Patricia Bosworth's soon to be released biography, Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman, is a good companion novel to Brooke Hayward's Hollywood coming-of-age biography, and recent re-release, Haywire. Not only did Jane and Brooke grow up together, both the daughters of Hollywood stars — Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan, respectively— but their parents were also married to one another once upon a time, and the families' fates seemed to be intertwined. They were neighbors, first in Hollywood, and then later in Connecticut, when their actor parents pursued their New York stage careers. Both of the girls' mothers also committed suicide.
Jane Fonda and Henry Fonda
From the prologue:
Frances Fonda, slit her throat when Jane was twelve. Her suicide is the crucial event in Jane’s life and it haunts her to this day. After the suicide Henry Fonda, always the perfectionist, became even more remote, escaping into his work and three more marriages; each wife seemed younger than the last. Jane kept on battling for his love. She triumphed on Broadway and then went on to make forty-one movies, creating characters as disparate as the naive cowgirl in Cat Ballou and the giddy newlywed Corie in Barefoot in the Park to the tough-talking call girl Bree Daniels in Klute, for which she won her first Oscar.
In her twenties she began to reinvent herself to attract and please a succession of father substitutes. She shifted seamlessly from playing film director Roger Vadim’s Parisian sex kitten, to political activist and exercise guru when she was married to radical Tom Hayden. Finally, she became the trophy wife of maverick billionaire Ted Turner, a man as famous as she is.
That is Bosworth's, a frequent contributor to Vanity Fair, nutshell version of Jane and the relationships in her life. Her book proceeds to try to give details of Jane's career, her demons, and her many romances. In a way it's really all you need to know about Fonda, who always seemed to define herself by the people (men, primarily) and trends that surrounded her. Yet that paragraph also tells nothing about her, as Jane constantly changes direction, on an endless quest for self-knowledge. After reading this fairly comprehensive biography, one wonders if she actually does knows herself, but just doesn't want to admit it, own it.
Brooke Hayward is one of many people who Bosworth has interviewed to put together this informative biography. Besides sessions with Jane herself, Bosworth also spoke to her brother Peter Fonda, her children, Henry Fonda's ex-wives as well as many people from all facets of her life.