Liz Smith: Jane Fonda: 'Barbarella' is Fit and Strong at 72

Robin Platzer, Twin Images / CC Flickr

Miss Fonda tells Liz about her new exercise DVDs and her coming book  …  Joan Collins – a bit of a Twit?

“BARBARELLA, PSYCHEDELIA, there’s a certain cockleshell about you … Barbarella, Ba-ba-barbarella …”

Now, admit it. If you are a certain age and you’re not still bent out of shape over Jane Fonda‘s political past, the above lyrics to the title song of Jane’s sci-fi cult classic “Barbarella” still ring fondly in your ears.


MISS FONDA, then in the full bloom of her young womanhood, did a mid-air striptease as the title credits rolled on Roger Vadim‘s intergalactic sex romp. She looked superb back in 1968!

Jane is now 72, and if she couldn’t quite pull off such a scene today, she’d still look damn good giving it a try. Fonda has been a devotee of exercise for many years – after she finally got over an eating disorder. In the 1970’s and 80’s, her career as the queen of exercise videos thrived as fully as her movie work. At one point, she was so identified with “feeling the burn” that her wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Paris was clothed in spandex workout gear!

Well, Jane no longer has a studio where she actually works as a trainer, but she hasn’t given up on her body. You can tell that by looking at her. Now, the star is putting out two new DVDs directly targeting women (and men!) of a certain age.

Titled “Fit and Strong” and “Walk Out,” these contain strength-building low impact workouts.

I spoke with Jane recently. “You know, exercise and going to the gym always starts out with looking better – getting into that dress, that bathing suit. And that’s fine, but after a point, you have to think more about remaining strong and limber. Don’t throw your bikini away, but understand what you did as a young woman is not going to be as beneficial as you age. The moves are different. And exercising improperly can have disastrous effects on older bodies.

“Look,” said Jane in no-nonsense tones. “Older people have to move. It helps the heart, the lungs, your bones, and your brains. And I’d advise younger people to get up off the couch, too.” (Jane’s people kindly sent over the DVDs. Although I was very lucky in not breaking anything when I fell recently, perhaps some of Jane’s directives will help as I recover.)

Jane said, “Because I don’t have a studio anymore, we brought in a group of older people, from their 50’s to a few in their vigorous 80’s. I had to make sure what I was doing was correct for them. And I was glad I did that. I worked to make the workouts more user-friendly. I’m very coordinated and strong, but not everybody else is.” She laughed. “Anyway, nobody has to look like me. Hell, even I don’t look like me!


WHAT ELSE for Jane? She’s been on the L.A. stage acting in “33 Variations,” which won her acclaim when she did it on Broadway, and has several movies ready pop. One of them is a French entry titled, “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.” That could have been the title of her wonderful autobiography, which she instead called My Life So Far. Fonda’s book was amongst the most human and … tentative autobiographies I’ve ever read. The sense of her searching, trying to understand herself and the world, was palpable. It was quite touching. She gives off a powerful vibe of energy and sometimes even toughness – she has grown a thick skin. But vulnerability is there, quite close to the surface, actually.

Jane has another book coming, Prime Time: Creating a Great Third Act. It’s been a three-and-a-half-year labor, to be published by Random House. It’s part memoir, part self-help, concerning emotions, sex, life in one’s later years. She says, “It’s quite personal, but it’s useful as well. I interviewed lots of people – doctors, sex therapists. Honestly, I’m proud of it.”


NOW IN the midst of a grueling schedule to promote her DVDs, I asked this dynamic icon if she ever got tired? “Well, there are I times I like to be solitary, when I feel emptied out, and I suppose I have to restore myself. But it’s never because I’m overworked. Certainly not for something like this. I was brought up on junkets. We’d all get on trains and travel across country (for weeks!) promoting a film. This sort of hard work was expected of you. Did you want to succeed? Did you want to be known? Well, then, you better be prepared for what that entails.

