DATE April 5, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Jane Fonda discusses her memoir, "My Life So Far"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is Jane Fonda. "It is possible to trace recent American history just
by watching Fonda's persona," wrote Peter Braunstein in American Heritage
magazine four years ago. Quote, "She was libertine in the '60s, radical by
decade's end, progressive in the '70s, entrepreneurial in the '80s, and
corporate grande dame in the '90s," unquote. People still argue about her
meaning in American culture, particularly the impact of her anti-war protests
in the '60s. Now she has a lot to add to our interpretations of her life.
She's written a new memoir called "My Life So Far," in which she talks about
everything from her relationships with her father and her husbands, to her own
acting career, her eating disorder, her trip to North Vietnam, her aerobics
videos, and, of course, her movies. After a 15-year hiatus, she's starring in
the soon-to-be released comedy "Monster-in-Law."
Before we talk, let's hear a scene from her 1981 film "On Golden Pond," which
was her father Henry Fonda's last movie. She played his estranged daughter
who is trying to get closer.
(Soundbite of "On Golden Pond")
Ms. JANE FONDA (Actress): (As Chelsea) Norman, I want to talk to you.
Mr. HENRY FONDA (Actor): (As Norman) What seems to be the problem?
Ms. FONDA: (As Chelsea) There's no problem. I just--I want to talk to you.
I--I think that maybe you and I should have the kind of relationship that
we're supposed to have.
Mr. FONDA: (As Norman) What kind of relationship is that?
Ms. FONDA: (As Chelsea) Well, you know, like a--like a father and a daughter.
Mr. FONDA: (As Norman) Just in the nick of time, huh? Worried about the
will, are you? Well, I'm leaving everything to you except what I'm taking
Ms. FONDA: (As Chelsea) Just stop it. I don't want anything. It just--it
seems that you and me have been mad at each other for so long.
Mr. FONDA: I didn't know we were mad. I thought we just didn't like each
GROSS: Jane Fonda, growing with a movie star father, did being a movie star
seem appealing to you?
Ms. FONDA: No, not at all. I never connected acting with joy. My father
never brought joy home with him. He only brought kvetching and problems. So
that's one reason why I didn't want to do it. And then another is because--I
don't know--I thought actors were to egocentric, and I was plain and I was
shy, and it just didn't seem something I wanted to do.
GROSS: Well, you thought you were plain, anyway. (Laughing) I don't think
you really were. But...
Ms. FONDA: All that matters is what you think.
GROSS: I suppose that's true.
Ms. FONDA: That's right.
GROSS: Outside of getting work, because other people don't necessarily, you
know, share your opinion, and particularly in modeling and acting, it's
largely based on what other people think. But we'll get to that in a minute.
When you started acting, you were studying the method with Lee Strasberg, and
your father thought the method was ridiculous. Why did he think it was
Ms. FONDA: Well, I think for two reasons. When he became an actor in the
'30s, there wasn't so many people trying to get those few parts. It wasn't as
competitive. And before he ever made it on Broadway and in the movies, he
must have performed in 300 productions of summer stock and touring companies.
He was a member of the University Players, which was a summer acting company.
And that was his school. And he didn't understand why everyone couldn't do
that. He didn't realize that when I came along, and even more so it's true
now for my niece Bridget and my son Troy, it's very, very competitive. You
have to, by the time you go up for your first audition, you'd better be
prepared and have a technique and all that.
But there was another deeper reason why he didn't approve, which I really came
to understand most acutely while I was writing my book. And that is the
approach that Lee Strasberg took was one that required you to develop
tremendous self-understanding. You had to plumb your depths. You had to
figure out what were the things that caused you to tighten up and get shallow
breath and be frightened, and what were the things that caused you to let go
and release. And you had to really be willing to do some self-exploration,
psychically. A lot of the actors who studied with him were in analysis or in
therapy. Well, for my father--and this is partly generational, part he came
from the Midwest, and it's partly just his nature. He hated it. He hated
introspection. He hated therapy. He didn't like the messiness of it all.
When he performed, he always liked everything to be just the way it had been
at rehearsal. And I think it scared him, although he wouldn't have said it
that way. But I'm pretty sure that's why he disdained it so much.
And, you know--pat myself on the back--it took some perseverance and some
courage for me to continue doing it because I adored my father in spite of his
GROSS: So what was it like for you to expose yourself in the way you need
to expose yourself when you're acting and practicing the method?
Ms. FONDA: Ah, it was like a breath of fresh air. It was, for a girl who
grew up in the '50s and who was brought up to know that you just didn't bring
your feelings to the table, you didn't talk about them, it was a no-no, you
didn't express emotions, suddenly I found myself in a situation where you were
asked to delve deep, you were asked to reveal those things and it was safe to
do so. And it changed my life.
