A Great New Bio Of Jane Fonda

I wouldn’t normally read a book about Jane Fonda. I already know that she had a difficult relationship with her father, Henry Fonda, and that she has a habit of marrying strong men (Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden, Ted Turner) who damp down her identity, and that she hasn’t had much of a movie career since her spectacular 1970s run of hits (“Klute,” “Julia,” “The China Syndrome,” “Coming Home”). So why did I read the new biography, “Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman”? Because I believe that its author, Patricia Bosworth, has written one of the finest biographies ever of a Hollywood star, “Montgomery Clift: A Biography,” and because I am a great admirer of Bosworth’s journalism. With her Fonda book, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it’s one of the best star bios I’ve read in a long time, and every bit worthy enough to place on the shelf next to the Clift work.

Bosworth is insightful on Jane’s early years, including the difficult relationship with her mother, Frances Brokaw, who committed suicide when Jane was 12. I knew very little about Jane’s early movies, and Bosworth has filled in my gaps. (How could I have missed watching “Walk on the Wild Side,” with Jane as Kitty Twist and Barbara Stanwyck as a lesbian madam?) Bosworth has been especially dogged at tracking down key figures from Jane’s past, and getting them to spill. Especially revealing is Andreas Voutsinas, Jane’s closest confidant during the early 60s. Voutsinas has some of the most amusing lines in the book (with her lifelong earnestness and lack of self-awareness, Jane doesn’t come across as suffused with wit), although the funniest line in the book belongs to Leonard Bernstein: Of Lillian Hellman, whom Jane played in “Julia,” Lenny said, “Hellman’s face resembles that of an old basset hound.”

I could go on and on about the virtues of Bosworth’s bio, but instead of reading me on Jane you should be reading her on Jane. Buy your copy here.

Leave a Comment