Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018) Review: A Gripping Memoir

Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018) Review: A Gripping Memoir

Jane Fonda’s memoir proves to be both a charged and dysfunctional story of the search for one woman’s identity and worth. The documentary takes viewers down an unusual winding road, explaining the early years, acting and celebrity life, periods of activism, family and Fonda legacy. Jane makes her mark by pushing the envelope and embracing her place in history with a riveting and provocative story and timeline of events. In the description/titles of segments of the Five Acts, the majority were based upon her marriages to men and her relationship with her father, Henry Fonda. There are so many events in this documentary that one must summarize  a few of the  pivotal points and quotes from Jane, family, friends, and peers. At 80, the amazing and voracious Jane Fonda is still acting and leading organizations in her favorite humanitarian causes.

Act 1

When I think of Henry Fonda, I think of “Grapes of Wrath” (directed by John Ford, 1940) and how much of an American Icon he was according to many  Americans. This was a book and required classic reading for many high schools and middle schools. (This novel highlights John Steinbeck’s book of the same name with fictional characters of the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression of the 1930’s.) Fonda was also known for major roles in films like “The Oxbow Incident”, “12 Angry Men”, and others. Jane says, “my father was the face of the America, people wanted to believe in.” She tells a story of an estranged relationship with her father and how he paid little attention to her sickly mother, brother Peter, and herself. The family brokenness stayed with Jane throughout her adult  life and spilled over into her own relationships with her children and spouses.  Witnessing the deterioration of their mother pained her and Peter greatly as they felt helpless to aid in her mental illness, and the circumstances surrounding her depression and suicide. Jane struggled to find her identity through the acceptance of men and family, her role in Hollywood, and political activism. Whatever Jane attempted to achieve she was always striving for more professionally.


Jane Fonda’s life reads like a history book as she tried to establish who she was in the world. Ironically, she married men thinking that she will find her identity through them, seeking validation from these men like she did from her father, Henry Fonda. After her mother died, Jane and Peter were shipped off to boarding school and John remarried quickly, as he was already in love with the stage manager of his Broadway play “Mister Roberts”.  There was hardly any room for both of his children and his new wife in Henry’s life.

Jane had to move out of her father’s house eventually and met famous acting coach Lee Strausberg, who lived down the beach from the Fondas. She remembers asking Lee to teach her acting and it ended being the best thing that ever happened to her at the time. “I was his most promising actress. I kept getting clean-cut, girl-next-door roles.” Jane later starred in films like “Period of Adjustment” (director George Roy Hill, 1962) and “Barefoot in the Park” (director Gene Saks, co-starring Robert Redford, 1967). During these years Jane was Hollywood’s darling. “It never felt real.  I was under the shadow of my father, Henry Fonda. It was then that I said…’Maybe I’ll go to France during the new year’,” says Jane.


Act 2-Vadim

Jane states that “Director Roger Vadim was quite the famous celebrity at the time,  charming and sexy.” They were married and talked about their relationship on the They Merv Griffith Show (1967). Jane expressed regret about suppressing her natural instinct to be a feminist and her comments on the show did not reflect what she wanted to be at the time. She then starred in “Barbarella” (1968), which was a fun, sexy-sci-fi adult film directed by Vadim and produced by Dino De Laurentis.

“ I wanted him (Vadim) to mold me and make me into a woman,” says Jane. She recalls that Vadim didn’t want to get into discussions nor enter into the arena of politics and war and was disappointed when she showed interest in becoming politically active.

In 1968 Jane became pregnant. “My daughter Vanessa was a hard birth. I had post-partum depression and my milk didn’t come.” Jane begins to recall the death of her mother and the angst of  giving birth for the first time.

