‘I fast. I just try to physically get rid of this sort of emotional trauma that’s going on,” Jane Fonda looked out again at the surf curling over Santa Monica Beach and seemed transfixed. The waves were pushing nine feet. Up in Malibu, the residents had boarded up the front of their homes — many of them reveling in the opportunity to have something to do. ”I try to physically get rid of all excess baggage….It’s my way of what’s called getting clear.”
”Like cleaning out the last character?”
”Yeah,” she laughed. ”The last character being me.
”You’ve got me at a weird time right now, because I begin shooting another character on Monday,” she said. ”I’m just beginning to realize that I go through this weird thing before I start a new movie. I get extremely insecure and I think I’m terrible. I think my marriage is falling apart; I get nightmares about Tom leaving me, about the dog drowning. I think, ‘You’re not gonna like me, are you?”’
She continued to gaze intently into the surf. She says she’s always dreamed vividly. ”I’m in awe. I dream about them. I have nightmares about the waves. Photographs of people surfing fill me with anxiety. Waterfalls. I dream about waves a lot. I spent a lot of time as a youngster being buffered by waves, hours and hours and hours.” She spoke more softly. ”I feel real drawn.”
It’s hard to concentrate on the words. Between Jane Fonda’s voice and the crashing waves something kept sending me back. The All-American voice: the pull is subliminal; into old movies and dreams, her reflections becoming mine.
Although she’s fairly tall, Fonda’s facial features are smaller than I expected. She had recently taken to wearing her trendy costumes for the film she was about to start, and had decided that her new character — a television newsperson — should have hair that looked as if it had recently been dyed. It was thus an appropriate shade of new red (”Trollop Red,” she smiled). People often tell her she’s much prettier than she appears on the screen. She assures them the difference is that screen images are ultimately lifeless. ”Life is what matters,” she says, ”that’s what makes people pretty.”
One night a few weeks earlier, while Jane spoke to students at Queens College, her father Henry, Barbra Streisand, Al Pacino and some of the more powerful movie executives in the country were watching Jane’s ”new baby,” a cathartic statement in the form of a subtle film that she’s been working on for six years.
Coming Home is a film about a forgotten sensibility. A highly wrought period piece which, if it is a message film, is a state of the human message circa 1968. It opens during the early days of the Tet Offensive, at the very point when the dream was crumbling, when there were still raw nerves to hit. The movie is filled with ten-year-old rock songs that are received with the shiver that so often attends the excavation of old memories.
The Vietnam War is offstage in Coming Home, but the war is there in the lives and on the faces of Jon Voight, a paraplegic Vietnam vet, and Fonda, as Sally Hyde, the wife of a marine captain (Bruce Dern) who is lusting to get over to Nam and fight. It is a film about survivors, about breaking out, and whether or not people can find big enough pockets in which to carry their scars.
Fonda feels that her new film is ”a profound emotional experience. It takes people on a trip. I’m very proud of it. I felt very strongly about Julia, but Julia‘s not my baby.”
Fonda asked me what I thought Coming Home was about. I said that ”it’s about a man and a woman who are survivors — that you can completely grow up, go through all your stages as a result of special experiences — it’s about toughness and survival….”
”…Yeah,” she said. ”Yeah, about strength.”
It is almost impossible not to be aware of Jane Fonda’s family background if you’ve grown up in America: that she grew up in an opulent scene out of a Henry James novel, that her mother killed herself when Jane was twelve. Her childhood friend, Brooke Hayward, wrote in her book, Haywire, that the entire student body of Greenwich Academy was told to keep the manner of her mother’s death a secret. Jane found out how her mother died while leafing through a movie magazine. She grew up having a father who embodied for an entire nation all of those qualities that are American and middle class and good (pride, honesty, tenacity and a total sublimation of emotions — to name a few), and a mother who came from all that is rich and repressed and unfulfilled, a woman who eventually died, according to Jane, ”from bottled-up rage.”