GROSS: How did it change your life?
Ms. FONDA: Well, I was floundering. I was 21 years old and I didn't know
what I wanted to do with myself. I tried being a secretary, and I was fired.
I got into acting by default, and I sat in his classes, Lee's classes--the
private classes, not the Actors Studio--for several months. I sat right
behind Marilyn Monroe, who always wore a scarf and a trench coat, and I would
look past her cheek to the stage. And she was as frightened as I was to get
up there. She never did. And I sort of thought, well, you know, maybe Dad's
right. Maybe this is just too ridiculous. But I thought, well, before, I
give it up, I might as well do at least one exercise. And so I did. And
when I finished--I'll never forget it--Lee Strasberg, he was very quiet, and
then he said, `Jane, I see a lot of actors go through here, and I want to
tell you, you have real talent.'
And, Terry, I can't even describe it. It just felt like the top of my head
came off and birds flew out, and the color of life changed. And it was never
quite the same. And, you know, Lee didn't have to tell me that. He wasn't an
employee of my father's or a family friend. And it meant the world to me.
And I'd already discovered he wasn't somebody that made nice.
GROSS: So acting, among other things, gave you confidence because you were
good at it, but at the same time, it brought out insecurities about how you
looked. You know, you'd started modeling at the same time. And, of course,
when you're acting, particularly probably when you're a woman, you're really
judged by how you look. So what were some of the insecurities about your body
and your face that acting helped bring to the surface?
Ms. FONDA: Well, the insecurities existed for reasons that went back earlier
than the acting. When I was in the safe womb of Lee's classes, it was fine.
I was safe. It was OK. But when I went to Hollywood, which was quite soon
after I started taking Lee's classes and made my first movie, which was "Tall
Story," it became quite a different situation. For example, when I did my
first screen test, Jack Warner, who was for Warner Bros.--it was a Warners
studio picture, and Jack Warner sent down a message saying that he wanted me
to wear falsies for the movie, that I was too flat-chested. Josh Logan, who
was the director, and I think he was my godfather, he took my chin in his
hand one day and turned me to profile and said, `You know, after this film is
over, if you broke your jaw and had your back teeth removed, your face
wouldn't be so round.'
Anyway, it all played on my insecurities. And when I finished that movie, I
went back home to New York and vowed I'd never go back to Hollywood.
GROSS: Well, one of your early movies was "Barbarella," which was directed by
your husband, Roger Vadim. And in the famous opening scene, the credit
sequence, your stripping out of your space suit, and you're weightless. So
Ms. FONDA: Yes.
GROSS: ...kind of, like, floating and becoming increasingly naked until you
are naked. And the very private parts are obscured, but still you're there
naked. And for somebody who is or was self-conscious about her body, what a
difficult spot to be in, huh?
Ms. FONDA: You have no idea. I was totally drunk. I did so many things
that I would rather die than do, but I didn't know that I could say no. I
literally didn't know I could say no. I didn't want anybody to know that I
felt uncomfortable in my skin and that I hated my body and that--I just did
GROSS: What does it say about Roger Vadim that he asked you to do that? I
mean, if he knew you well, he must have known something about how
self-conscious you were.
Ms. FONDA: I'm a good actress. He had no idea. He had no idea that I felt
that uncomfortable. He had been married to Brigitte Bardot before me, and I
thought if I told him how ugly I thought I was that it would call his
attention to it. No, I don't think he realized.
GROSS: So how did you get through the scene?
Ms. FONDA: I got drunk.
GROSS: Oh, you really did get drunk?
Ms. FONDA: Yeah.
Ms. FONDA: Got drunk a lot to get through things that I didn't really want
GROSS: You say that you even betrayed your body. Are you referring there
to--like, you write in your book, that when you were married to Roger Vadim,
he wanted to do threesomes, and you weren't comfortable with that, but you
didn't want to say no, either.
Ms. FONDA: I didn't think I was good enough. It never occurred to me that I
would be good enough. And, you know...
GROSS: Good enough to say no?
Ms. FONDA: That's right. Good enough to be the only one. It was simply
too hard for me to say, `I want to be the only one. If you want me to really
open my heart totally and deeply and my soul to you, I have to know that I'm
the only one.' I couldn't say it because I thought he'd leave me. Isn't that
GROSS: My guest is Jane Fonda. Her new autobiography is called "My Life So
Far." We'll talk more after a break. Here's the opening scene from her 1968
film "Barbarella." She's naked in her space pad, talking to the president,
who's on the video phone.
