Book Review by Jill Smith©May19
Title: My Life So Far, Jane Fonda
Author: Jane Fonda
Publisher: Ebury Press, London
Jane Fonda has written this book in Acts. Like everything in her life, she sees as segments divided as a play or theatre. She writes articulately and the very first scene brings you into the moment of solitude and desperation she felt as a child. Peeking out from a cardboard box she was hiding in to snatch glimpses of her mother further along on the verandah of their home. Her mother was pinning butterflies and Jane was in her box rubbing saddle soap into her half sister’s Pan’s saddle.
Her father was her idol and he loved him dearly. The photos of him are scattered throughout the book. His influence on her life from the start was powerful. Jane looked up to him, he looked anywhere else. Her mother was a troubled woman who was sent away. Then she committed suicide and Jane blamed her for all the wrongs in her world. Her father called her fat and Jane spent much of her youth trying to please him. If she could please him, she would make it better.
Henry Fonda remarried and Susan went from being her father’s mistress to her stepmother. She was loving and kind and good to Jane. Her father would replace Susan when she left him. Jane was very confused and hurt. She ran free as a child, pretending to be a cowboy to be courageous, not feminine. Her life was a series of run wild and free moments. In her teens, she went to Paris to live. The acting was something she didn’t really want to do, but it gave her some direction. She started to live independently with an income.
In her mind, her mother had failed her father. She would always put her own thoughts and feelings aside to make it better. To be a complete person she needed to be with a man. Much of the book delves in her marriages and her inadequate role as wife and mother. Of the times she didn’t take control and allowed men to control her.
The first marriage to Vadim, who was like a rock star in his own right in France. She bowed to his every whim. The birth of their daughter Vanessa was not what she’d expected. Vadim was a gambler and a womaniser. It didn’t last.
Then she became an activist and her second husband Tom was already a campaigner. She learned a great deal about others during this marriage. Her career was on a high with movies like ‘9 to 5’ and ‘Coming Home.’ He was going into politics. They worked together but mentally went separate ways over the years. Then Ted Turner burst into her world after she separated from Tom. He wanted to date her. It was far too early to think about dating another man. She said so. Ted Turner was patient and gave her time. Just the time she gave him. Then he steamrolled into her life. Jane fell in love with the maverick. This time it was Jane realising she had changed and wanted a complete relationship. She made demands of her husband, ones he wasn’t able to meet.
This was a challenging read. Jane Fonda is remarkably frank about her dysfunctional childhood family and how the death of her mother shaped her feelings towards men. Her father was her idol but even as she reached out to him when filming ‘On Golden Pond’ their fellow co-star Audrey Hepburn described Hank Fonda as ‘a cold fish’.
Her writing of this memoir was clearly cathartic. It helped her to explain the reasons she needed to be with a man to be complete. Satisfyingly, she discovered in her sixties that this was no longer true. Now we know there have been a couple more Acts lived in Jane Fonda’s life since the writing of this book when she was in her early sixties. She has continued to forge a life in movies suiting her age and attacking stereotypes of older women. What a wonderful career she continues to have.
There are some books you read that you know will take place in your mind and heart and you’ll look back on as a reference for your own feelings and exploration of the world. This is one such book.