Later on, there was a time when Jane Fonda’s growing-up was such a public affair that her family communicated with one another through the press. Jane would suggest that her father should see a psychiatrist in a magazine or would tell a newspaper reporter that she didn’t know where Peter was and that she didn’t care. They would often reply in kind. She can still list off in a second the insecurities that accompany early fame. The Fonda family was playing out its rebellious stage just as the great American family was moving toward a pervasive generational conflict.
As we were driving through Los Angeles one day, I asked Jane if she had ever thought that June Ryder, the college cheerleader she’d played in her first starring role in Tall Story in 1959, could easily have grown up to be Sally Hyde.
”That’s right,” she said, eyes widening. ”I never thought of that. That’s absolutely right.”
Fonda plays a girl who has decided to go to college ”for the same reason that any girl goes if she’s honest”— to snare the basketball star. As a budding ingénue, Fonda retained the cheerleader’s personality for some time and never really emerged from her father’s shadow as an actress until she began to work seriously in France in 1963.
At thirty-two, after some twenty-five movies of disparate genres, many of which delighted everyone but her, Jane Fonda traded a glamorous world, where she felt not pretty, talented, famous or loved enough, for a world of high social conscience where she had to prove that she was sufficiently appalled at ever having wanted any of those things. She became radical in public just as she’d grown up in public, and had to discover middle-class guilt in front of her friends.
To the people who didn’t know her, to the media perception, she suddenly went from being a rich and beautiful — if not a bit amoral — actress to a hard-faced traitor photographed next to a North Vietnamese regular with an antiaircraft cannon. A woman who hadn’t even known a black person until she was twenty was suddenly seen in the constant company of Huey P. Newton. The change was far too rapid for those who remembered the days when she was the Defense Departments Miss Army Recruiting in 1962; it was, in retrospect, a hyperbolic rendering of millions of political changes.
The people in Hollywood who watch these sorts of things agree that Jane has survived more image changes by a long shot than any other actress in history. Fonda says that the images, from Tall Story to ingénue, to sex kitten, to one of the finest and most respected professional actresses in the world all correspond honestly to specific phases of her life. No one else has ever stepped out to such a band of new drummers in the movie world and maintained a career. Some people see the triumph as a matter of indomitable will.
This is Roger Vadim,” Jane said as the slender man got out of the car to shake hands. Vadim seemed shy, almost skittish, hardly the sybaritic corrupter of good women that legend purports. They talked in French about their daughter Vanessa as Jane drove Vadim to his house, just a few blocks from where she and Tom Hayden live.
In 1968, when the vet in Coming Home was learning how to use his wheelchair, Roger Vadim decided that the time was ripe for a film that would apotheosize certain ideas about eroticism that had run under the current of the Sixties and to play with our ”absurd moral values” in a futuristic setting. He decided to base the film on a comic strip called Barbarella and to cast his wife in the lead.
”He looks the same,” I said as Vadim walked away from the car.
”Oh. he’s changed,” Jane said, watching him. ”It’s been tough on him…. I think he’s been real hurt by the accusations of chauvinism and objectification of women. He loves women; he identifies with them. He’s about as Mephistophelean as someone’s old grandfather; he’s like a comfortable old shoe.”
Fonda’s not sure if her daughter has seen Barbarella — the last film of her expatriate period, and one that Jane has often said characterizes the depths of her exploitation — but if Vanessa were to see the film she thinks ”it would be interesting for her to see it within the context of a process. I’d say, ‘You are growing up and you will be going through a lot of changes, some that I don’t really like, but you have to go through them. I’ve gone through some of them too — some of them when I wasn’t so young. You are going to see a lot of my movies and you can see through my movies a process of growth.”’
Jane Fonda was as much a part of the enjoyable anarchy of the Sixties as she was of the reassessment. Coming Home and Barbarella are both about 1968. There’s a scene in Barbarella in which Fonda is told there is an imminent threat of war. She can’t understand what that means. She is standing naked in front of a telecommunications screen. ”It must be a case of neurotic responsibility, archaic insecurity or selfish competition,” she says. ”No,” says the president of the Republic of Earth, ”I mean war, Barbarella.”