(Soundbite of "Barbarella")
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) Have you ever heard of a young
scientist named Durand Durand?
Ms. FONDA: (As Barbarella) Yes.
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) Recently, while on a trip to the
North Star, he vanished into the uncharted regions of Tau Ceti.
Ms. FONDA: (As Barbarella) But why is that a secret?
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) Because Durand Durand is the inventor
of the positronic ray. It's a weapon.
Ms. FONDA: (As Barbarella) Weapon? Why would anybody want to invent a
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) How should I know?
Ms. FONDA: (As Barbarella) I mean, the universe has been pacified for
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) What we know of it. The trouble is,
we don't know anything about Tau Ceti or its inhabitants.
Ms. FONDA: (As Barbarella) You mean, they could still be living in a
primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) Precisely. And if they are, and if
they have learned from this young scientist the unspeakable secret of the
positronic ray, well, it may give them the power to shatter the loving union
of the universe.
Ms. FONDA: (As Barbarella) But that could lead to archaic insecurity and...
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) And war.
Ms. FONDA: (As Barbarella) You mean, selfish competition and...
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) I mean war, bloody conflicts between
Ms. FONDA: (As Barbarella) I don't believe it.
Unidentified Man #1: (As the president) Neither do I.
GROSS: Jane Fonda will be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jane Fonda, and she's written
her autobiography. It's called "My Life So Far."
You were, I think, already--I think you already had an eating disorder when
you did "Barbarella."
Ms. FONDA: Yes. I began to be anorexic-bulimic in high school, as happens a
lot with girls.
GROSS: How did you learn about bulimia?
Ms. FONDA: I had a roommate who told me that she'd read in Roman history
books that that's what the Romans did. They would gorge on a feast and then
throw it all up, so they could do it all over again. And she and I started
doing it, and we thought we were the only people since the Romans that did it.
I didn't know there was a name. I didn't know there was a name for it until I
wrote my first workout book, and I knew I had to fess up in order to give
resonance to my journey from what I had been to the healthy person I became.
And so that's when I discovered there was a word called `bulimia.' I didn't
GROSS: In your memoir, you say that in some of your movies and in your
modeling work that you did when you started your career, you can see the
trouble on your face. What do you see when you look at your face then?
Ms. FONDA: I see absence, and it began when I was about, oh, 14, I think,
which for me was the cusp of adolescence, when I realized that I was not
perfect. Nobody's perfect, but we're told--we're made to believe that we're
supposed to be perfect. And my father had let me know, in all kinds of ways,
that he thought I was too fat. And so my lack of perfection suddenly reared
its head when I entered the period of life when you're supposed to becoming a
woman and be feminine and be popular and things like that.
And, you know, before, I'd been too busy wrestling and climbing trees, and
suddenly--well, I just moved out of myself. I moved outside and took up
residence next door and leaving a big, empty hole in the center of me, which
became filled with anxieties, which I spent a lot of time with young girls and
I know that it's very common, this sudden anxiety that appears on the horizon
when you hit puberty. I filled it with food. And other people fill it with,
I don't know, drugs, shopping...
Ms. FONDA: ...buying shoes, gambling. It can be filled with lots of things.
I filled it with food and, to some extent, alcohol.
GROSS: But you had to get rid of it.
Ms. FONDA: Well, yeah. It's a very complicated thing that happens. You're
empty, and you don't realize that what you're empty from is spirit and soul.
You've moved that outside yourself, and so you're trying to fill it with
whatever gives you comfort. And until you, the addict, realize what it is
that you're really searching for, even if you stop the behavior, which I did
in my mid-40s--I stopped bingeing and purging, but I was like a dry drunk. I
hadn't dealt with the emptiness. That took longer. But that's what you have
to do to really be healed.
GROSS: I've heard a lot of women say that, you know, being pregnant is the
only time when it's acceptable to have a tummy (laughs).
Ms. FONDA: Yeah.
GROSS: And so it's a time when you can relax about food. How did you feel
about your body image when you were pregnant?
Ms. FONDA: I loved being pregnant. I think partly it was hormonal. The
hormones went well with me. I needed them. And whatever they were, they were
good. And I was very, very happy when I was pregnant. It was excusable, as
you said, to have a belly.
GROSS: Did you ever think of aerobics as being a compulsive way of replacing
compulsive eating and purging?
Ms. FONDA: Totally. Yes. With me, it was compulsive, but I'll tell you
what: It was a step in the right direction.
GROSS: (Laughs) Right.
Ms. FONDA: See, it's about control. You want to feel you have some control.
