Review

My Life So Far

by Jane Fonda



I wondered which one of Jane Fonda's many identities had filtered
through today's popular culture, so I asked my twenty-year-old
daughter who she is. "Isn't she that workout person? Oh, and she's
an actress, and Peter Fonda's sister."

With more changes than a chameleon, Fonda's fascinating life
warrants all 579 pages of this well-written autobiography. Here she
is, describing her summer on the French Riviera at age 20: "We
visited Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis on his enormous
yacht, the Christina --- which had a Picasso hanging in the
living room, gold-leafed faucets in the bathrooms, a mosaic
swimming pool, and always many pretty girls with secrets in their
eyes who talked easily with men who owned Picassos." That summer
she went swimming with Greta Garbo, who stunned her by asking, "Are
you going to be an actress?" When Jane demurred that she didn't
have talent, Garbo replied, "I bet you do, and you're pretty enough
to be one."

This was, believe it or not, a big shock to young Jane. She thought
of herself as fat and plain, with bad hair. Among the many intimate
facts Fonda shares in this book, we learn that she struggled with
bulimia well into her 40s. She worshipped her father, and lived on
the crumbs of attention he doled out to her and Peter. Feelings,
especially sexual feelings, were taboo subjects in their house. Her
parent's troubled marriage inspired Jane to try and be perfect, to
"make it better." After they divorced, Jane's mother committed
suicide in a mental hospital. The children were told she had died
of a heart attack. Jane discovered it was suicide from a classmate,
who had read it in a tabloid. Only many years later was Jane able
to empathize with her mother. In this chapter of her life and
others, Fonda tells all with the insight and wisdom of age. "I hope
that other women might see something of their own experiences in
what I have to say about how a girl can lose touch with herself,
her body, and have to struggle --- hard --- to get herself, her
voice, back."

Several chapters are devoted to Fonda's Vietnam War activism. It's
a shame that people who despise her for her role in the war will
never read these, because they depict both her utter sincerity and
her naiveté. Traveling to North Vietnam, she was photographed
standing next to an anti-aircraft gun, smiling and clapping. "If I
was used, I allowed it to happen. It was my mistake, and I have
paid and will continue to pay a heavy price for it." I wonder if
the hawks who hate Fonda are aware that most of her work was
focused on servicemen, both active and returned. In 1988, when she
was filming Stanley & Iris in Waterbury, Connecticut, a
local conservative attempted to have her barred from the town, and
the Ku Klux Klan flags flew across the street from the newspaper
office. Her effigy was hanged from a tree at a rally. Fonda met the
crisis head on, arranging a meeting with Vietnam vets in a church
hall. "I don't recall being afraid as I went into the meeting room.
I knew in my heart I had never felt anything but compassion for the
soldiers in Vietnam." She went alone into the meeting with
twenty-six veterans. Some of them wore buttons and hats reading
HANOI JANE and TRAITOR. Four hours of sitting in a circle, talking,
defused the antagonism between these vets and Jane. It also seemed
to drain the energy out of the controversy, and the filming went
on.

Fonda's three marriages --- to Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden and Ted
Turner --- naturally figure prominently in the book. "A persistent
assumption about me is that I am a puppet, ready for a new man to
pull my strings. There was some truth to this. Until age sixty I
never had enough self-confidence to feel validated unless I was
with a man, and the men I was with embodied something I felt would
make me better than I thought I was." Fonda's candor about her own
character opened my heart to her, warts and all.

Then there are the photographs. From blonde, big-haired Barbarella
to brunette, shaggy-haired Klute, we see Jane and her family in
many moments, posed and otherwise. With glamour and pathos and
plenty of dirt, this book offers a very readable, intimate portrait
of one of the lightning rods of our time.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 12, 2011

My Life So Far
by Jane Fonda

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2005
  • Genres: Autobiography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 0375507108
  • ISBN-13: 9780375507106