages on her comings and goings.
She writes " The FBI admitted that I had been under surveillance from 1970 to 1973; that they had used counterintelligence techniques, in violation of my constitutional rights, to 'neutralize' me and 'impair my personal and professional standing'; that they had seized without subpoena my bank records during that time and had made pretext calls and visits to my home and office to determine where I was. In addition, the CIA admitted to opening my mail. I am told this was the first time the Agency had ever acknowledged conducting a mail-opening campaign in the United States against an American citizen...The State Department, IRS, Treasury Department, and White House all kept files on me. By then new guidelines and laws had been put in place by Congress and the new attorney general that prohibited all these activities without judicial process." At that time, Fonda thought she'd at least achieved future protection of American citizens in similar situations. Evidently not.
Fonda also tells us, "It was through information given to my lawyers by columnist Jack Anderson that I learned the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York and the City National Bank of Los Angeles had turned over my bank records to the FBI--without any subpoena." If you read the newspapers, you will know that the FBI is currently fighting the recently-deceased Anderson's family to be able to look through his voluminous files. Do you suppose these are the records they're looking for?
A less political theme of "My Life" is what Fonda calls "the disease to please," virulent in all her three marriages. She believes that, in fear of losing their men, women say and do things they don't want to do, and leave undone, and unsaid, things they do want to do. They become shadows of themselves, and it does nobody much good. Every woman is culturally conditioned that way, she says, and you can count me in on that. Fonda remarks that she had breast implants to please some man or another, and only recently had them removed.
A small puzzle: Fonda mentions "Till twins, Emmett and Emory." But she fails to mention that the best-known Emmett Till was a tragic 13-year old, one of the last blacks lynched in the South in the 1950's. Is it possible she doesn't know this?
Her son with Tom Hayden, whom they chose to name "Troy Garity" has grounds to sue her if you ask me. The reasons she gives for this decision of the couple are beyond explication, and will not be summarized here. But the child of a family must be entitled to the family name in this world. He's trying to make a career as an actor for himself. Somehow Jane, her brother Peter, and her niece Bridget were all able to make names for themselves using the family name Fonda. So have generations of Barrymores, Bridges, Collinses and Douglases. They all earned their family names fair and square.
And seems to me Ted Turner also should have thought of suing Fonda. Unless she can prove she was intending to write her memoirs then, and went home every night to write their dialogue in her diary, she sure puts some real goony speeches in his mouth.
But then, I loved Fonda's discussions of good cheekbones with Katherine Hepburn, and only wish I had them, and her comment that some Fondas will "cry at a good steak." And her thought that," Given my parents' difficulties with relationships, and my personal evolution, choosing right for the long haul just hasn't been in the cards. I comfort myself in knowing that should I choose again, the haul will be shorter." Finally, she joins most of our cohort in realizing that we are now in the last acts of our lives, and there's no time left for rehearsal.