And if you go cold turkey from anorexia and bulimia, you have to find another
way to feel that you can control your body, and exercise is a healthy way.
And for me, although I didn't realize it until I began to write my book, the
workout, with its movement and its music and its tempo and its drive, was a
beginning of moving, if not back inside my body, at least up onto the front
GROSS: Did this self-consciousness about acting ever go away?
Ms. FONDA: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Sure. The fear--that's different than
self-conscious. I always thought that the more you did something, the easier
it would get. What I discovered in my own career was that towards the end, it
got harder and harder. Maybe I was expecting more of myself, but there were
deeper, more personal reasons. I was terrified. And it wasn't
self-conscious. It just--I don't know. Well, I was living in my head on
sheer will power, and that's not good if you're trying to be creative.
GROSS: Now your brother, Peter Fonda, had a memoir that came out a few years
ago, and I'm wondering if you read that memoir and if that affected how you
wrote yours and what you've decided to put in or withhold.
Ms. FONDA: Well, I went to it for, as I did to--I mean, practically everybody
I know has an autobiography.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Yeah, right.
Ms. FONDA: Ted didn't write one, but Tom wrote one, Vadim wrote two and
about five books have been written about Ted. And, you know, reading them
all, what I knew I didn't want to do was, `And then I did this, and then I did
that, and then I did this, and then I did that.' I wanted to write a book
that the reader would be constantly putting down because he or she had to
think about his own or her own life and her own relationship. And I'm
discovering that I succeeded, that that's what people are finding themselves
doing, men and women. It's fascinating. When you've spent almost five years
writing something and then you're finally being interviewed by people who have
read it, it's totally fascinating.
GROSS: My guest is Jane Fonda. Here's a scene from her 1971 thriller
"Klute." She played an actress and call girl. In this scene, she's talking
with her therapist about why she can't stop turning tricks.
(Soundbite of "Klute")
Unidentified Woman: What's the difference between going out on a call as a
model or as an actress and as a call girl? You're successful as a call girl.
You're nothing as a...
Ms. FONDA: 'Cause when you're a call girl, you control it, that's why;
because someone wants you--not me. And there are some johns that I have
regularly that want me. That's terrific. But they want a woman, and I
know I'm good. And I arrive at their hotel or their apartment, and they're
usually nervous, which is fine, because I'm not. I know what I'm doing. And
for an hour I'm the best actress in the world and the best (censored) in the
GROSS: Jane Fonda will be back in the second half of FRESH AIR. This is NPR,
National Public Radio.
(Soundbite of "Barbarella")
Unidentified Group: Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba. Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba.
GROSS: Coming up, Jane Fonda on how she was transformed by her marriages to
Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden and Ted Turner.
(Soundbite of "Barbarella")
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Barbarella, psychedella, there's a kind of
cockle shell about you.
Chorus: (Singing) Barbarella, Ba, Barbarella.
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Dazzle me with rainbow color. Fade away the
duller shade of living. Get me up high.
Chorus: (Singing) High.
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Teach me to fly.
Chorus: (Singing) Fly.
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Electrify...
Chorus: (Singing) Electrify my life.
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) ...my life with starry lights above the
stratosphere. Bring your ...(unintelligible) till the dawn comes tumbling.
Chorus: (Singing) Don't make a sound. Shh.
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Every word we need comes from the sky. Can't
you read my mind? Say it loud. Don't you give me a cold shoulder. Still,
I'm dying, girl, to hold ya and make love...
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Jane Fonda. She has
written her autobiography. It's called "My Life So Far."
A lot of your book is trying to figure out who you are and why you transformed
yourself several times in part to suit what you thought were the needs or
desires of the men in your life, from your father, Henry Fonda, to your
husbands, Roger Vadim, who was a French director, and Tom Hayden, an anti-war
activist, Ted Turner, the head of CNN. Let's start with your father. You add
a little bit about how you and your brother, Peter Fonda, dealt differently
with your father. You say, `Peter was who he was. When he was scared, he
showed it. If he was sick, he'd complain about it, damn the consequences. I
often wished he'd pretend like I did, just to make things easier. But Peter
was himself, and I got into the habit of leaving myself behind someplace in
order to win Dad's approval.'
Ms. FONDA: That's right. I knew viscerally what he wanted, and I was going
to give it to him, because he was the wagon that I wanted to--he was the star
that I wanted to hitch on my wagon to. He was the team I wanted to be on. I
didn't want to risk losing his approval, and that sets in motion an unhealthy
dynamic between a girl and the future men in her life. It was the approval of
my father and then later the approval of men that would make me OK. And if I
lost that, I would cease to exist. It gets that deep. And, you know, so the
need to be perfect and the need to please was my modus operandi.
