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Author Talk: September 9, 2011

Patricia Bosworth has written several impressive biographies of public figures like Marlon Brando, Diane Arbus, Montgomery Clift, and now Jane Fonda. This latest book, JANE FONDA: The Private Life of a Public Woman, delves deep into Jane’s past, revealing the seeds of both her inner turmoil and very public triumphs. In this interview, Bosworth discusses her relationship with the actress, and how the Jane she first met in 1961 differs from the Jane the world now knows. She also describes the themes and revelations present in her book, all of which shed light on Jane’s many transformations and the reasons why she has kept the world so enraptured after so many years.

Question: What is your relationship with Jane Fonda?

Patricia Bosworth: I’ve come to the conclusion by now that we are partners and antagonists, dancing the awkward dance of a biographer and a living subject. Each of us has her own motives for this book, which we haven’t expressed openly to one another. We protect ourselves; we’ve been equally polite. It’s only in the last year that we have finally relaxed and can enjoy each other’s company.

Q: How does the Jane that you met at the Actors Studio in 1961 compare with the Jane that you know now?

PB: Jane was very nervous, highly keyed and remote when I first met her at the Actors Studio. She was extremely formal with everybody. I remember her beautiful manners, her impatience, her insecurity. She seemed sad. She was extremely thin.

Today Jane is filled with confidence and energy, informed on so many issues. She moves easily through the worlds of politics, feminism, the movies, and philanthropy. She is very rich and she is free. She can do exactly what she wants –-- and she does. She is even skinnier now at 73 than she was at 21.

Q: What are the most important revelations you make about Jane Fonda in this biography?

PB: That her father was and is the most important person in her life. This is a story of a woman’s struggle to be acknowledged and affirmed; Jane has spent her whole life trying to find love. First with her father, who never gave her love, and then with a succession of men she chose, who all resembled her father in various ways, and of course with her public, with her fans. She wants and craves love. This is one of the main themes of my book.

The other is the impact of suicide on a family. Frances Fonda’s suicide was the defining incident not only in Jane’s life, but in Henry’s and Peter’s. As a suicide survivor, Jane has had to be a super-achiever always.

Her contradictions. On the one hand she is enormously generous --– to friends in need, to her family, to her first two husbands (both of whom she supported financially), to her causes. But she is ruthless in the way she uses people and then tosses them aside when she no longer needs them. She has surprised and hurt many by her often calculating behavior. She changes her mind a lot. She tends to depend on mediocrities to advise her, often to her detriment.

Her ability to keep on reinventing herself to suit the times. Her ability to remain relevant. The public is still interested in her after 40 years, but she fuels that interest by keeping herself in the news, often in controversial ways.

Q: Much has been made of Jane’s many transformations –-- sex kitten, award-winning actress, controversial anti-war activist, exercise guru, feminist leader, nonprofit champion, and so on. Which one do you think is closest to the “real” Jane Fonda?

PB: Jane as exercise guru is as close as you can get to the authentic Jane Fonda. It is her most remarkable act of self-recreation. In fitness there is freedom, and in her Workout tapes and books there is a fortune, which she is proud to have made. The care and nurturing of her body has always been central to her iconography and to the very core of her being, from the time she was 20 years old and taking ballet classes every day. She wanted a perfect body and she has a perfect body even today; it’s astonishing. But at what a price; she has been bulimic and anorexic, she has osteoporosis, she now has two hip replacements and a knee replacement. She shows off her flexibility on every TV show from “Oprah” to “Jay Leno.” As she hawks her latest exercise DVD, she knows she has huge audience appeal to women of her age group. Everybody wants to know her secrets. I know just a few of them.

© Copyright 2011, Patricia Bosworth. All rights reserved.