“I mean, aside from the fact that I think my new book is good, I am really looking forward to the book tour. I love getting out and meeting people and hearing what they have to say.” She paused, significantly. “Whatever they have to say.”


ANOTHER WOMAN with amazing energy is Miss Joan Collins who just wound up in a stint at Feinstein’s at the Regency. On Saturday night, after her second show, Joan, hubby Percy Gibson, and another gent dined. It was one o’clock in the morning, but Collins was chipper and glam. Her conversation was high-spirited. But at one point, things got a bit tense. During a discussion of tweeting (Miss Collins is a Twitter-er), Joan’s tones iced up. “What do you mean, you tweet her? What about me?” “Oh, Joanie,” came the reply. “I didn’t even know you had a Twitter account.” Joan snapped back, “Well, I do, I certainly do!”

Oh, the “her” who is (or was) receiving tweets from the unknown man at Joan’s table? Joan’s famous sister, the writer Jackie Collins. Sibling rivalry? Surely not. Joan just doesn’t want to be Twit-less in our cyber world.

The star is now in London, preparing to tour the provinces with “One Night With Joan.”

11 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Lizzie R. says:

    Jane Fonda looks great not only because of her body, but she also had plastic surgery with a very good surgeon, who did a fabulous job on her face. She said she could not write a book on aging witout revealing that she did have plastic surgery. This just does not come from good living & exercise. She really looks wonderful….more power to her.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      The remarkable thing about her plastic surgery is she didn’t attempt to look 32 like so many but rather just merely a very well-taken-care-of, or well-preserved, 72.

      I never minded her politics but then I believe in truth no matter how painful but did mind her apologizing for them at one point and never really understood her need to do so. Her going to North Vietnam was not a statement about our troops. It was a statement about our government and its policies which have once again been reflected by “leaked papers” and I thought about Jane Fonda in that regard. She gave people courage to speak up and speak out about things that simply were wrong. We could use another Jane Fonda at this point. Or just Jane Fonda.

      She should have been given a Nobel Peace Prize for her courage in speaking up and speaking out instead of being branded a traitor. She was just an American who valued the true meaning of freedom and democracy. Which does not come through the end of a gun barrel.

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Baby…you are so correct! Jane has had the best kind of normal, non-distorting procedures. (She removed the Ted-Turner era implants) In person, she looks great. Not young, or trying to look young. Just great.

        She has not touched her mouth.

        • avatar Baby Snooks says:

          (She removed the Ted-Turner era implants)


          Do I dare ask if she returned them to him?  I would have.  Oh, the things I would have and did. Sent an arrangment of dead flowers when someone who shouldn’t have invited me to the wedding.  I even signed the card.  And paid $100 to have them delivered and placed in the entry of the church after the ceremony began.  He never called again. And the marriage lasted 6 months. She caught him cheating twice before she said “arrivaderci” as well.  Quite a few through the years have said “arrivaderci” tohim. Some men are simply not made for monogamy let alone fidelity. Although I suspect I taught him that “arrivaderci” means “goodbye.”  As in don’t call, don’t write, don’t even so much as look at me ever again.  I really shouldn’t share all these things. But then no one knows who I am. So why not? 

          • avatar Jay Gentile says:

            Because it makes you look small, petty, vindicative, mean, and like a complete bitch. Even if you hated the man, did you need to spoil the bride’s wedding to make your sour little point? I’m sure you’re quite proud of yourself, but anyone would any sense of decency would be mortified by your high school behavior. I bet you’re STILL not married.

          • avatar Baby Snooks says:

            Possibly so but even the bride later admitted he asked for it. And later admitted she rather enjoyed it as did others who knew that the invitation to the wedding was what was really “small, petty, vindicative, mean” and made him look like a total jerk if not a bastard. And the flowers were directed at him. Not her. And if he’d ever remarried and invited her she would have sent a “bouquet” of her own. She and he do not talk. He and I do not talk.  She and I still do talk.  Just last week as a matter of fact. 