Now at the same time--because in writing my book, I had to try to understand
whether the rap on me, which is there's no there there; it's only--you know, I
just become whatever the man I'm with wants me to be--whether that's true or
not, and I discovered that it wasn't true; that I've always been on a quest,
in a way, to find the center of things, including the center of myself, and in
each of my marriages, I've been partway on a path in that quest when I would
meet a man who would take me further down that path. You know, I always hoped
that it would be for the long haul, but, you know, I wasn't dealt the cards to
make the long haul with one person. And if it ever happens again, I'll be
comforted by the fact that the haul is shorter. But my father was married
five times and, you know, I didn't choose well for the long haul, but I chose
very well for getting me further down the path that I wanted to be on. I
agree with Katharine Hepburn, women choose the men.
GROSS: But I guess you had this like guru thing going that you chose the men
in your life who could be like the leader, the guide, the scout.
Ms. FONDA: When I moved to France to make a movie with Alain Delon, directed
by Rene Clement, I was on a search--I wanted to discover womanness. I never
had a female role model. My mother killed herself when I was 12, and I was
very frightened of what it meant to be a woman because I thought it meant
being a victim and dying. And I wanted to--I was drawn to Europe. I didn't
consciously say, `In Europe, I will find out what it means to be a woman,' but
then I met Vadim and, you know, God knows he was somebody who could take a
woman down the path of womanliness, and he did, and I'm very grateful to him
When I met Tom Hayden, I had left Vadim and moved back to the United States
because I wanted to be part of the anti-war movement. It was 1968, and I had
just turned 30, and I wanted to make a difference. And I was an activist for
two and a half years, working with the GI movement, feeling a little bit--I
needed context. I wanted a political home, a womb, a political womb in which
I could find love and friendship and structure. I was kind of out of on my
own because I was so different than other activists. I mean, here I'd made
"Barbarella," and I was a famous movie star, but I didn't want to be like a
movie star. I wanted to be like an average person, and I couldn't do it on my
own, and that's when I met Tom Hayden, you know, who had tremendous vision and
depth of vision and scope of politics, and he was the one, and he was perfect,
and he was just wonderful.
GROSS: In a way, Ted Turner seems like such a contrast to that, because it
brings you into the corporate world and...
Ms. FONDA: Right.
GROSS: ...you know, the corporate world and the radical world that you and
Tom Hayden lived in are just totally opposite.
Ms. FONDA: On a superficial level, it does seem weird, and certainly it hurt
me when people interpreted my marrying Ted on the superficial level, but talk
about the deeper parts. First of all, energetically, Ted and I were very much
alike. We both have parents that killed themselves. He was someone that
would not be intimidated by my success and persona, and he cared deeply about
making things better. I mean, literally, his life was devoted and he had
devoted his CNN to making a difference to peace, to environmental protection.
I loved his values, and there was this incredible, beautiful synergy between
the two of us for the 10 years that we were together. Besides that, he gave
me tremendous confidence. He didn't put me down. He always let me know that
he needed me, and I needed to be needed, and when someone like Ted Turner lets
you know that you're needed, you know, it counts, and whatever the problems
were, I began to heal in the arms of Ted.
GROSS: My guest is Jane Fonda. Her autobiography is called "My Life So Far."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Jane Fonda, and she's written an autobiography, which is
called "My Life So Far."
Let's talk a little bit about politics. Were you surprised that in 2004,
years after--you know, three decades after the Vietnam War, that you were
still used as a symbol during the presidential election? And, you know,
there was that image of you and John Kerry at a political demonstration
together, an image that was faked, because this was a demonstration that you
were not at together. Were you surprised that you still had this kind of
Ms. FONDA: No. I was not surprised, for a number of reasons. First of all,
I knew that that side of the political spectrum was mean, nasty and would
resort to anything, so it did not surprise me. It doesn't surprise me that
veterans are still angry and enraged. I think that their rage directed at me
is misguided. It wasn't my war. I didn't send them there. I was very close
to soldiers. They are the people who got me into the war, but I made a
mistake by sitting on an anti-aircraft gun without even thinking what I was
doing, the image did not reflect what was in my heart, but the image exists,
and I understand why guys are angry about that.
And, you know, I hope the time will come--I hope my book will help them
understand where my heart was and my head, and if they're going to feel rage,
let them feel it for the people who create these kind of wars and then lie to
the American people about the wars and send them into harm's way based on
lies. Now there's a whole other segment, though, that are like these Swift
Boat types that have created a myth about me that is bigger than reality. I
mean, I'm just this tiny little thing compared to this myth that they have
created. And they need the myth. They thrive on the myth. They use the myth
to promulgate a narrow right-wing view, world view.
