Patricia Bosworth has gone beyond the image of an American superwoman to reveal a Jane Fonda more powerful and vulnerable than ever expected. Fonda emerged from a heartbreaking Hollywood family drama to become a ’60s onscreen ingénue and then an Oscar-winning actress. At the top of her game she risked all, rising up against the Vietnam War and shocking the world with a trip to Hanoi. While becoming one of Hollywood’s most committed feminists, she financed her husband Tom Hayden’s political career in the ’80s with exercise videos that began a fitness craze and brought in millions of dollars. Just as interesting is Fonda’s next turn, as a Stepford Wife of the Gulfstream set, marrying Ted Turner and seemingly walking away from her ideals and her career. Fonda’s multilevel story is a blend of the deep insecurity, magnetism, bravery, and determination that has fueled her inspiring and occasionally infuriating public life.
My Thoughts: In many ways, I have followed the numerous incarnations of Jane that have been described in Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman. Her early childhood experiences, including the tragedy of her mother’s suicide when she was twelve, and also highlighting her quest for her father’s love and approval, could describe many children growing up in a world with celebrity parents. The vulnerability, accompanied by constant attention, could come to chip away at the self-confidence of anyone. The early chapters in this book were the least fascinating to me, but I did enjoy learning more about her childhood.
My interest grew as I learned more about how Jane’s early years as an actress helped her develop greater self-confidence, but which did not completely satisfy her need for love and approval.
The incarnation that captured my interest the most was how she turned to political activism as a way of coming into her own, and also became a way of expressing her unique and independent perspective. But despite those who found her articulate and knowledgeable, there were also those who focused on the media’s hatred of her visit to Hanoi during the war. The label of Hanoi Jane would follow her and threaten her for years.
Then in still another incarnation, her turn at developing her own business through the work-out tapes and the resulting empire would be followed by still another life as a tycoon’s wife.
Unexpected shifts over the years would reveal how much of Jane’s life could almost certainly be seen as a series of changes and reinvention. Fascinating and revelatory. I enjoyed this book and have awarded it 4.5 stars.