  2. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Jane, I will be honest. There are much more fun ways to exercise and keep the body in shape and moving — as well as the mind active — than going to a class of all women — (which I find “the worst”) or pushing yourself to go with the home DVDs — even with beautiful you as a good example. For most of my life I have been out there before work but gone in an entirely different direction. How? For well over 20 years, 7 days a week usually (only as it is so much fun) I meet 6 men and we go walking for an hour, starting by 7 or before. A few of the men have changed over time – which is fun in itself – but we walk at a good clip, either indoors or out, and talk up a storm about things women are not as interested in. I never fail to learn something. My brain is working and my body is moving . . . but the laughing we do has to be relieving any stress anyone has as we have fun. We never call it exercise — as that kills a good time. It is getting together as far as we are concerned and moving at a pretty good clip.

    As often as we can on weekends and time off, we are off and on the road. Life is too short to sit around — or so I think. I love the Grand Tetons — and it is cheap if you camp. Climbing up to Surprise Lake — and then making it down before dark becomes a bit longer trip as the years go by, but – darn it! – we make it. Walking in my favorite place – Carmel and Big Sur — is easy and the ocean front walk can be as long as you can make it — but it provides such a revival of the spirit at the same time. YOu can go near or far – no matter where you live — and encounter the most wondrous things and the most fascinating people along the way. To me, life is too short to be lying around — not when there is a world of wonders out there beckoning — and for that daily exercise, what does it for me is being surrounded by interesting men. The combo is unbeatable — keeping me exhilarated — and life . . . well, fantastic.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Few people realize how good walking is for you. It is the best exercise of all. I was diagnosed with labile hypertension four years ago and the medication made me dizzy and I started walking whenever I had a malignant attack that initially everyone thought were panic attacks. Dangerous hypertension does let you know it’s there.  I did panic the first time and instead of reaching for the Norvasc I decided to go walk instead perhaps out of fear it was better to drop over on a sidewalk where someone might call an ambuliance in time instead of dropping over on the way to the phone. And after a couple of blocks I  found I felt better.  And so I kept walking.  Every time I’ve seen a doctor the past four months they’ve been amazed by my blood pressure being in the normal range. Even more amazed that all I’ve done is walk every day. At least a mile. Usually more.  Good for the lungs, the cardiovascular system, and the brain.  You tend to look around at things. And enjoy things more.  Which releases the little “happy hormones.” 

      • avatar D C says:

        The weather here in Houston has turned quite lovely, and I’ve taken to the streets daily on my lunch hour (the  tunnel system when it rains) and am getting in 2 miles daily at lunch.  I love it. 

        • avatar Baby Snooks says:

          It’s turned more cold than lovely. Unless you like cold.  I have terminal claustrophobia to go with the terminal post traumatic stress so I don’t do tunnels but they are wonderful in cold and rainy weather, aren’t they?  As are stairs. I used to do stairs. I don’t do stairs. Because of the emphysema I knew I had before the doctors knew I had it. What else I have who knows. I was told last week half my lungs are gone. I thought about that on Friday while I was walking all over downtown trying to find a FedEx office that was “one block down to the left.”  More like “two blocks down, to the right, then one more block down.”  I guess the other half of my lungs are doing just fine?  I suspect I will probably drop dead long before the doctors figure out what it is I may or may not be about to drop dead from. Someone told me at one point that the leading cause of death is doctors. I’m beginning to believe it. 

          I was lucky early in life to have had a friend in Manhattan who walked everywhere.  It seems Manhattan is the only place on earth where people actually walk.  In our “time is money” society I guess it takes too long to walk. 

  3. avatar jamie spence says:

    I love Jane Fonda. She’s talented and she’s real. She made some horrific mistakes in the 60s, and she owned them. She was genuine in her pursuits and beliefs. I go to see any movie that she’s in, and it’s not that I am of the same generation – I’m about to turn 40. But her talent, like that of Robert Redford and Gene Hackman, etc. – is timeless and ageless.