GROSS: Who is this mythical Jane Fonda?
Ms. FONDA: Oh, the myth that they want to foment is that I went to North
Vietnam, siding with the enemy, that I sat on an anti-aircraft gun, that I was
aiming at planes, that I was against the American soldiers. What they have to
be able to convince people of is that if you're against the war, you're
against the soldiers, and God knows that image of me on an anti-aircraft gun
played right into that. It was the most horrific lapse of judgment that I
could have done, and I'll go to my grave, as I've said before, regretting it.
It was not at all what was in my heart. It had nothing to do with how I felt.
You know, the fact is that you can be opposed to the war and you can speak out
against it and protest it and be very pro-soldier. When you know that a war
is wrong and that it's based on lies, the way to be pro-soldier is to expose
the lies, try to end the war and get them home as quickly as possible, as a
lot--tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of GIs and returned Vietnam
veterans knew and a lot of Iraqi veterans and their families know today.
GROSS: You refer to this photo where you're seated at an anti-aircraft gun in
North Vietnam, a gun that would have been used to shoot down American
planes. Before we talk about that specific photo, why did you go to North
Vietnam in the first place?
Ms. FONDA: Word was coming back to us that there were--that the Nixon
administration was bombing the dikes of North Vietnam, and we knew that that
meant. We knew that if the dikes were bombed before the monsoon season,
that--well, Henry Kissinger estimated 200,000 people would die because of
starvation. It had been proposed before during the Johnson administration,
and to his credit, Johnson had said, `No, we can't be responsible for this.'
But word was that Nixon was doing it. Now Nixon was lying to us. He and his
administration was telling the American people that the war was ending, he was
bringing ground troops home. When I went to North Vietnam, there was
only--barely even a battalion of ground troops in South Vietnam, but I went to
expose the bombing of the dikes, to find out for myself, A, whether it was
true, and if it was true, to film it and bring back evidence. And that's why
I went, and I brought back evidence. I went in July of 1972. The bombings
stopped in August, the bombing of the dikes.
And I have in my book tapes--transcripts of tapes from the White House that
shows that Nixon was saying, `We're going to go for the dikes. We're going to
cream them. We're going to win this war. We're going to cream North Vietnam,
and I'm all for the dikes.' He also said, `Never mind the civilian deaths.
Never mind. I'm all for it.'
GROSS: Now let's get to the photograph that you mentioned, where you're
seated at an anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam, a gun that would be used to
shoot down American aircraft. You say this is one of the biggest regrets of
your life, that you allowed this picture. How did the picture come to be?
Ms. FONDA: It was the last day of a two-week stay in North Vietnam. I had
wanted them to--on my agenda, it said `visit a military site,' and I hadn't
wanted to do that, but, you know, I just went. Other American visitors--there
had been 300 before me--you know, oftentimes visited military sites. It was
an inactive gun. There were no planes or anything like that. I got there.
There was a group of soldiers who greeted me and sang me--and a lot of
journalists were there, which should have been a red flag, a lot more than I'd
ever seen altogether in one place. And these young soldiers sang me a song
that moved me very much in Vietnamese. I had a translator standing right next
to me. It contained the words of our Declaration of Independence.
And then they asked me to sing them a song, and I did, and it was--and I tried
to sing in Vietnamese, and everybody was laughing and clapping, and I was
laughing and clapping, and someone kind of took me over and sat me down in the
gun, and I didn't even think about it until after I had got up, and I
realized, oh, my God, these pictures are going to look like I'm siding with
the enemy, and I asked my translator to get--don't publish--you know, get rid
of those photos, that's terrible. Anyway, the photo exists, and I learned a
great lesson that what can be in your heart is not necessarily what is going
to appear. I should have--see, I was traveling alone. I should have not been
alone. I should have been with somebody, you know, more cool-headed than I
am, who would have known what I knew only after the fact, that I shouldn't
have gone anywhere near that gun, much less sat in it.
GROSS: What are some of the contexts that the photo has subsequently been
Ms. FONDA: Right-wing propaganda, you know, the--whenever they want to attack
me, they pull that out. Well, it's my fault.
GROSS: Did you ask for your Freedom of Information Act files when you were
writing your memoir?
Ms. FONDA: I did. Yes, I did.
GROSS: What are some of the things you learned from that?
Ms. FONDA: Well, I knew before I started writing my memoirs, you know, that
they had followed me and tapped my phone and opened my mail.
GROSS: What, the FBI?
Ms. FONDA: The CIA had opened my mail.
