Jane Fonda’s Secret Pain
Jane Fonda is one of the most famous women in the world, acting since the 1960’s, and a style icon for both young and older women everywhere. She is the daughter of the late Henry Fonda, and has made a name for herself on stage and on screen, more recently becoming known for her exercise videos! But is this smooth exterior hiding a world of pain underneath? And was her father, the great Henry Fonda somehow responsible?
A Complicated Relationship
It’s true that Jane Fonda and her father Henry Fonda had a complicated relationship, unique from most other father and daughter bonds. That’s not to say that it wasn’t close, just that their connection had its sticking points, especially when it came to family matters. The best example of this must be the dark secret which Henry kept from his daughter, which she had no idea was under the surface.
Jane was born Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda, but we just know her as Jane. She was born in 1937, right at the end of the year on December 21st. By 1954, she was acting right alongside him on stage, in a production of The Country Girl. She was clearly eager to follow in his very large footsteps, and start a career for herself on the stage and screen. Luckily, she had the talent and the beauty herself in spades, and had no trouble forging her career.
Making a Success
Jane’s rise to stardom was quick, and has never stopped since. By 1960, she had made her Broadway debut, which was in a play called There Was a Little Girl, which she incredibly received a Tony award nomination for. Later that same year, she appeared on screen for the first time, in Tail Story. She followed this up with movies like Sunday in New York, Barefoot in the Park, and Barbarella, and boom- she had arrived.
A Troubling Background
But while we’re sure her father Henry was proud of her, he had his own demons to bear, as well as his own career to manage. He was known as one of the best actors of his generation, even scooping an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1981, for his role in On Golden Pond. He was also critically acclaimed for his part in The Grapes of Wrath, still a classic to this day. But was his life just as shining behind the scenes?
Film and Broadway
Like many actors of that time, he was not just in films, although he did appear in almost 90 throughout his career! He was also a Broadway actor, impressing audiences and critics on stage just as much as when he was in front of a camera. This is the mark of a really versatile actor. But what makes him interesting, is the personal tumult which was going on when the audiences went home and the cameras were switched off.
It has been said that Henry Fonda was somewhat of a womanizer, and had many ladies following him around, causing rumors to fly about him being not exactly the settling down type. In fact, by the time he met Frances Seymour Brokaw in 1936, he had already been divorced once. Should this have been a warning sign for Frances? Or did she already have so much of her own baggage, that she thought it would be a perfect fit?
And to be honest, at first it seemed like it was the precursor to happily ever after. Henry and Frances appeared to be very much in love, and they sealed the deal with an engagement, a marriage, and then two children together, Jane and her brother Peter. We can’t know what troubles happened behind closed doors of course, but to the world, they seemed every inch the happy family, even the perfect family.
The Troubles of War
But like many families, war was to rip them apart at the seams. Henry Fonda went to serve his country in World War Two, enlisting in the U.S Navy, and leaving poor Frances at home with two young children, unable to speak to or see her husband for long stretches of time. Henry was in the Navy for as much as three years, which would be a strain on any relationship, especially one with huge cracks under the surface.
Holding to Their Vows
Soon, there was more trouble in paradise. Frances heard rumors that Henry was not being faithful to their marriage vows, and that he had already embarked on an affair with another woman. Stuck at home with two children while he looked for a new conquest was too much for her to bear. She started to lose control, perhaps showing a glimpse of the dark and awful secret which had been hiding within her for the first time.
Diagnosis for Frances
After Peter was born, Frances had been to the doctor for her feelings of low self worth and depression. She had been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, but the diagnosis did not help her feel better. In fact, things started to get worse for her, and she began to put a lot of focus on what she could do to keep Henry interested in her, and stop him from cheating with other women, or thinking about leaving her.
A Shocking Move
One thing which Frances did which was almost unheard of at the time, was to have facial reconstructive surgery. She thought that maybe looking different, or perhaps looking younger, would stop Henry from looking for younger and prettier women to cheat on her with. While today, plastic surgery, especially in the celeb world is no big deal, back then, this was not something that anyone did, causing a stir.
