Hollywood legend has it that Bette Davis was forced to talk to a blank wall rather than her co-star Henry Fonda during filming of her close-ups in Jezebel; the reason was that Fonda had repaired to New York to attend the birth of his daughter Jane. A child of privilege, the young Jane Fonda exhibited the imperious, headstrong attitude and ruthlessness that would distinguish both her film work and her private life. The teenage Fonda wasn't keen on acting until she worked with her father in a 1954 Omaha Community Theatre production of The Country Girl. Slightly interested in pursuing a stage career at this point, Fonda nonetheless studied art both at Vassar and in Europe, returning to the states to work as a fashion model. Studying acting in earnest at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio, Fonda ultimately starred on Broadway in Tall Story, then made her film debut by re-creating this stage appearance in 1960.
A talented but not really distinctive player at this time, Fonda astonished everyone (none as much as her father) by becoming one of the first major American actresses to appear nude in a foreign film. This was La Ronde (1964), directed by her lover (and later her first husband) Roger Vadim. The event was heralded by a giant promotional poster in New York's theatre district, with Fonda's naked backside in full view for all Manhattan to see. Vadim decided to mold Fonda into a "sex goddess" in a series of lush but forgettable films; the best Fonda/Vadim collaboration was Barbarella (1968), which scored as much on the actress' sharp comic timing (already evidenced in such American pictures as Cat Ballou, 1968) as it did on her kinky costuming. In the late 1960s, Fonda underwent another career metamorphosis when she took up the cudgel of the anti-Vietnam War movement. Her notorious visit to North Vietnam at the height of the conflict earned her the sobriquet "Hanoi Jane" as well as the enmity of virtually every ex-GI who fought in Southeast Asia.
Even so, Fonda's film stardom ascended in the early 1970s; in 1971, she won the first of two Oscars for her portrayal of a high-priced prostitute in Klute (her other Oscar was for Coming Home, 1978) and Fonda's career flourished despite a sub-rosa Hollywood campaign to discredit the actress and spread idiotic rumors about her subversive behavior (one widely circulated fabrication had Fonda destroying the only existing negative of Stagecoach because she despised John Wayne).
In the 1980s, the actress realized several personal and
career milestones: she worked with her father on film for
the only time in On Golden Pond (1981); she assisted
former peace activist Tom Hayden, whom she married in the
early 1970s, in his successful bid for the California State
Assembly; and she launched the first of several best-selling
exercise videos. She also won an Emmy for her performance
in the TV movie The Dollmaker (1984). After her marriage
to Hayden ended in the early 1980s, Fonda married media
mogul Ted Turner in 1991 (the couple would divorce in 2000),
and began curtailing her film appearances, all but retiring
from the screen after her lead role opposite Robert De Niro
in 1990's Stanley
and Iris. Though occasionally glimpsed performing
the "tomahawk chop" at Atlanta Braves games during
her marriage to Turner, Fonda was no less the social activist
in the 1990s than she was two decades earlier: among her
projects was the production of several "revisionist"
dramatic specials and documentaries about the history of
Native Americans, duly telecast on Turner's various worldwide