For a while there, Jane Fonda was made out of plastic — all of her. You could bend or splay her limbs as you wished while she wore this quizzical expression on her face. “I was making Barbarella during the Tet Offensive at the very time Sally Hyde was going through all of that in Coming Home,” Jane said. ”I wasn’t doing anything in 1968. I knew then we were wrong.”
She can’t bear to see Barbarella now. Not so much, as is commonly assumed, because she is embarrassed at the level of her own exploitation in the film, but because she cannot believe the movie is real. ”I’m totally bizarre. I’m not real; it’s like my voice is coming out of my car. I am totally bizarre … and my own alienation comes at me through the film.” It is this detached, pliable plastic, alienated eroticism that cemented a certain quizzical, almost sardonic look and a long doll’s body into the spirit of a decade.
When the archaeologists find that famous poster of Jane sporting nothing more than a pair of crossed arms, and dig up the cannister that contains Barbarella, they’re going to look at those elbows and knees and at Jane’s face and they will know something about the Sixties.
Not yet, Troy,” Tom Hayden, said, pulling his Pinto up to a big Sedan de Ville Cadillac. “Wait till we get next to this rich person’s car,” he said.
”Get ready, Troy,” Jane said.
Their four-year-old son kneeled in the back of the car biting his lower lip on the verge of hysterical laughter. He tightened the strap on his yellow hard hat, then froze.
Hayden pulled up next to the Cadillac and stayed with it. ”Okay, Troy,” he yelled, ”Turn on your hat!”
Troy raised his shoulders to his ears and gritted his teeth. With ceremonious deliberation he reached up and pulled the switch. Suddenly a large red light began to rotate on top of Troy’s hat. He held his breath.
When the man in the Cadillac eventually glanced to his left his mouth fell open. He immediately put on his turn signal and began to pull off the Pacific Coast Highway.
”You did it, Troy,” Hayden yelled.
”You got him, Troy,” Jane said.
Troy bounced around the back seat giggling in ecstasy, turning his hat on and off and punching Geronimo, the family German shepherd. Five minutes later he was sound asleep and remained so for the rest of the evening.
Nine-year-old Vanessa sat in the front on her mother’s lap, quietly anticipating her first rock concert. She seemed disappointed that the concert, to be held in Santa Barbara, 80 miles north of Los Angeles, wasn’t to include either of her favorite non-family human beings — Linda Ronstadt and Lucille Ball.
”What’s the name of the singer?” she asked Jane.
”The Grateful Dead,” Jane said. ”They’re really good.”
Outside the auditorium, members of the usual Dead retinue were milling around, their numbers augmented by hundreds of antinuke people and eco-utopians, all of whom had paid high prices to see the benefit concert.
Jane got out of the car and took Vanessa’s hand. She strolled toward the auditorium, taking long, graceful strides in her four-inch platform shoes. She passed the compulsory row of Hell’s Angels, all of whom turned as she passed to watch her walk. It’s a loose, fawnlike walk. Jane moves naturally and easily through a crowd. She scans the scene like anyone else, but seems to naturally avert her eyes at the instant someone begins to recognize her (”It’s animal,” Hayden contends, ”it’s an instinct”).
Vanessa brought in the verdict on the Grateful Dead after the first number. She leaned out over the private balcony the family had been given and extended her down-turned thumb over the teeming disciples.
”Look at them,” she said to her mother. ”They clap before there’s even a song.”
”These people like this music,” Jane said.
