Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman by Patricia Bosworth was a fascinating read, overflowing with jaw-dropping stories of Fonda’s insecurities, dysfunctional family woes, multiple sexual escapades, and acting, political and corporate adventures. I am simply amazed by all of the ground Bosworth has covered in this meaty book that took her 10 years to write with Fonda’s blessing, as the two have known each other since their days at the Actors Studio in the 1960s. Jane Fonda has lived many different lives, and Bosworth has managed to capture most of them quite brilliantly in this book.
Jane Fonda has been a Hollywood icon, a sexual object, a shrewd businesswoman, and the hated, often misunderstood political activist. Bosworth covers all that ground in her biography, but she also introduced me to Jane Fonda as a disappointed and deeply wounded daughter whose mother slashed her throat when she was just a child … yet no one bothered to invite her to her own mother’s funeral, or even tell her how her mother died. She actually found out about the death while reading Playboy. Her father was the beloved actor Henry Fonda, but he was a man not known to his own children. The struggle Jane Fonda had trying to win her father’s love and attention her whole life was absolutely heartbreaking. Bosworth wrote the following about Jane:
Once, long ago, Jane told a reporter, “My mother was crazy and my father was never a father, so I had to deal with these lacks and I had to deal with all the people inside my head. I have always dreamed–vivid, powerful dreams, often nightmares. My life did not provide me with a narrative, so I had to make one up.”
In this book, I learned more about Fonda as a mother, as a woman who has made bad relationship choices in her life that affected her work and her children, and as an activist and philanthropist. But most importantly, I learned about Fonda’s mental issues that caused her chameleon-like ways all her life. Even Fonda’s own daughter once told her, “Why don’t you just get a chameleon and let it crawl across the screen?” in response to her mothers help when trying to put a movie about herself together.
I was shocked to read the following passage from the book, but it explains a lot to me about who Jane Fonda really is, deep inside.
The was another nanny, a very pretty one, who had a boyfriend on leave from the army. One afternoon, she brought him into the bathroom when Jane was having her bath. “She made me get out of the tub and then I remember her turning me around. I felt scared. I have no memory beyond that.” Jane doesn’t know if the soldier molested her, but something bad must have happened around that time because that’s when she began to have recurring fantasies in which she either watched or participated in sexually disturbing, even violent, acts. She did not confide in anyone. “We were brought up in an atmosphere where our parents just didn’t express what they felt,” Jane said. “So we hid everything–our sorrows, our pain, our joys even. We were being turned into little zombies.”
I learned so many interesting things about Jane Fonda in this book–such as she is related to and named after Lady Jane Seymour, that she was a producer of some of her most famous movies, that she financially supported most of her men, and that she won a lawsuit against Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Charles Colson and some members of the FBI for conspiring to destroy her credibility and disrupt her life. Reading about the whole Hanoi Jane era was quite disturbing, as Jane seemed to be eager to help others, and yet dumb enough to get used politically over and over again during the process. She was a woman who ran her mouth without thinking, and acted first and regretted her actions later. She took a beating, and it still amazed me she managed to win an Oscar despite her political blundering.
In Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman, Bosworth has painted a very honest portrait of an emotionally fragile woman who seemed to have it all on the surface. She manages to horrify you by tales of Fonda’s actions, and yet make you feel sympathy for Fonda over and over again. I really enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the complicated dynamics of understanding family relationships, pop culture, hollywood and politics. This book is a rollercoaster, but one worth riding.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bosworth has written a memoir about her family, Anything Your Little Heart Desires, and has published biographies of Montgomery Clift, photographer Diane Arbus, and Marlon Brando.
She also worked on Broadway and in the film The Nun’s Story. She was an editor at McCalls and Holiday, managing editor of Harpers Bazaar, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and has contributed articles to The Nation and the New York Times book review as well as Esquire. In 2009 she took over the Playwright/Directors Unit at the Actors Studio which she runs with Estelle Parsons. She was a senior fellow at the National Arts Journalism program at Columbia where she researched Jane Fonda’s impact on media and media’s impact on Fonda especially during the Vietnam war.
Purchase your copy of Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman at Amazon.com today.
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