Before I even looked at a single page of Jane Fonda’s autobiography, My Life So Far, someone in my family was upset with both me and the fact that I would deign to waste my time reading “that traitor’s book.” I attempted to explain the reasons behind why I thought I should, but was immediately shut down. Despite all the platitudes about reaching across the aisle when it came to other Americans’ political beliefs to find common ground and build the relationship from there, that seemed to only apply to the present landscape when it came to our fair lady Jane. Past storylines were apparently set in stone?
I have never agreed with that sentiment and as I get older, I tend to reflect on public figures with open eyes and mind. That didn’t include excuses for poor behavior or the old chestnut “it was a different time!” as justification to accept egregious social faux pas. But, the more information I had the more I realized that some people had been given unfair treatment. To see historical figures, actors, scientists, writers, etc. as human beings is something to embrace.
Fonda’s book provided more than enough evidence that she is a more complex, empathetic person than what has been presented in the media over the years. (That isn’t because of her exceptional acting skills; out of all the acting members of the Fonda family, she is still the most superior talent because of her vulnerability and consistent ability to fully connect with either the screenplay, director, other actors onscreen or all three at once.) Her childhood was one full of one horrific trauma after the other–with very few people to provide comfort or even basic attention throughout—and difficult lessons learned from two very neglectful marriages and a decades-long eating disorder painted her into a sympathetic figure.
Tellingly, she didn’t shy away from activist-related controversies that caused such vitriol and continue to inspire hatred for her to this very day. During the book she was also pretentious, corny, witty, shocking, humble, inspiring and disappointing. In other words, this was the best kind of autobiography in that it rendered her into something real; remarkable and endearing all at once.
The section on her experience filming with Katherine Hepburn was delightful. That delicious phenomenal woman put poor Jane through the ringer! When Jane discovered the reason why, the tenderness and respect practically permeated from the pages. Two singular film legends known for their independence and hard work coming together as allies. Dammit, the tears…
The only drawback to the book I found, that with the extreme focus on her various romances and marriages, it made reading these sections drag for quite a bit. Yes, it made sense with the structure she outlined for the book in that they were meant to represent the distinct stages of the evolution of her self-worth; only someone’s editor needed to take the red pen out more often. Fonda found value beyond the personas she tried on with each marriage, but it turned into more of a series of journal entries for therapy than interesting content. However, by admitting that she cycled from one persona to the next, depending on what and who the current husband wanted her to be, it made her pretty damn admirable. Long a criticism used to prove she wasn’t a true feminist ally, this simple confession made me raise my fist in the air in response.
In other words, hell yes, Jane. It’s nice to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to chat. I’ll introduce you to my family the next time I see them.