“My mother was a beautiful complicated woman. She always seemed sick. My father was not kind to her. He spent time on Broadway to do the play “Mister. Roberts”. My father had fallen in love with a young stage manager on set. We ate canned spam and fruit. I remember this being quite odd. One day, I remember my mother crying and no one said a word. She was committed to the hospital for depression. On her visit back home she had convinced the hospital and everyone she was okay. She snuck a razor and killed herself. I remember playing and telling Peter to go downstairs, when mother had called for us. This was last time we would see her. After she died, my father did not skip a beat and continued with his play. My father put me on a train to boarding school.  I found out what really happened to my mother by magazine tabloid. Boarding school was a place to keep Peter and I out of his hair… as father was newly married to the stage manager, whom had fell in love with while mother was alive. I remembered that while I was in boarding school at Emma Williard School, Troy NY. I experimented with Bulimia. I didn’t know how dangerous it was at the time. Later, I realized that all of my father’s (Henry Ford) wives suffered from eating disorders.”

A young director, Sydney Pollack took a particular interest in Jane and respected her opinions and insights about the stage. “ I always felt like she was a serious actress buried inside this glamour puss.” Jane in turn ackwnoledges a mutual respect stating,” Sydney made me feel seen.” She I lived at the studio and threw herself into the roles. “I eventually chopped off my hair”, says Jane emphatically. She was filming “Klute”. This trendsetter became known as the” Klute hairdo”.

Jane got arrested several times for protesting during the 60’s and 70’s concerning issues  about Native Americans, The Black Panther Party, and issues surrounding the Vietnam War.  Jane won an Oscar for Best Actress “Klute” 1972. During the time, she was completely immersed in activism and dedication to her causes.

Act 3-Tom

Jane met Tom Hayden, an established author, organizer, and politician. During the Dick Cavett Show, 1972 he interviewed Jane and asked her if she would do anything different. She had flown from Nam Phen to Hanaoi about the bombing of N. Vietnam. Cavett stated “she was either foolish or brave to go to Vietnam at this time.” It was highly dangerous for a soldier, let alone a civilian.

“The war was not ending, it was escalating. Nixion said he was pulling out. American planes were targeting dykes in the monsoon season. It the it floods and the dams break 1 million civilians could loose their lives. I had no more right than anyone else.”

Jane Fonda was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese gun. “I will go to my grave regretting this and being used by the media. The justice department wanted to prosecute me and said  I was  ‘a hyprocrite and a liar'”. It was during this time that she was given the nickname “Hanoi Jane”. Tom Hayden stated that, “Nixon wanted to bomb the dykes and Jane stood up against it.”Activist Abbie Hoffman also praised Jane “for serving as an activist for causes even though she was in a celebrity family”.

“I made a movie called “Coming Home” and highlighted stories of war veterans like Ron Kovic.  It took six years to make because the studios didn’t want to risk making a movie about Vietnam. There were soldiers that came back believing they should have never gone to Vietnam. Some that came back were still staunch believers of the war.  Jane won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1979 for “Coming Home, ” (director Hal Ashby, 1978, with Jon Voight, Bruce Dern).

Son, Troy Garity explains he had an unusual childhood. “I was potty trained in a Vietnamese bomb shelter. We holidayed in conflict zones. My birthday parties were fundraisers.”

Jane says, “I wanted to show my husband, Tom that I could do it all (play the wife while living in the commune and staying active in the movement). I was aware that I was being followed by the FBI. Our house was attacked because of the work we were doing.I wanted to do more. So, I told Tom, Let’s start a business that will fund the work. One thing I could understand is working out. Jane Fonda’s workout I sold 17 million copies- They credited me with building the video industry. I felt stronger and women would come up to me. I had to overcome my addictions. I realized I would have to come to the light or to the dark.”

Friend Melissa Weinstein states, “I think she didn’t have as much confidence in those days as she should have. Her family formed a team around politics and the children and Jane Fonda’s workout becaome #1 on the New York Times Best Selling for 2 years straight.”

Jane then played actress Kimberly Wells in “The China Syndrome “( director James Bridges 1979) This was the story of a nuclear spill cover up. It starred Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas. “We were attacked for making this film and then 2 weeks later 3 Mile Island happened.”

