Jane's New Cause
The war is supposed to be over, but will Middle America ever grant amnesty to Jane Fonda? For five years the actress’ shrill antiwar diatribes on campuses and radio broadcasts from North Vietnam had inflamed a few state legislators to the point of trying to ban her movies. Then, too, there was the provocation of marrying Tom Hayden, a leader of the radical protests of the ’60s and a defendant in the tumultuous “Chicago 7” conspiracy trial.
But the times, as the bard says, they are a-changin’. Today Jane is a working housewife. Her daughter, Vanessa (named after sister actress-activist Redgrave and sired by Jane’s first husband, French director Roger Vadim), attends a Roman Catholic church and belongs to a Brownie troop in Santa Monica, Calif. And Tom, whose five books penetratingly criticized the American system, this month started scrambling within it, challenging U.S. Senator John Tunney in the 1976 California Democratic primary. Hayden’s campaign slogan is “The radicalism of the 1960s is becoming the common sense of the 1970s,” but, of course, the radicals are also comporting themselves more common-sensically—if not in downright bourgeois fashion.
Jane is fretting again about her sun-tan and allowing her militant shag haircut to flow out to its old spine-tickling splendor. She now readily admits that much of her strident antiwar rhetoric was “inhuman and alienating.” Her leprechaun-faced husband of 35, two years younger than Jane, has, meanwhile, cropped his unruly hair, now tinged with gray, to executive length. He has also just bought his first two new suits since high school.
As Jane, whom overheated hawks dubbed “Hanoi Hannah,” evolves into a latter-day Eleanor Roosevelt, she is also reuniting the extended Fonda family. She and Tom see her dad at least once a week when he’s in town, and Henry, an old Democrat, has already hosted a fund-raiser for Hayden at his Bel Air mansion. Her brother, Peter, presently sailing and filming in Africa, “has promised to win the campaign for me,” says Tom. “I don’t know what he means by that, but I hope he’s right.”
As a family, the Fondas were not always as tight as the Waltons. Jane was the daughter of Henry’s second of five wives, socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw, who killed herself in a sanitarium—a fact her remote father never told her (she was 12) and which she learned reading a movie magazine. She was polished at Emma Willard, a ritzy finishing school, and then Vassar, but dropped out after two years to join cafe society in Paris. Though appearing with Henry in summer stock, Jane seemed doomed to modeling until she won the lead in a 1960 movie, Tall Story, and took a crash course from acting guru Lee Strasberg.
Her next mentor turned out to be Europe’s leading Casanova, Vadim. He had wed Brigitte Bardot, fathered a child with Catherine Deneuve, and eventually married Jane in 1965. Her career and already remarkable craft grew (Cat Ballou, Barefoot in the Park), and Vanessa was born. But, Jane recalls, “I was numb, apathetic, cynical. I was uninvolved and living in a kind of limbo in Paris.” When she read about 1968’s antiwar upheavals, Jane decided that “home was where one had to be if one were an American. I did not need to be the movie-star wife of a movie director—wonderful and nice as he is.” She left Vadim, who bemusedly called her “Jane d’ Arc,” and plunged frantically into a maelstrom of causes in the U.S. Though Jane had not yet met Hay-den, she remembers that “in the midst of chaos this fellow Tom Hayden was always the voice of reason and direction. I would clip his articles and quote from them.”
Hayden, in contrast to Jane’s star-trip youth, grew up in Detroit on the cutting edge of his generation. His father was an accountant for Chrysler, his mother a school librarian, and both were totally apolitical. “Like many people,” he recalls, “I cried when General MacArthur said, ‘Old soldiers never die.’ ” But after graduating from the University of Michigan, Hayden joined the first civil rights workers in the Deep South and was arrested and beaten. In 1962 he became the founding president of Students for a Democratic Society and co-authored its Port Huron manifesto which coined such radical shibboleths as “participatory democracy.” He was registering voters in Newark in 1967 when the city’s worst riot exploded. Later that year he escorted home from Hanoi the first American POW to be released. In 1968 he led the demonstrators at the Democratic convention, for which he was indicted for conspiracy to incite to riot. (None of the charges stuck.) Along the way he had a brief marriage to a SNCC worker from Texas that he now says “is lost in the mists of time.”
Tom met Jane at antiwar rallies and, characteristically, he spent their first date showing her a slide show on the effects of Americanization on Vietnamese culture. “But what I remember,” says Jane, “is how often he laughed and how joyful he was—not very usual among heavy-duty political people. Then when Vanessa woke up and came into the living room, Tom stopped everything. He was the first man who came into my life since I was married who truly cared about her.” “Marriage may not be a viable form for everybody else,” Hayden observes, “but once we decided on the relationship it seemed right.” Accordingly, they wed in January 1973 and—having evolved “from thinking the world was a bad place to bring up a child to feeling optimistic about life, even in the midst of war”—they had a son that July and, to spare him the burden of either of their famous names, christened him Troy O’Donovan Garity (the surname is Tom’s mother’s maiden name).
Their home is the upper story of a 60-year-old frame house half a block from the beach in unfashionable Santa Monica. Fonda’s best-actress Oscar (for Klute) is a bookend. Jane regards Vanessa’s Brownies and church as “socializing experiences that are very important. I don’t want to lay my trip on her.” (She is a lapsed Episcopalian, Hayden and Vadim were raised Catholic.) Every summer Vanessa goes to France to visit Roger, whom, according to Jane, the child adores as “a wonderful father. He’s a kid. He really gets down and plays with her.” As a liberated papa himself, Tom does the dishes—manually because they don’t have an appliance. Other homemaking falls to Jane. “I get filled with angst if the house isn’t clean,” she sighs. “He doesn’t have the kind of middle-class hang-ups I have.”
One other sign of Jane’s mellowing out is that she’s getting back into feature films after spending most of the past five years making two antiwar documentaries and polemical duds like Steelyard Blues. She’s already been to Leningrad to shoot her role in The Bluebird. Three more projects are also in the works this year. (Tom doesn’t dare ask for script approval, describing himself as “a totally tasteless moviegoer who likes everything.”) Still ahead is a Fonda family epic about the American Revolution which Jane hopes to make someday with Henry and Peter.
Schedule aside, Jane maintains, “I’m not the kind of actress that stews over a film, and I’ll be active in Tom’s campaign the whole time. I would rather be sticking up for something I believe in, and be a thorn in people’s sides, than go back to the way I was before.” In an early poll (prior to Tom’s formal announcement), he was behind 5 to 1, but he has already scared Tunney into spending more time back home than at any previous period since his election in 1970. While attacking Tunney as a “tool” of such forces as Northrop Aviation and the Gallo Brothers, Hayden deadpans that he and Jane will not accept contributions from large corporations—only from outfits like “the Wildflower Pizzeria.” By his own hopeful reading of Lou Harris surveys, Tom says, “Politicians are now 20 years behind the people.” More realistically, Jane adds: “It may not be Tom, and it may not be 1976, but someday someone who believes as we do will be elected senator from California. It may take decades, but we’ll keep working.”