“Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Patricia Bosworth: For sheer drama, the life of Jane Fonda — 73 years in the making and still going strong — outshines her commendable filmography.
True to her subtitle, author Patricia Bosworth centers her insightful book “Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman” on the woman more than the performances of the two-time Oscar winner. The Vanity Fair writer knows a good personal story when she hears one — and how to tell it with spark and meaning.
Fonda has put as much or more energy into creating and recreating herself off-screen as on. Just as her characters in “Julia” and “Coming Home” reinvent their lives or find a new purpose, so has Fonda, shifting her focus from acting to activism to fitness to faith and, facing fresh challenges as a septuagenarian, back to fitness.
She struggled to come to terms with her father, Henry Fonda, a cold and distant man who withheld outward signs of approval and love. Yet, Jane Fonda could be cold, too, dropping friends and lovers when they no longer fit into the life she was pursuing at the time.
To fill the void created by an emotionally stunted father and a mentally ill mother, a suicide when Fonda was not yet a teenager, she turned to strong-willed if flawed men. As Bosworth notes in surprising detail, there were many lovers in Fonda’s early life. Keeping pace with her would have worn out Barbarella, the intergalactic siren she portrayed in a 1968 sci-fi spoof.
Fonda eagerly followed the lead of those she married — French director Roger Vadim, activist Tom Hayden and broadcast tycoon Ted Turner — a twist of sorts when one thinks of Fonda as an independent woman who came of age politically with the dawn of feminism.
If feminism boils down to women having choices, Fonda has been a model for her generation. Even when her actions have gone awry — sitting on an anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam may stand as her biggest blunder — she has kept trying to figure out what her life could be and should be about.
While a friend of her subject, Bosworth doesn’t ignore Fonda’s many stumbles along the path of self-discovery — or excuse the pain she has caused others with her single-minded and self-centered pursuits. Hers has been a remarkable journey, unique for an American woman, and a life Bosworth explores with honesty and empathy in a book as striking as its subject.