COLUMN SIXTY-THREE, SEPTEMBER 1, 2001
(Copyright © 2001 Al Aronowitz)
ANSWER TO BARDOT
THE YOUNG JANE FONDA
two years of intermittent absences at Vassar, Jane finally absented herself
entirely. She went instead to Paris
under the pretext of studying painting but, at the two schools in which she
enrolled, her greatest artistry continued to be in cutting classes.
When, after several months, she came home for the Christmas holidays, her
father asked her to stay home.
she says, "was really going out, being accepted, being popular."
York turned out to be more of the same. According
to her acquaintances of the time, she became an uptown beatnik, not proficient
in anything except the knowledge of where the parties were.
She started to study piano but the scales came between her and
fulfillment. She tried working at the Paris Review, but she couldn't
write. She began doing office work
for a producer but that brought her too close to what she already feared she
kept trying to find things that I liked," she says, "trying to avoid
acting. I mean I was a social butterfly, I really was, it was the whole
international Society bit. I went out every night, I went to parties in the
Village, I went to society balls. Oh, it's not silly enough to laugh at it
now, but it's a pretty empty existence. And that was my life, it really was,
and to be home alone, it meant that there was something going on that I wasn't part of.
And the moment I acted, I didn't need to go to parties any more. I
didn't need to. I didn't need to be with everyone all the time. I was able to
stay home alone."
fear, of course, was of failure. She had no insights into acting and her father,
by a conscious design and an admitted inability, had not given her any of his. At
the Emma Willard school, she
had joined the drama class and at Vassar, she had gone so far as to play the
lead in Lorca's Amor de Don Perlimpin con Balisa en su Jardin.
liked the makeup and the costumes," she says, "but I didn't know anything
about the character's motivations."
When she was seventeen, she appeared with her father
as his granddaughter in ten performances of The Country Girl, a summer
benefit for the Omaha Community Playhouse in her father's hometown of Omaha,
Nebraska. Again, it was just for
kicks, but the biggest kick went to her father.
'the first day we were in rehearsal in the scene that involved Jane," he
told me, "she had to enter crying hysterically.
So I made my exit from the scene and as I come off, Jane's standing
there ready to make her entrance. And
there is a moment or two before her cue and she says, 'Dad, I'm supposed to be
crying.' And I said 'Not now, darling, you're not supposed to be crying in this
first rehearsal, relax.' Anyway, I sort of thought she'll be embarrassed if I'm
watching, so I sort of turned my back and she walked on.
'so I'm not watching and I hear this girl sobbing like her heart's going to break, reading these lines. I mean she worked herself up. It's very short, she makes her exit and comes
remember Jane expressing
any interest in acting
off and I'm still standing there and she walks
right up to me and says. "Dad, I can't cry,?? and he himself laughed
tearfully remembering the incident. "I said, "You can't cry?? and
I put my arms around her. "Whatever you did, that's good enough."?
next summer, when she was eighteen, she again appeared with her father as the
ing?nue in The Male Animal at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis,
remember," he said, "as far as I knew about Jane, there was no ambition
for the theater at all. But she
played the part and again it was just because---as far as I could make out---it
seemed like it would be fun to do something during vacation. Now I don't know
today whether it's because she was self-conscious because her name was Fonda and
sort of staying away from acting or she didn't have the interest.
I don't know.
when she played the part, again she was absolutely charming, natural,
unaffected, unself-conscious and everything.
And I remember then thinking, and I never said it to her, 'Well, God! If this girl ever decides that she does want to go into the theater, I as a papa, can relax.
Because particularly as a parent who's been in the business and knows
what heartbreak it can be, I thought, "Well, if she ever wants to, she's going
to be all right and I don't have to worry.
Because this girl has really got it now. I don't mean that I could
see what I can see today, but at least that she wasn't going to fall on her
asked him why he didn't tell her.
he said. "I don't really know
whether I could articulate reasons. I
guess it was just instinct.
I don't know whether I was thinking that if she does want to act, she'll
want to know that she did it on her own. And
I had a feeling of not wanting to dissuade her or persuade her one way or
another, I wanted to let her make her own decisions.
partly because she, as far as I could make out, was indicating verbally that she
wasn't interested, that it was for a ball at the at the moment and that she
couldn't care less about having a career. And
also, she was nuts about a young guy down there who didn't want her to be an
actress. I think they got engaged
for a while, and he wanted the career, he wanted to be a play?wright,
and he didn't want his wife to be an actress.
Anyway, I just didn't say anything about it, and I still think I was
emotions on the subject are as variable as her moods.
hated myself on the stage, I hated myself," she told me, trying to remember
how she felt during her experience on Cape Cod.
"Physically, I was ashamed of being there.
It was just a matter of learning lines and saying them.
I got no fulfillment out of it. I
felt phony. It was a painful thing
and yet somehow I loved it. It
wasn't even the acting, it was every time I would walk past an empty theater,
something would happen inside of me. And
I kept trying to steer myself away. And
I had a whole mechanism, a whole philosophy all worked out that
women---particularly me---with all my ego and all my selfishness, all I need to
do is become on actress and I'm finished, forget it."
problem again was in being Henry Fonda's daughter, although Jane tries to
avoid putting it in such simple terms, much the same as she tried to avoid the
consequences. The fact remains that
if she had been a butcher's daughter
the problem would not have loomed so large before her.
think that really the most honest thing I can say," she told me, "is
it was the fear that I wouldn't be the best, and I was unwilling to be anything
but the best. And I wasn't able to
commit myself to acting until I was able to say, "I'm not the best and I
still want to be an actress.' The fact that Henry Fonda was my father---'that
might have been the final thing. But
there were other reasons.
I said, for me acting was learning lines and saying them as realistically as you
could. And it involved no
fulfillment, and it involved no reward. It involved nothing except ego and
discomfort and trying to live up to something.
And my ego wanted me to be an actress on the one hand, and my desire to belonnnnnng
wanted me to be an actress. And on
the other hand my ego prevented me from wanting to be an actress because I
didn't think I could be the best."
back now, Jane realizes that there also was something else that prevented her
from committing herself to acting. It
was, she says, ignorance of the pure joy that acting could bring to her.
see," she said, "at that time I couldn't know the fulfillment.
I mean there are some people who have experienced on the stage the thing
that is fulfilling about acting---the privacy in public, the thing that happens,
the inspiration when one part of your mind knows you're acting and yet it's happening, it's really happening
to you. Now if anyone has
ever experienced this, the chances are they're going to be dedicated
asked Jane if she had experienced this.
asked her when.
Lee Strasberg," she said. ##
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