”Well, these people are weird.” Vanessa Vadim is a young woman of opinion. She had just, despite her mother’s better judgment, seen Klute on TV and pronounced it ”yechy.” She told Jane that her new red hair is ”terrible,” and she told me she believes French should only be spoken in France ”or with my father.” Vanessa has apparently refined a near-legendary abhorrence of news photographers that earned her my respect for life. The beautiful little girl with that wonderful mouth is often referred to in articles about Jane as a ”product” of her mother’s Barbarella period — a ”memento” as McCall’s said recently.
Jane looked at her sleeping son.
”What else has Troy missed?” Tom asked Jane.
”Laos,” Jane said, ”he slept right through Laos.”
We left at intermission and drove slowly up the dark. winding road to ”Laurel Springs,” a 120-acre ranch that sits high above Santa Barbara. It is a place of great beauty, but more importantly, it is a place of great hope inextricably tied to Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden’s romantic commitment to making the future work. Their friends and all the Campaign for Economic Democracy workers refer to Laurel Springs as ”the land.” I heard Hayden once call it ”our Palestine.” It is a place where Jane and Tom intend to preserve some of the best ideas and feelings that they believe have been spun off from their lives in progressive politics. It is where, in a sense, they will make their stand.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Dead concert go to SolarCal, one of Hayden’s organization’s most interesting projects. SolarCal is a complicated plan to create a publicly controlled solar-energy industry in California that would generate thousands of new jobs. Hayden’s Campaign for Economic Democracy also lobbies in Sacramento for greater public involvement in corporate policy, low-income housing and a variety of other programs while working to build a pervasive grass-roots organization. Hayden directs the organization and, for a while, Jane bankrolled it. They both devote the majority of their time and a tremendous amount of energy to the CED. Jane is known on film sets now for finishing a take, then walking immediately to the nearest telephone or Xerox machine. Jon Voight says she commandeered the only telephone on the Coming Home set every lunch hour. Jane recently finished a long speaking tour of colleges for CED where she spoke about ”economic democracy” to — at several of the universitie — the largest crowds drawn to a speaking engagement in ten years.
Jane says the college students she spoke to were scared and alienated. ”There’s nothing in their experience to show how the Sixties paid off. They don’t have social movements, and individual commitments don’t seem to mean anything.”
It is the missing sense of ”how the Sixties paid off” that seems to have motivated CED’s purchase of ”the land.” They want it to become a progressive summer camp for children from various backgrounds and last summer held their first experimental session.
Hayden and Fonda are deeply involved in creating an environment of commitment and camaraderie for children in order to retain that aura of sensitivity and compassion they both believe was an important part of the movement days, an element they both felt had vanished from the political struggles before the war ended, and a part whose absence seems to have — in different ways — hurt Tom and Jane very deeply.
In the family’s old, four-room wood house at Laurel Springs, Tom began to interview a recently awakened Troy for my benefit:
”Okay Troy,” Tom said in the mocking style of a former journalist, ”what do you think of Grandpa, what do you think of your grandfather Henry?”
”Good,” Troy said. ”He got candy.”
”I see,” Hayden said, nodding his head seriously. ‘
‘And what about your uncle Peter?”
”Good,” Troy answered.
Jane showed me a picture of her brother and his family. ”You know, Peter is a really nice guy.”
She flopped down in an old chair in the middle of the room. A big wood stove was beginning to warm up the bungalow, which is comfortably cluttered with old furniture, cactus plants, toys and some old oil lamps. A few primitive paintings hang on the walls and photographs of Tom, Jane and the kids and some of Henry, Jane and Peter sit on the shelves.
Tom put on a Jackson Browne album and started to read.
Jane scrunched down in the chair so that her chin rested on her chest. She folded her hands across her stomach. The interrole tensions she had described back in Santa Monica seemed to have faded as soon as we arrived at Laurel Springs.
”Jane,” I said, ”you start a movie in three days. Aren’t you going to pace the floor with a script in your hands and memorize lines and stuff?”
She started to laugh. ”Movies aren’t like that.” Then within a lucid and relaxed soliloquy she attempted to demystify her profession:
”I hardly even read a scene before I do it. I get good ideas when I do it without preconception. You just have to relax, to be clear and open to inspiration. The beauty of movies is that if it’s not right — you just do it over again. You just gotta be open to things and you gotta be brave.”
