And more from our Gossip Girl: El Rio Grande’s Dirk Kennedy — putting Margaritaville on hold?
“I’M GLAD a woman is writing about me!”
That was Jane Fonda to writer Patricia Bosworth in 2003, after the actress had finally consented to speak to Ms. Bosworth, who had already been working on a biography of Fonda for several years. (Jane had not stood in the way of any friend or family member speaking to the author.)
But then, Jane changed her mind. She summoned Bosworth to her home in New Mexico, where the Oscar-winner was going through her FBI files, of all things. Jane gave Bosworth access to the files and invited her to stay at the ranch for a few days. “Jane is a prodigious talker. I taped and took notes and everything she said ended up in this book, one way or another,” Bosworth comments.
“This book” is “Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman.” It is a rich, exhaustively researched, fascinating glimpse at one of the most talented, deeply complex and infuriating actresses to ever achieve great fame. Jane’s own autobiography, “My Life So Far” was wonderful — raw and honest and achingly tentative. It was the memoir of a woman still feeling her way through life, still trying to figure herself out.
Bosworth’s book doesn’t figure out Jane Fonda. She writes, “Fonda is the consummate actress who has an uncanny ability to inhabit various characters at will. She once told me, ‘The weird thing about acting is that you get paid for having multiple personalities.” But there is so much rich material, and Fonda was nothing if not honest with the writer.
Bosworth brings new life to the tale we already know of Jane’s childhood — the neurotic mother who eventually committed suicide, the cold, distant father, actor Henry Fonda, whom she idolized mythologized; she could not understand the disconnect from his warm screen image to what he was in real life. She spent her own life seeking his approval (and even when he approved it was never enough) and looking for approval in all her men, making herself into what they wanted. But — and this is the truly remarkable aspect of her personality — as soon as she transformed her utterly — sex-symbol for Roger Vadim, political helpmate for Tom Hayden, glamorous corporate wife for Ted Turner — she rebelled against what she’d done, finding that her men seemed less than appreciative (or faithful.) Her life has been a committed, often tortured, search for identity.
During the Vadim period — as the director attempted to turn her into an American Brigitte Bardot — a friend recalled Jane as “the most insecure person I ever met, despite her fame. She wasn’t a sex symbol; she was basically a modest person. It seemed as if she was locked into subservience by self-hatred and need.”
Jane’s life has also been a committed search and appreciation of fame. What struck me here was how obsessed the young Jane was about becoming a star and being famous. Her lover/mentor of several years told Bosworth, “She reminded me of Barbra Streisand. She had an absolute craving for fame.” And for love. Another friend remarked, “Jane was so insecure and hungry for love she tried to swallow you whole. Very intense but very demanding, too. She was generous with her money and her time … but there was something deep inside that she kept to herself and would give to no one.”
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MUCH LIKE Patricia Bosworth’s acclaimed biography on Montgomery Clift, this work on Fonda — a seven year endeavor! — is packed with brilliant observations on Fonda’s relationships, her career, her gradual political awakenings, her terrible mistake in Hanoi, for which many still won’t forgive her, and her brilliant re-inventions of herself. Despite animosity because of her anti-war stance, Fonda has had a second, third and fourth act in American life. (It was interesting to contemplate the fact that Jane was pregnant with her first child during the most ferocious buildup of the Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Jane was tortured, wondering if it was right to bring a child into such a world. It was in those nine months, that she became a true political activist.)
Despite some abysmal naiveté, Jane, as one friend says “was constantly trying to figure out how she could make things better.” And this was a quality she took into her personal life, with stepchildren and ex-wives of her husbands. She always wanted to bring people together, to make peace. She had suffered as a child and didn’t ever want to see it or be the cause of it to others. (And yet, her own children suffered her absences from home while she pursued her various careers.)
The intricacies of Jane’s marriages to Tom Hayden and Ted Turner are fascinating and depressing — this strong feminist woman, once again giving herself over to a man. And Bosworth does her homework on the lies told about Jane, how she was targeted by the American government, and — like it or not — that she was not a traitor and no American soldiers died because of her photo-op, sitting on a Viet Cong antiaircraft gun. Fonda calls this her “two minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me till I die.”
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I HAPPEN to like Jane Fonda, a lot. But even if you don’t, or think you don’t, I recommend this book. You still might not “like” her, but it is hard not to respect her journey and her honesty. Today she is single, raising millions for her “Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.” She looks great, having removed the implants she inserted for Ted Turner, but admitting to plastic surgery on her face. The perfect “Barbarella” body is holding up admirably.
Bosworth comments toward the end: “I couldn’t help wishing she’d devoted herself solely to her acting. If she’d wanted to, she could have been one of the most interesting and challenging women ever onstage and on film. To me, she is far more compelling as Bree Daniels than she ever was as ‘Hanoi Jane.’ Jane’s finest performances will never be figured out. They are a mystery.”
I think Bosworth was referring to Jane’s performances as an actress and as a woman. Even today, in her vital seventies, Jane is searching. She is as confounding as she ever was — to the public and to herself.
As Patricia Bosworth observes, Jane always seems to be “pondering her authenticity.”
Just like a real person, just like us.
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ONE OF New York’s most terrific Tex Mex restaurants is the El Rio Grande, right downstairs in my Murray Hill apartment, which occupies both 38th and 37th Streets. (One side is Mexico, the other is Texas.) The tortillas are deliciously fresh, the fish is excellent, the guacamole superb, the portions prodigious, and the margaritas lethal.
The staff is terrific too, managed by the blonde, beautiful, and inexhaustible Jennifer Jordan. (She’s had five children and sports the figure of a teenager). One of El Rio’s most popular bartenders not only mixes a mean drink, but he’s a fine musician and singer. He’s known as Jimmy behind the bar, but onstage he’s Dirk Kennedy. He has a new album, “Life Is Now” and he’ll perform Friday at The Foundry in Long Island City.
Good, luck, Jimmy! (or Dirk.) I just hope you’ll stick around to salt the rim of the margarita glass, kid.