A celebrated actress, activist and fitness guru, Lady Jane Seymour Fonda was born in New York City in December 1937 and was already Hollywood royalty before she could take her first breath. Born to a Canadian socialite mother who was a distant relation to one of the wives of Henry the VIII (thus her full name), Jane's true royalty lies with her father, legendary screen icon Henry Fonda. Along with younger brother Peter Fonda, Henry's children would become a huge influence in the politically volatile 60s and 70s. Speaking out against injustice both through film and outright protest throughout much of those two decades, they would stir controversy and inspire change. Always a celebrity and pop culture icon, Jane has never strayed far the spotlight, reinventing herself several times over her 50 year career in Hollywood.
Jane's fame and infamy later in life were a far cry from her earlier days. Though living the pampered life expected of a daughter of the Hollywood elite, Jane was no stranger to tragedy and misfortune as a young girl. At the age of 12, her mother would commit suicide while undergoing treatment in a psychiatric hospital. Her father's quick remarriage that same year, along with a generally unforgiving, perhaps even neglectful demeanor, left Jane with what we might call today "daddy issues." These issues would go on to influence much of Jane's later career, life and relationship decisions, as she tried to simultaneously please and rebel against her father and the restlessness his influence would inflict upon in her life.
Jane would briefly attend college, though eventually abandoning those plans for a career in fashion modelling in the 1950s, which would see her on the cover of Vogue twice and a relative success in that field. Entering her early 20s, Jane showed little interest in following in her father's footsteps with acting. Though she was fond of the craft and often enjoyed reenacting her fathers roles with brother Peter as children, Jane would participate in few acting performances in her early life. It wasn't until a fateful meeting with Lee Strasberg of the Actor's Studio in 1958 that Jane would change her mind about acting and thus alter the entire course of her life.
It was Strasberg's insistence about Jane's talent as an actress that would infect her with the acting bug. From that point on she would eat, sleep and breathe acting. Much like her father, she would become obsessed with her new career, averaging at least 2 movies per year during the 1960s. She would earn acclaim as a promising new actress during the early 60s, but it wasn't until she appeared in the 1965 Oscar-nominated musical/western CAT BALLOU that Jane would achieve true superstar status. She would follow this up with performances in films like ANY WEDNESDAY and BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. In 1968, she would star in the decidedly bizarre sci-fi film BARBARELLA, in which she would first court controversy with her nude scenes in that film, done in a time when nudity was just beginning to creep its way into American cinema. While the film was a failure, it did have the effect of adding sex symbol to her established reputation as a film star.
In 1969, Jane would earn her first Oscar nom for her role in THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?, a film that would set the stage for the much more serious acting she would embark upon in the 1970s. This also marked a period in her life where she began to use her fame as a means of promoting and advocating political and social issues of the time, among them The Vietnam War, the plight of Native Americans and the growing feminist movement, just to name a few. Jane would become a staunch and outspoken advocate for these and other liberal agendas, making herself a target for those opposed to these issues.
Like many during this time, Jane was increasingly active in the divisive political movements sweeping through the US. One of her most controversial moves related to her activism would come in 1972, during a heavily publicized trip to North Vietnam. Still embroiled in a protracted war against that country, the US government and many US citizens would come to see this act as borderline treason, with many claiming her visit was intended to give comfort to the enemy. Jane was highly outspoken and critical of US policy in Vietnam during this visit, openly labeling many US political and military leaders war criminals. She was even photographed sitting in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun - an image that would soon find its way around the world, earning her rebuke from many circles and the nickname "Hanoi Jane." She would later express regret and apologize for this act, though her activist mindset would continue throughout the remainder of the 70s.
Her high demand in the movie industry would allow her to insist on scripts that explored issues important to her. These limitations would prove to be in her advantage, as many of the films she did during this time would go on to be some of the most acclaimed and important films of the decade. Among these well-regarded films are 1971's KLUTE, for which she received her first Oscar win. Other films like 1977's JULIA and FUN WITH DICK AND JANE would garner her more acclaim, as did 1979's THE CHINA SYDROME and THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN. And just as she insisted, all these movies dealt with issues and causes near and dear to her heart, from women's liberation to the elimination of nuclear power plants. This long string of successes would also make Jane one of the biggest stars of the decade.
Then came the 80s. This decade would usher in a new era, where the ideals of extreme political activism were quickly growing stale against the consumerist mindset of this time. Jane would continue to press her political points via cinema during in this decade, albeit more sporadically and in much more subtle ways. She would score a hit with 1980's 9 TO 5, a comedy exploring the plight of secretaries in an increasingly incorporated world. That year she would also take on one of her most personal roles, portraying the daughter of an outspoken yet frail old man in the film ON GOLDEN POND, in which her father Henry would play the lead role. His performance would earn him his only Oscar that year. Jane would go on to accept the prize for him, as illness prevented him from attending the ceremony. He would die only a few months later.
Fonda would do a handful of other films during this time, among them such films as the controversial AGNES OF GOD in 1986. However, her most substantial contribution to the decade came from a series of hugely successful exercise tapes. Capitalizing on the new rage in personal fitness, Jane would become the symbol for this movement, setting fashion and lifestyle trends while also becoming a symbol of longevity and beauty well into her 40s and 50s. This successful business venture along with her new marriage to media mogul Ted Turner prompted Jane to officially retire from acting in 1991. It would be 15 years before she would make another film.
Seven decades later, Jane Fonda is back at it and better than ever. Having reacquired the acting bug, she's doing both TV and movies again. She recently scored a hit with the HBO drama THE NEWSROOM and has multiple movies in production. She's still keeping herself fit as well, with a body more trim than many women half her age. And she's still making use of that body, as evidenced by a recent interview where she discusses how she's never known better sex than that she experiences as a Septuagenarian. Perhaps a bit TMI, yet very much reflective of the fearless and committed woman she has proven herself to be over the years. Even at the age of 75, Jane's passion for life and to those issues important to her have given her vitality, strength and longevity - none of which looks to dim any time soon.