A LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD: JANE FONDA
From 1960 to 1971, Jane Fonda had several appearances in LIFE magazine, which charted her evolution as an actress who had found her voice.
When Fonda, who was born on December 21, 1937, appeared on the cover of LIFE for the first time on February 22, 1960, she was posed with her well-known father. LIFE hailed Jane Fonda’s entry into the family business with a fanfare that was positively Olympian: “Like an ancient goddess who was born full-grown out of her father’s head, Jane Fonda at 22 has sprung up almost magically as a full-fledged and versatile actress.” Henry Fonda had starred in dozens of movies, including The Grapes of Wrath and Twelve Angry Men.
In the Greek mythology scene, Henry Fonda played Zeus, while Jane played Athena. It was a high bar to clear. Jane had just recently made her acting debut in the 1960 romantic comedy Tall Tale. Anthony Perkins, who is best known for playing Norman Bates in the same-year film Psycho, costarred with Jane as a cheerleader. Tall Tale was less of a splash and more of a thud.
Yet, Jane Fonda was once more highlighted in LIFE in 1964 while she was in France shooting Roger Vadim’s Circle of Love. The magazine still gushed in the headline about “Henry Fonda’s gorgeous, leggy daughter” even though Fonda didn’t make the cover at the time. “The girl’s look—soft, wheaten-blond hair, a beautiful grin, lovely long legs—is clearly American and it is a look that knocks Frenchmen dead,” the tale continued in that same tone.
When Fonda appeared again on the cover of LIFE’s March 29, 1968 edition, promoting her role in the bizarre cult classic Barbarella, the world saw that she had matured. (Watching the original theatrical trailer for the movie feels like a bit of sci-fi time travel itself). Vadim, who was now Fonda’s husband and the director of the film, received a lot of attention in LIFE’s profile of the actress. Before to his marriage to Catherine Deneuve, Vadim was married to Brigitte Bardot, an actress he had worked with on the set of And God Created Woman, as well as Annette Stroyberg.
“She is caught up in an enthralling marriage with Vadim,” LIFE said of Fonda and the director’s union. “His reputation has him more knowledgeable in matters sexual than Kinsey, Freud, and Krafft-Ebing, thanks partly to his numerous spectacular wives and partly to the films he makes.” Moreover, Jane Fonda’s connection with her father, with whom she was not speaking at the time, was highlighted in the article. They eventually starred in the 1981 movie On Golden Pond together, which earned him an Oscar and Jane a nomination.
The first major story in which Jane Fonda was primarily portrayed by LIFE on her own, rather than in relation to her father or her husband, appeared on the magazine’s cover on April 23, 1971. When her estranged husband, French director Roger Vadim, referred to her as Jane d’Arc, Jane Fonda didn’t grin, the cover branded her a “busy rebel,” and the story focused on her newfound activity.
Fonda’s political awakening was met by LIFE with less than enthusiastic response (and this was before her controversial trip to Vietnam that gave her the nickname Hanoi Jane). The Hollywood Women’s Press Club presented her with its yearly Sour Apple Award (for projecting a “sour image”), according to the story’s headline, “Nag, Nag, Nag.”
Once a member of the worst-dressed list, she has limited her wardrobe to little more than two sweaters and two pairs of trousers, which she carries in a Louis Vuitton bag, the magazine that had previously gushed over her appearance now commented snarkily.
In the 1960s, Fonda underwent a remarkable journey that resists easy summarization, beginning with her transition from ingenue to activist. Fonda reinvented herself as the nation’s top fitness expert in the 1980s, and her exercise DVDs dominated the charts for six years. Following a 17-year marriage to progressive activist Tom Hayden, the vocal critic of capitalism wed media mogul Ted Turner for ten years (they divorced in 2001).
Her acting, which keeps producing, is the most continuous theme. She presently co-stars with Lily Tomlin in the award-nominated Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie, whose seven-season run is scheduled to come to an end in 2022.