She went on to talk about how she has learned to conserve artistic energy. ”You can’t work up this well of emotion and let it all out, you know. You have to do these things over and over — close-ups, cutaways — and you get better the more you do it. I could have been better in Julia but Zinnemann would often like the early rehearsal runs. He liked the scenes — but I could have been better.”
I couldn’t accept that, all in all, it was pretty easy. I tried to argue, but she shrugged it off. I looked at Hayden, who was smiling at my disbelief. ”It’s weird, isn’t it?” he said. He went back to reading Business Week.
Jane moved her arms up above her head and stretched. I began to think about how Bobby Hull used to skate across a hockey rink. While other players flailed and madly dug away at the ice, Hull would easily take one stride to their five — but he’d go much much faster, and more beautifully, and when they asked him to explain it — he just shrugged. His gift of movement had always defined the word ”artless” for me.
Jane Fonda moves as you’d like to think all women move, or once moved, or move in your daydreams. The beautiful fluidity of her facial expressions is artless in execution — on or off the screen. Throughout our conversations, every time we agreed, the look on her face would change and I’d think, ”That’s how I feel.”
But wearing other peoples feelings on your face, Fonda found out, can be a problem. You can turn thousands of people against a war by expressing their anxieties and fears or make people feel that loving another woman as a friend is noble and good and warm. But the inverse involves having people hate you because you — because of your talent and fame — must express the repressed hatred and lust and recrimination that most people don’t ever want to see. And when you come off the screen, as Jane Fonda has done, and confront them they can hate you even more.
Jane’s latest image change was buoyed if not based upon the fact that she returned to film comedy. Fun with Dick and Jane is a movie that pointed out the interesting fact that middle-class Americans now find robbery from very rich people, government agencies or multinational corporations to be very funny. Fun with Dick and Jane was a tremendous financial success. The silent majority came back to the theaters to see that Hanoi Jane had ”come to her senses.” Jane readily admits that she wanted to show that she could be ”funny and pretty” again.
That film set the scene for a media blitz surrounding Jane’s brilliant performance in Julia and for an appearance on the Johnny Carson show after the film opened. Before she came on, Carson replaced his insouciant grin with an earnest look and said something to the effect: ”You know every time things change… we need radicals. She was right and we were wrong.” Fonda says she came out and sat down to Johnny’s right — utterly speechless.
”They made this whole comeback story,” Tom Hayden would tell me later. ”They made her come back. All these guilty liberals who represent the media. They are the ones who hated her in the first place. They would like nothing better, since they were late in opposing the war and feel guilty about it, than that she is back in the mainstream — to welcome her back and congratulate her for her work.”
For someone whose films within the past nine years have dealt critically with female sexual roles, the saturation publicity surrounding Julia represented a rather mundane middle-class ”woman on the move” image which had never really fit Jane before. ”Fonda juggles home, career and politics” seemed to be a theme borne out, if not by profiles themselves, by their sheer numbers: Newsweek, People, Us, Ms. and McCall’s all had cover stories.
”I did them all,” Jane admits. ”McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle. Those magazines represent mainstream America and are read by people who used to be scared of me and thought me unpatriotic. I want them to like me. I know I’m viewed as a symbol of ‘the Movement,’ as someone to these people’s left, thus if I can be accepted by them I think my ideas will become more acceptable. They are the ones who believed in the great dream and I want to be in touch with them.”
I was reminded of an incident earlier that week when we had coffee with one of the local Los Angeles mobile news teams (Jane was researching her next role). One reporter confided to Jane that she had been receiving criticism. ”People tell me I look too serious. They say I don’t smile enough. The thing is I do want to look serious.”
”Ah,” Jane said, ”I’ve heard that too.”
One of the technicians then asked Jane about China.