Robert Redford states, “Jane goes for the heart of things. We were all aligned in the notion the things were not right. How were we going to go about it? Jane made a lot of enemies. She made a decision and said this is what I believe and I’m not going to go back on it!”

Lily Tomlin states, “Jane is always looking for the most current important issue to deal with. ‘Nine to Five’ (director Colin Higgins) was her invention and dealt with all these issues like flex pay, harassment, job equality, unionized workers, etc.”

Both Jane and Tom started a summer camp called Laurel Springs Ranch in Santa Barbara. There they welcomed children from “Black Panthers, heads of studios, children of farmers”. One particular African American teenager stood out, Mary “Lulu” Williams. Jane had realized that Lulu’s demeanor had changed. She was less bubbly and bright and grades had dropped. She had suspected a problem, and eventually found out she was being sexually abused. Jane made a deal with her to of get her grades up and she could continue acting camp. She also offered Lulu a chance to get out of her current situation by offering the teen a stable home environment. Eventually, Lula came and stayed with Jane and Tom, and young Troy who she connected with almost instantly.

Jane takes on a healing process with her father while filming “On Golden Pond” (directed by Mark Rydell, 1981), which the roles of her father, Henry Fonda and Kathering Hepburn mimicked the roles of her real relationship with her parents….”

Tom and Jane’s marriage begins to crumble. He falls in love with someone else and Jane throws herself back into working in Hollywood. She auditions for “Legal Eagles” (Ivan Reitman, 1986) and a bright shining young star named Debra Winger gets the job instead (opposite her old friend Robert Redford). Jane says at the time she was thinking, “OMG! It’s happening! (You know when Hollywood starts casting younger stars for parts that you would have clinched in your younger years or hints that an actress might be washed up).  However, on the other hand, Jane manages to find a love interest right after her divorce….a psychic lady tells her “I see money in your future…so much money!”

Act 4- Ted

That psychic lady was sooo right! Ted turner called Jane on the phone and asked for a date.  She declined. This is the same Ted Turner we know as media mogul and philanthropist. When she was ready again, Ted asked  6 months later. Eventually Jane and Ted married.    “ In his heart, Ted was a little boy who wants to play and had a wild brilliance. That’s what I was attracted to.”  The joining of Jane’s family with the Turner family was a great blend. However, the marriage lasted only ten years.


Act 5-Jane

“After Ted Turner, one part of me was sad, the other said I don’t need a man! I’ll be okay! Producer, Paula Weinstein asked me to come out and audition for ‘Monster-in-Law’ and right away I got the part” (director Robert Luketic, starring Jennifer Lopez 2005). I became a brand ambassador for L’Oréal. Later, I got the part for “Frankie and Gracie” on Netflix.”

Jane went back and analyzed her own parents to understand the mistakes and misunderstanidngs her relationships.  “Why did their parents treat them the way they did?” Jane discovers from family and friends that “her mother was the life of the party and very loving.” Her  mother suffered from bipolar disorder, so she was unable to show love in the way she wanted to for her children. “I believe mother had a hard childhood that broke her.”

“(My parents) They too have been wounded. Somebody has to break the cycle. I wanted my children, (especially my daughter Vanessa) to know it wasn’t because of them.”

Through this documentary I was a able to understand more clearly that certain generations didn’t talk about things, about illnesses in families that were ignored and children neglected. There were secrets and things hidden which caused problems later on with future relationships and bonding with others. I am glad that Jane Fonda was transparent with her family issues and coming to grips with the healing of relationships and forgiveness. I also must give kudos to Ms. Fonda for being a fighter for those without a voice and going against the grain, which is never easy.  She also explains, her father  (Henry Fonda) displayed open disgust for anyone that had was involved in the liberal or civil rights movement and vowed  to call the police on her if he found out she was involved. Overall, my article is lengthy because a woman of such accomplishment will have long accolades andrevelations on her road to self-discovery!

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