Henry Asks for a Divorce
But it seemed nothing she could do would make a difference, and eventually, Henry asked her for a divorce. To make things worse, it was triggered by his involvement with a 20 year old woman, Susan Blanchard. This was too much for Frances, already not well, and she ended up being committed into a psychiatric hospital, unable to cope with the idea of being left alone after Henry had promised to be with her forever.
The End of the Road
For Frances, this nervous breakdown was one from which she would never recover. In 1950, aged just 42, and with two young kids at home, she took a razor blade and slit her own throat, while still staying in the psychiatric hospital which she had been admitted to. She went to the bathroom, and took her own life, leaving her children without a mother, and changing Jane’s life forever. Were their signs that this would happen?
Reading the Signs
Perhaps there were signs. It’s so hard to be sure in hindsight. Sometimes things which seem only slightly strange come into focus after they can no longer be helped. For example, Frances had a friend who she stayed with not long before her breakdown who found her staring into a mirror and muttering to herself, “I wonder which one the jugular vein is?” she had been saying. This is a chilling fact, now that we know what happened next.
Hiding the Truth
After the death of their mother, Henry made a tough choice. Jane was only just a teenager, at 13 years old, and he did not want his children to know what had happened to their mother. So despite the media catching wind of the story, he kept the real cause of their mothers death from them. This was going to be something that would change the course of their relationship forever, because of course, secrets don’t stay hidden.
Finding Out The Truth
Of course, Jane would find out what happened to her mother, and the real circumstances of her death inside the psychiatric hospital by suicide. But she should have found this out from her loving father. Instead, she ended up hearing the news from reading about it in a magazine article, along with her brother. Can you imagine any more callous way to find out that your mother has killed herself? Jane was devastated.
A Heart Attack
Peter remembers the time well, and he even opened up about it to the Daily Express, back in 2014. “Jane read it in a magazine. I was told she had died of a heart attack but I didn’t know what that meant. At the time all magazines and newspapers were kept away from the house, and my mother’s name was never mentioned again.” What was Henry Fonda thinking? Did he really believe that his children wouldn’t find out the truth?
Turning the Blame Inwards
Like with any secret, Jane started to wonder why it had been kept. And she came to the decision that it must be because her mother’s death was in some way her own fault. She remembered how her mother had called her to her bedside when she was still at home, with a nurse to help her. She had chosen not to go to her mother’s side, and this had been the last chance she would have had to see her. Regret flooded her heart.
Jane truly believed for many years that she could have made a difference to what happened to her mother. She even spoke about these feelings in 2012 when she appeared on Oprah’s Master Class. “I thought, if I had gone downstairs and seen her that day that she came to the house, then she wouldn’t have killed herself. It was my fault.” What an incredibly heavy burden to hold onto, as both a teenager and a young adult.
Moving Forward and Learning the Truth
The only way that Jane Fonda could possibly move forward was to learn more about the circumstances around her mothers suicide. Healthy women don’t kill themselves, even if they had suffered a heartbreak, and this was what Jane was starting to realize. Could there be more behind her mothers mental health than her diagnosis of Bipolar and her father asking for a divorce? What was the truth?
Tracking Down the Records
Jane, still young at the time, decided to try to find the mental health records of her mother from the institute where she was at the time of her breakdown and subsequent suicide. This turned out to be the best thing that Jane could have done. In the records was the truth about her mother, long kept from her by her father Henry Fonda, and which would complete the puzzle, providing the missing piece that Jane needed to find forgiveness for herself.
A Long Battle
After reading these records, Jane realized just how long her mother had been battling with mental health issues, and what was at the true root of them. Sexual abuse. This abuse had happened long before Frances ever met Henry, and it showed Jane that there was nothing she or anyone could have done. “One of the most important things that I learned is that [my mother] had been sexually abused,” she remembered on Oprah. “Everything fell into place.”
Fighting back the Tears
Jane Fonda spoke openly about all of this to the public, sharing how she came to forgive herself finally after all the heartbreak and pain. “I wanted to take her in my arms and tell her how sorry I was, that I understood why it had been the way it was,” she said, understandably holding back from crying while she explained her feelings towards her late mother. “I was able to forgive myself. It had nothing to do with me.”