”Vietnam,” she said with a huge smile. ”MacLaine was China. I’m Vietnam.”
The torrential rains that buffeted the ranch throughout the weekend threatened to wash much of ”the land” right into the sea. We sat inside until Jane had to go to Berkeley for a fundraiser. I told her that when I first decided to write about her, I thought about trying to write a ten-year political history using her changes as emblematic progressions. She said that made her very uncomfortable. She said she didn’t like to be seen as an emblem.
In 1970, when Jane Fonda lay down on the floor at Fort Lewis in Washington and said she wouldn’t move, she began a process of radicalization, activism and reeducation that has become legendary. She became heavily involved with veterans organizations and criss-crossed the country regularly, appearing at GI coffeehouses and leading marches — at the same time she was reading intently and asking hundreds of questions of the old political hands whose company she kept. Her questions revealed her political infancy; she was trying to catch up, spurred by a sense of élan that comes with feeling you are right, by personal unhappiness and by guilt — a guilt that her new political friends and old movie and personal friends were stoking with a vengence.
She helped organize the Winter Soldier investigation, a mass confessional based on Bertrand Russell’s war crimes tribunals that was held in Detroit. When it finally happened Jane was asked to stay out of it, to sit in the back. She was told that she wasn’t blending in, that she was too famous. She was embarrassed by her name, her face and her achievements. But she felt strongly about the war, and when they let her — before she got so tough — she changed people’s minds. By 1971, she was a part of nothing. She was completely alone.
”I burned bridges, right. I’m not a liberal. From the moment I became political I was never a liberal. The bridges have been burned. Other people who had pushed me around and others who had criticized me for being famous or being this or being that and the other — they were okay — but I didn’t have any of my former friends.”
Fonda worked hard to organize the entertainment industry to oppose the war, but by early 1972 the FTA tour that she helped set up to counter the USO shows had disbanded and her attempts to form the Entertainment Industry for Peace and Justice had failed.
”Who would you talk to during these political transitions?”
”I didn’t feel I was talking to too many people who had no self-interest. Do you know what I mean?” She looked at the back of her hand. Fonda has delicate veins on her hands that seem to adumbrate the movements of her long slender fingers.
”I had done a movie with Godard. I didn’t want to do it after I found out what it was going to say — but I couldn’t get out of it.” Fonda told reporters when making Tout Va Bien with Jean-Luc Godard in early 1972 that she believed him to be the only person she’d ever met who was ”truly revolutionary,” a status to which she seemed to aspire.
When Godard later released Tout Va Bien at American film festivals, he also presented a film called Letter to Jane, a one-hour diatribe assailing Fonda and her politics. ”He attacked me on top of it. When I got through, after that whole year, I literally didn’t know what my role should be….I was just being used once again.”
Around this time people say Jane stopped discussing things. William F. Buckley wrote about her ”red-guard face,” but he was wrong. Jane’s face began to mirror the war going on inside her. She had stuck her head into a blurring gale at a time when the winds of change were pulling up the structures. I noted that her most famous character of that period, Bree Daniel in Klute, was a very hard lady. ”Yes,” she said, ”but she had great vulnerability, too.”
After her trips abroad — especially Vietnam, Jane felt she finally had her own perspective and could deal with the political honchos without apologies. ”I was beginning to feel more confident … but I felt like I had no support because I was not part of an organization.”
”You were getting so tough — you began to look tough.”
”Yeah.” She held her eyes closed for a second and gripped her knees. ”And, like the press — it was always antagonistic. A television camera would go on and I would be….” She raised her fists to her cheeks, shook them back and forth, then flung a long, arching right cross into the air. ”Right away, you know?
”The conditions in the country were such that you never even thought about the right. I mean it was so divided, so confrontational, so I was trying to prove to the left, the only group that I could possibly hope to get any friends from or support from or warmth from, that I wasn’t gonna cop out; that I wasn’t a sellout; that I was serious….”