Ms. FONDA: That had--it was the first time the CIA had opened the mail of a
US citizen, and they admitted to that. I sued the Nixon administration, and
in the suit, this came out.
GROSS: What else did you learn?
Ms. FONDA: Oh, they took my bank statements without a subpoena. They
followed my daughter, who was in kindergarten at the time, and wrote about
that. They broke into my home and riffled through my drawers. You know,
they'd tried to get me in every way--they planted fake propaganda, you know,
saying things that had never happened. They tried to plant them in various
columnists' columns, and it didn't work. But, you know, they'd already taken
down Jean Seberg, my friend, the actress, by doing that, and they didn't get
me. The people who were trying to get me ended up in jail, and anyway, the
rest is history.
GROSS: Who? Do you mean Watergate people or who do you mean?
Ms. FONDA: Yeah. I mean Watergate people, yeah, Haldeman, Ehrlichman,
GROSS: How much of this were you aware of as it was happening?
Ms. FONDA: I became aware of it when Jack Anderson...
GROSS: The investigative columnist.
Ms. FONDA: Yeah. He revealed that my bank statements had been seized, and
Army Archerd revealed that he had received a letter from an FBI agent in Los
Angeles, the same one that had planted false information about Jean Seberg,
and, you know, he told me about that, so I knew that they were engaging in
black propaganda, and then we discovered Cointelpro, which was a J. Edgar
Hoover organization designed to destroy, sometimes literally through
assassinations, infiltration, black propaganda against people who he felt were
opponents of the government. And I was a target of Cointelpro.
GROSS: Jane Fonda. Here's a scene from her 1978 movie "Coming Home." She
won an Oscar for her portrayal of a volunteer nurse at a VA hospital. While
her husband is in Vietnam, she becomes close to a patient, played by Jon
Voight, who came home from the war as a paraplegic. In this scene from early
in the film, she's talking with him about her husband.
(Soundbite of "Coming Home")
Mr. JON VOIGHT: A captain? Oh (censored), you didn't go out and marry a
(censored), did you?
Ms. FONDA: That's right. Why? What were you?
Mr. VOIGHT: A sergeant.
Ms. FONDA: So? Sergeants have a lot of responsibility, don't they?
Mr. VOIGHT: Yes, they sent me my stripes on the hospital ship, my reward for
getting so (censored) up.
Ms. FONDA: Why are you so cynical about that, Luke?
Mr. VOIGHT: What are you doing here, Bender? Why aren't you out on the golf
course teeing up balls, doing something you're good at?
Ms. FONDA: I'm just trying to keep busy, that's all.
Mr. VOIGHT: Sure, it gives you something to talk about over martinis, how
you're helping out the poor cripples.
Ms. FONDA: I don't think that I deserved that, Luke, at all.
Mr. VOIGHT: Maybe you're just getting ready for your husband to come back in
a body bag.
GROSS: A scene from "Coming Home." Jane Fonda's new autobiography is called
"My Life So Far." This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Jane Fonda. She's written an autobiography called "My
Life So Far."
Do you feel that you were present at the start of the culture wars and were
one of the kind of lightning rods?
Ms. FONDA: Not at all, no. My brother was, but I was a sort of square, white
bread American making movies like "Any Wednesday" and "Sunday in New York,"
when my brother was making "Easy Rider" and "Wild Angels." No, I'm usually
late to things. I was seven years late to the Vietnam War, and I was late to
the cultural things. And there's always a big part of me that's sort of
rooted in--I don't know what to call it. I like what the British author,
David Hare, said. `The best place to be radical is in the middle.' The films
that I made myself and produced, you know, they're not revolutionary in terms
of stylistically or anything. I want to appeal to middle America.
GROSS: Tell me what you think of this theory, and I think you actually refer
to it in the book, but I've also seen it posited in magazines: that some men
found you particularly hard to take when you became involved politically,
because they so loved you in "Barbarella" and were so turned on by you in
"Barbarella." The fact that you, in some way, turned against them through
your politics was just too much to take.