The Effects of this Lie
Watching this relationship between her mother and father, and experiencing the effects of the lies her father told her couldn’t help but take its toll on Jane. Many have said that her on-screen romance with Robert Redford is the only true romance worth lasting in her lifetime, and this is all for show, all for the cameras. Here they are in one of their first films together, at around 20 years old together.
Time Moves On
As time went on, they would star in four movies together, including the recent Our Souls At Night, which was made for Netflix, and it set to be a huge success. And Jane stoked the fired further by saying, “I live for sex scenes with him. He’s a great kisser, so it was fun to kiss him in my 20s and to kiss him again in my almost 80s.” But what about off screen romance while all this was happening? Is there a place for that?
Perhaps the four divorces of Henry Fonda loomed over her head, and cast problems into all of her own off-screen relationships, as Jane has also been divorced three times herself. She was married to Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden, and Ted Turner, but none of these would last. She has been with Richard Perry for the past 8 years, without committing to marriage, but it seems her eyes still swoon for Robert Redford!
The Message of Our Souls
The message behind her latest collaboration with Robert Redford is this idea that love can come at any age, so Jane is clearly a romantic at heart. “I find it very tender and hopeful that it’s never too late to explore the possibilities of intimacy,” Fonda said. “Don’t let yourself think into loneliness and sadness, even if you’re close to the end of life. Always take a leap of faith and go for love, and go for closeness and relationships. Human beings are supposed to be in relationships.”
Jane and Henry
But what of her relationship with her father? Did these lies and secrets ruin the closeness that was once between them? A family secret like that, about the way your own mother died, and the issues which were haunting her underneath the surface, could tear apart any family. Not to mention the callous way which Henry put her aside for his doomed relationship with his next wife. You would understand why Jane would say that they were estranged at least.
A Close Bond
But nothing could be further from the truth in Jane’s eyes. Jane continued to make excuses for him right until the end. “He used acting as a mask behind which to hide his emotions.” She told the media in 2016. “He abhorred anything that showed his vulnerability.” This may well be why he never managed to be honest with his children, but nonetheless Jane finished, “I adored him.” A complicated relationship indeed.
What a Man Wants
There is no doubt however, that the way that Henry treated women in his life has had a profound impact on the way Jane views herself, and all women. “Ageism is alive and well,” Fonda says. “It is OK for men to get older, because men become more desirable by being powerful. With women, it’s all about how we look. Men are very visual, they want young women. So, for us, it’s all about trying to stay young.”
Doing Whatever it Takes
And Jane has also been open about doing what needs to be done to keep herself looking young as well. She has had cosmetic surgery, just like her mother Frances did, including on her eyelids and the bags under her eyes, too. She believes that without it, she wouldn’t have got her recent roles. “I need to work, so I had some plastic surgery. It’s not like it’s too much, it’s not like you can’t see my wrinkles, right?” she laughed. “But I think it probably bought me a decade of work.”
Blaming her Father
Despite adoring her father, she does openly blame him for many of her issues with self image. “I grew up being told I was fat by my father,” she told The Telegraph. “And I wasn’t ever fat. But he had his issues. Only later could I look back and say: it had nothing to do with me. But I was brought up to believe that unless you look a certain way, no one would care for you, no one would love you. And I will have to confess that I am very much a victim of that.”
A Sad Truth
Sadly, the relationship a woman has with her father will always have a strong effect on how she sees herself, and the relationships she goes on to have with other men. Jane has a troubled one, that’s for sure, but she believes that their bond was a close one right up until the end. And it certainly has helped her achieve dizzy heights of fame, most recently starring in her own Netflix show, Grace and Frankie, and still killing it on the red carpet.
It’s Never Too Late
Jane has lived an incredible life, and now, at age 80, she is still absolutely killing it as a powerhouse of a woman in Hollywood. But she has a striking message for all of us, if we are not where we want to be, about taking our lives into our own hands and doing something about it, just as she did herself. “It’s never too late” she says. “It’s never too late to start again. It’s never too late to be happy.”