She was arrested on trumped-up drug charges in Cleveland — at the government’s instigation — and didn’t know she was being followed everywhere. Her ”friends” continually doubted her commitment and pointed to her socioeconomic background as inviolable proof of her shortcomings. She wasn’t aware that college students, draft dodgers in Europe, prisoners and lots of other people thought she was wonderful. This particularly dark period lasted for at least a year, until the spring of ’72. ”I was tired. I was tired and raw. I wasn’t going to give up, but it was rough. It was the lowest period.
”I had realized that I was in a real quandary in terms of human relationships, because most of the men that I had been with were real resentful and overpowered by who I was. Either resentful of my earning capacities, or that I was stifling them or overpowering them. I was denying my own abilities in order not to make them feel bad. On the other hand, the male heavies, I felt, were real oppressive.
”I had met Tom during the Winter Soldier investigation. I remember it well, because I’d read his writing — whenever things got real confused there’d be an article by Tom that was always very clear.
”Tom called and said he wanted to meet me. I said to the woman I was living with at the time, I remember, I said, ‘This is it.’ I knew it, I knew it.” Her face brightened and she leaned back and laughed. It was as if she’d just seen it through again.
”I’ll tell ya sumpin’, if I hadn’t met him at that point, I don’t know — it would have been real hard. He sometimes asks me what I would have done. I was real low.”
By 1973, Fonda and Hayden were married and working on the Indochina Peace Campaign. They traveled around the country drawing huge audiences and speaking in clear and documented terms about the nature of the war. Henry Fonda started helping them out.
It’s ironic that at the very point Jane Fonda began to find herself politically, the silent majority found her to be an ideal target for an unprecedented outpouring of organized national hatred. She had made radio broadcasts from Hanoi and had questioned the veracity of American pilots who said they were tortured in North Vietnam. People announced publicly that they wanted to hurt her — to cut out her tongue, to kill her. Amendments were put forth in various legislatures asking for her to be burned or punished in one way or another.
”How could you handle all that hate?” I asked.
She asked me if I’d ever had someone very close die on me. She said it was the same, the same numbness.
”One night Tom and I went out on the porch with a sack of mail and tried to read it.” She closed her eyes. ”One man wanted to hang me upside down, to sink a hook—” She choked and made a swinging motion between her legs.
Two weeks later I got off a subway in New York. Amid the wondrous graffiti on the walls beneath Grand Central Station there is an epigram, one of those that seems to be written in chalk yet has somehow survived for years. It says ”Hang Fonda — Traitor.”
Tom Hayden is the only person I’ve ever met who doesn’t in his heart of hearts believe he missed the Sixties. After he was convicted of conspiring to make trouble in Chicago, he retreated in 1970 to Berkeley and ostensibly removed himself from national politics. He began to study the war and its effects from a cultural standpoint, to look for a meaning in the Vietnam War in terms of our national identity. ”Maybe the reason I was interested in identity was that I didn’t know who I was — everyone else was sure, they were a woman or a black or something.”
He says he’s often been asked what his original impressions of Jane were. ”I think I saw her as a rich person, out of touch with reality. On the other hand, very, very intense, with a devouring curiosity about what I thought. I got the sense that she was trying to catch up. I was very impressed with that.”
Hayden remembers the darker days of his wife’s political experiences. ”They were basically saying, ‘You shouldn’t be a movie star, dear, you should give all your money to us! … Their real solution for her would have been to give everything to them and commit suicide. And she was headed in that direction.”
The morning after Jane left, Hayden roused me from the Cesar Chavez Bunkhouse where I was staying and we found a stream near Laurel Springs and began casting for trout. Jane has taken to telling people that she’s a ”trout widow,” yet seems to envy Tom’s ability to turn off the pressures and go fishing. Jane told me one day that she believes Hayden could make a fine president.
