The second generation of Hollywood royalty. Jane Fonda she comes from an acting family, but quickly made a name for herself and became an icon in her own right.
Born in 1937 to Frances Ford Seymour and film legend Henry Fonda, Jane became interested in acting as a teenager after starring in a benefit play with her dad in Nebraska. After dropping out of Vassar College, she moved to Paris to study art, then returned to the US and began seriously studying acting with method pioneer Lee Strasberg.
Jane worked steadily on stage in the late 1950s before making her film debut in the 1960s. Tall Story. While the Golden Globe winner appeared in several films that decade, her breakthrough role came in 1965. Cat Ballou, in which she played a teacher turned outlaw trying to protect her father’s ranch. The film was nominated for five Oscars (and won one), but its lead actress was surprised that it was a hit.
“When we did Cat Ballouneither one nor the other [costar] Lee [Marvin] nor did I think it would be good,” said Jane Star Tribune in June 2019. “We did it very quickly and very quickly. Then Lee won an Oscar. So you never really know. Just do your best and see what happens.”
Jane earned her first Academy Award nomination in 1970 for her work in the film They shoot horses, don’t they? before winning two years later for her turn as invitee Bree Daniels Stupid. The role is now remembered as one of her best roles, but Jane later revealed that she didn’t think she was right for the role at first.
“I was just starting to understand feminism,” she explained during an interview with Criterion 2019. “It wasn’t in my body, but it was becoming part of my thought process. I was trying to understand the women’s movement, which I had resisted for a long time. … I remember thinking, ‘Well, if I’m a feminist, I can’t play a prostitute.'”
However, as moviegoers know, she eventually landed the part, preparing for the role by spending time with real sex workers. She explained that her full feminist awakening didn’t come until later, but the early 1970s launched the activism streak she’s known for over the past 50 years.
After vocally opposing the Vietnam War, she traveled to Hanoi in 1972 to witness the damage for herself. During her visit, she was photographed sitting on top of an anti-aircraft gun, leading to speculation that she approved of Vietnamese soldiers shooting down American planes. Meanwhile, critics started calling her “Hanoi Jane”. The Emmy winner later said she would “regret” the image until her “dying day” but remained a vocal anti-war activist, speaking out against the Iraq War in 2005.
In later years, Jane became as well known for her activism as for her work on screen. The Tony Award nominee moved to Washington, DC in 2019 so she could more easily organize climate crisis protests in front of the US Capitol. She was arrested multiple times, and one picture of her raising her hands in triumph while sticking out her tongue went viral.
“Why be a celebrity if you can’t use it for something so important?” she said The New York Times 2019 of her protests, which were widely covered by the media. “You’re all here. So I think it works.”
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