Ms. FONDA: Well, I remember specifically, I put together a show called "Free
the Army" with Donald Sutherland and a number of other entertainers, and we
performed it outside of bases all over the United States and in the Pacific,
Hawaii, Okinawa, Japan, the Philippines. And altogether, I think we performed
for 60,000 active duty service men and women. There weren't that many women
involved in the military at that time, I think only 10,000, but many service
people came to those performances. And we would always have meetings
afterwards with them and listen to what they would have to say. And Holly
Near, the singer, who was on the tour with us, was told on a number of
occasions by guys that they were angry at me, that they had torn down the
"Barbarella" poster, you know, because, you know, I didn't live up to their
And I write in my book that I--you know, I wasn't--I love the French
expression (French spoken). I wasn't well enough in my skin to be able to own
where I was. Could I do that over again now, I would simply go out--because,
see, I didn't wear makeup. I wore blue jeans. I was very plain. I would
walk out on stage, and I would say, `I know that some of you are going to be
disappointed that I'm not Barbarella,' but, you know, it's not always fun to
try to live up to someone's sexual fantasies. I mean, sexual fantasies are
great, but if you're the object of it, it can get objectifying, and, you know,
I'm trying to become a whole person, and, you know, I'm sorry that I'm not
Barbarella anymore, but I'm trying to be me. I have a feeling that had I been
really honest about it, that guys would have been there with me. But I
GROSS: Right. That's a hard one to do...
Ms. FONDA: You know, you do what you do when you do it. Yeah.
GROSS: Right. Jane Fonda is my guest. She's written an autobiography. It's
called "My Life So Far."
You've become a Christian, and you end your book talking a little bit about
that. How did you become a Christian? I mean, earlier, you were talking
about--that you think that eating disorders represent a kind of spiritual
void. Are these two things connected for you?
Ms. FONDA: Well, I didn't realize it at the time, but when Tom and I--when my
second husband Tom Hayden and I broke up, it was a devastating time for me. I
had a breakdown. And everybody said, `Stay busy, stay busy,' but I didn't. I
knew that was wrong. What I did was I said, `I think I have something to
learn.' And I said out loud by myself one day, `If God wants me to suffer
like this, there must be a reason,' and I almost did a double take. It was
like, did I say `God'? I was raised an Atheist. And shortly thereafter, I
heard Bill Moyers say--because also, coincidences were happening all around me
then, and I heard Bill Moyers say, `Coincidences are God's way of remaining
Shortly after that, I met Ted Turner and moved to Georgia, which was the first
time in my life that I had ever spent intense time with people who were
religious, who lived their spirituality, and they were hip and fun and smart,
and I began to study, and I began to talk more and more to people, including
the Carters and others, and I realized that it was--I was searching for
reverence is the best way to put it, and I am meeting a network of feminists
throughout this country who are Christian, and I'm suddenly feeling, this is
my spiritual home.
GROSS: Your father was an agnostic. Did he live long enough to know that you
had become Christian?
Ms. FONDA: No. It's one of the things that makes me so sad. Dad didn't live
long enough to see me become a more whole person, I'm sorry to say.
GROSS: Now you have a movie coming out. You have a new movie,
"Monster-in-Law," your first movie in 15 years. Why such a long hiatus and
why break that now?
Ms. FONDA: Well, I left 15 years ago never intending to come back, because I
was miserable acting. I was completely living on willpower in my head and
creativity had dried up, and I just--it was a terrifying experience for me
every time I had to go to work each day, and I vowed I'd never do it again.
And then I met Ted and I didn't need to do it again. But 15 years later, two
things. One is I'm a very different person. I'm not living in my head
anymore, and I was curious to know how that would manifest, not even so much
on the screen but in the process of making the movie. Would I still be scared
when I woke up? Would I be terrified on the set? The answer is no, I had a
blast. It was so much fun. And the second reason is money. I'm 67 and I
want to create endowments for the work I do in Georgia, and so half my salary
went straight into that.
GROSS: Well, Jane Fonda, a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for
talking with us.
Ms. FONDA: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Jane Fonda's new autobiography is called "My Life So Far." Here's a
scene from "Monster-in-Law." Fonda plays a snobbish mother, who finds out her
son, a surgeon, is planning to marry a temp. Jennifer Lopez is the fiancee.
(Soundbite of "Monster-in-Law")
Ms. JENNIFER LOPEZ: Just so you know, the crying bits are getting old.
Ms. FONDA: Just so you know, Kevin likes his girls thin.
Ms. LOPEZ: Oh. Well, I could always get liposuction. I've been meaning to
ask, is it painful?
Ms. FONDA: That maid of honor bit, priceless.
Ms. LOPEZ: Well, you know what they say? Keep your friends close, keep your
Ms. FONDA: Oh.
Ms. LOPEZ: Now you listen to me, this is my game now. You are going to tell
Kevin that you are not moving into our neighborhood and that you've decided
that you're feeling like it's time that you go on with your own life. You are
moving out of our house immediately. This is over!
Ms. FONDA: Oh. This isn't over, not even close, girlie.
Ms. LOPEZ: Well, bring it on, grandma.
GROSS: "Monster-in-Law" opens May 13th. I'm Terry Gross. This is NPR,
National Public Radio.
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