”You know, Jane used to think that everyone hated her,” he said as we stood by the stream. ”Now she thinks everyone likes her…. But there’s still that fella who feels that his son was driven into communist madness by this Jane Fonda and her friends — he’s not gonna forgive….I think she has more enemies than people realize. When people said she had enemies before, I think they exaggerated. Now that they say she’s had a comeback, I think a significant percentage of the American public would not mind seeing her dead.”
A poll conducted in 1976 revealed that some twenty percent of the population of California, on a one-to-five scale of love to hate — hate Jane Fonda. Another twenty to forty percent thought her actions over the last eight years were very bad. Fonda hopes that her public activities over the past year may have helped to change some peoples’ minds.
”I think she attracts more love and hate — such strong feelings — how many people would refuse to go to a Walt Disney movie because Disney was a right-winger?”
”Oh, about as many intellectuals who refuse to read an Ezra Pound poem,” I ventured.
”Yeah,” he laughed, ”yeah.”
The only evidence of the passage of forty years was a puffiness under her eyes one morning. There remains a bright, easy countenance when she’s relaxed, and even when she’s not there’s a glow that emanates from all the tremulous energy Jane Fonda keeps inside. She can do some things that most of us can’t. One day we were driving down Santa Monica Boulevard and she pulled up behind a van whose door was hanging open. She swung the wheel to the right, reached out her window and closed the door without missing a sentence of her description of her FBI file.
I asked her one day about her long-range plans: ”If I’m fifty or fifty-five years old and I don’t think I can make major films anymore, then there are several alternatives….Maybe the time will be appropriate for me to be doing a theatrical piece — maybe a one-woman show on Mother Jones, traveling around the country, not just playing Broadway. Or maybe running for office….”
Politically, Tom and Jane seem to have found, if not a permanent place for themselves, then a feeling and a relationship to their pasts which grant them a sense of worth. They are both still criticized from both sides for their politics. ”You know the left,” Jane scoffed at a question about her current stance, ”that segment of the left — you know what they’re doing now. Small groups reading little books about foreign countries to themselves.”
They both seem to have been able to siphon out the warmth and communitarianism from two traumatic political careers. The children’s camp and the warm ambiance in which their family exists are both indications of their desire to pass on a vanishing spirit and a sense of continuity.
Jane consistently reaffirms her belief that people are basically good and that all you have to do is give them a chance and they will change for the better and she will change for the better. She says that one of the reasons she was so drawn to the people of North Vietnam was that, to them, ”The change is what’s of greatest importance and not what used to be.”
Many of the people Fonda has touched along the way consider her first and foremost to be a survivor — politically, professionally and emotionally. But her persistence is a result of something more important than the toughness characterized by a John Wayne WW II-style American survivor. Jane Fonda is not particularly tough. She still seems upset when she says that she thinks Bob Hope hates her — which is more than most of us can say. Coming Home says that survival is a function of one’s ability to change when the wind blows, to continue to act — in several senses. ”scared as we all are,” Jane had said when I first arrived in Santa Monica, ”if we can allow ourselves to be supple and to get on top of what’s put us in our place and understand it — then you can survive — and therein lies strength.”
Jane Fonda is highly attuned to the fine strains of human frailty; she is a professional student of the human mood who has managed to touch something in most people’s lives and thus characterized for them — positively or negatively — a sense of who they are. Her face on a movie screen now defines for us a level of bravery and the kind of nobility that is a result of an inexhaustible need to continue. She has so completely mastered the art of acting that a twitch of her lips can make people cry. But instinctive gifts more than her politics or anything else have effectively saddled her with the expressions of anguish and hope of people far beyond her own experience.
I had mentioned to Tom that the release of Coming Home will probably prick a lot of memories about the war and about changes we’ve all experienced but that it is a film that just begs the viewer to bring his preconceptions about Jane into play.
”Oh yeah,” Hayden said. ”It’s loaded. She’s never gonna play anything but Jane Fonda in a film. I’m convinced that’s all she is now. She’s a more important character than any character she’ll ever play.”