Review

Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman

by Patricia Bosworth

The only quibble I have with Patricia Bosworth’s truly compelling look at the psychological ins and outs of the life of Jane Fonda is that there are not nearly enough pictures of her in the various guises that she has fashioned for herself in her long and exciting life. Otherwise, I couldn’t put this volume down.

"This was one majorly dysfunctional family, and the way that Bosworth trails Jane’s life along the road bumps that mark their history makes this a page-turning biography."

Her mother’s suicide when she was 12 informed everything about Jane’s life from then on out. And her father’s inability to show her proper affection, instead opting for a Midwestern stoicism that became his stock-in-trade in his career, put in motion a lifelong search for the perfect mate. Jane’s relationships with her husbands --- Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden and Ted Turner --- all formidable and famous men of progressive thinking and aggressive careerism, are the absolute meat of the book. For a feminist, it might have been somewhat embarrassing to see the many ways in which Jane is manipulated and changed by her relationships. However, she chalks it up to, essentially, a learning curve, where each man taught her something about herself that awakened another part of the woman she is today.

That being said, the torrid details about Jane’s sex life and her obsession with her body (and the dangerous lengths, including bulimia, that she went to maintain her sexy figure) are very revealing. They could be considered embarrassing, but Bosworth, who is a childhood friend of hers, manages to put a psychological spin on each event and desire that places it nicely in a missing niche of the puzzle that is Jane Fonda.

Motherhood is another big theme --- the loss of Jane’s own mother and what she experienced at the hands of this woman who preferred her younger brother, Peter, to her (although Peter suffered psychological distress from the family dynamic as well). Jane and her first child, Vanessa Vadim, have a difficult relationship, which is in direct contrast to her relationship with her son by Hayden, Troy, to whom she attended his growing up with great care and love. Later, she adopts and then becomes an advocate for teenage girls in Atlanta through her life there with Turner. Bosworth finds a number of ways to relate Jane’s relationship to her own mother with the mothering instincts she displayed with her own family. It is an endlessly compelling look at a delicate and difficult aspect of her dramatic life.

It is worth mentioning that the book barrels along at a hectic pace, Bosworth trying desperately to get in the million and one ways in which Jane has changed and evolved over the years, her experiences as an actor and award-winning and controversial producer, as well as her ascent to icon status as the Queen of the video workout to her ’60s Hanoi Jane period. The most disturbing acknowledgements are the ways in which Jane allowed the men in her life to play such a huge role in tamping down and affecting intensely private parts of herself, or keeping her from pursuing other things because they disapproved.

This is much like her relationship with her dad, which is notably discussed as well, although Henry Fonda comes off as a sad figure who was filled with love and pride when it came to his kids but had a hard time letting them know. Still, he often regaled the people in his career with their many successes and also managed to be there for his children in many ways throughout their unsure steps into their various public and private guises. This was one majorly dysfunctional family, and the way that Bosworth trails Jane’s life along the road bumps that mark their history makes this a page-turning biography. But it doesn’t feel tawdry --- instead it feels like a psychological profile --- and that makes it particularly worthy in this day of the Kitty Kelley tell-all.

JANE FONDA really gives you a privileged look into the behind-the-scenes of one of Hollywood’s royal families, through the eyes of its prettiest and most public member. For a compelling read about a truly modern woman, a complicated public figure and a trendsetter like no other, this is a book that you won’t be able to put down.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on September 8, 2011

Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman
by Patricia Bosworth

  • Publication Date: October 16, 2012
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0547577656
  • ISBN-13: 9780547577654