COLUMN SIXTY-THREE, SEPTEMBER 1, 2001
(Copyright © 2001 Al Aronowitz)
ANSWER TO BARDOT
THE YOUNG JANE FONDA
Jane decided to become an actress, she found that her name already fit quite
well on a theater marquee. Director
Joshua Logan, who billed himself as her godfather, quickly signed her to a
five-year movie contract. Since
then, Jane has bought back her contract. Logan,
an old family friend, charged her one hundred thousand dollars for it.
I started in Lee's classes," Jane said, "'I moved out of my father's
house into a duplex apartment with Susan Stein, the daughter of Jules Stein, the
head of MCA. But I was really
downbeat. I was daughter, but I
never had quite enough food. I had
to take the subway. I dressed
awful, I looked just awful constantly. I
was the most
downbeat of any actor in the class, and what I was doing,
really, I was compensating for the fact that I was Henry Fonda's
daughter. And I worked hard.
I didn't go to one class, I went to three.
I overdid everything, but it thrilled me! And I went to an agent and I
read for parts."
pay for her acting classes and her other lessons, she began to model, a pursuit
which soon had her, nameless, on the cover of five stylish magazines, including Vogue.
"I used hang around the newsstands watching
the faces of the people who bought the magazines," she once told Lillian
Ross. According to Logan, he
happened to see one of the magazine covers and realized that his goddaughter had
grown up. He telephoned her and
asked her to screen test for a role in Parrish. Jane never did Parrish,
but on the basis of the tests Logan signed her to do Tall Story. It was
six months after she had begun her acting classes with Strasberg, and Jane
recalls filming the movie with a great unhappiness.
"The first time I met her was in Josh's
apartment," said Tony Perkins, Jane's co-star in Tall Story.
"There was a photographer from the studio there and he wanted publicity
pictures of us necking the couch with Josh standing in the background directing
us. Well Jane kind of turned pale,
you could see she was kind of hesitant. It
was her first encounter with one of the absurdities of this business, and it was
as if she said
to herself, 'Well, are you up to this piece of embarrassment with this man
you've never met before? Are you up
to it? Is it worth it?' You could see her take a deep breath and say to herself,
"Well, OK, is this what being an actress in the movies means? Well, I guess it
is, let's go?
when we began making the movie, we found that she was hating Hollywood as one
does at first and I was hating it after one does after one has been there a
while. The first day on the set for
the costume tests---and nothing could be more boring---she showed up with a pack
of cards. She looked at me and
said, 'Let's start playing gin rummy now and not quit until the picture's
over," and we did.
used to sit up in the trees in the back lot and play this mammoth, marathon game
of gin rummy. We kept exchanging checks for forty and fifty dollars. And than at one point, when we were shooting the gymnasium
scene, she said, 'I'm bored with this game." I said, 'OK, let's play
Wisconsin Plum'---I made up the first name that came to my head. I said, 'It's
the greatest gambler's game there is.'
she said, 'It sounds good, how do you play it?' So I said, 'Well, you deal four
cards and look at two of them,' and I started making up a set of the most
ridiculous rules you can think of. For
instance, I said, 'Now, red queens and sevens, that makes a Duluth meld.' And
she was gullible and we kept at it for a half hour until I couldn't contain
myself any longer. And she
was trying so hard."
was one of the few persons Jane liked in Hollywood, and he was one of the few
persons there who liked her.
were very close and spent a lot of time together away from the studio,"' he
told me. "She was a curious
combination---a lot of curiosity but not much energy.
She kind of drifts through experiences, lissomely and gracefully, like a
consumptive traveling through a Pilgrim's Progress of show business.
go to parties with a lot of aspiring young actresses jumping up and down and dancing, and Jane would kind of
float in, like a tired and frail poetess, and she'd sit wearily in a corner.
In other words, she didn't merry-go-round through the fancy party scene
like the latest bombshell to hit Beverly Hills. Quite the contrary, she kind of
floated one inch off the ground like some visiting spirit from the silent
screen. And one reason, as I understand it, was that her circulation was low and
she constantly had to have massages. Her masseur always kept turning up.
"And I think it's kind of mysterious and glamorous, really, to have this guy following you around all day with a little massage table and then, at night he saves your life with a
you can't help
but fall in love with Jane
instance, if I'd pick her up or take her out somewhere, the masseur either
was about to be there or had just left, and I thought it was great---kind of
languorous and fatal. I dig it.
It kind of goes with that swan-like appearance, that stricken swan, It
goes with that unwritten Scott Fitzgerald heroine that she is---to have lazy
blood and to be massaged into articulation to step out in a white convertible
and step out on the town.
see, you can't help but fall in love with Jane because she's everybody's
ideal. She's the girl who's just
beautiful enough for you, She's not Ava Gardner in looks, she's not that kind of
unattainable, absolutely flawless, never-to-be-reached beauty. She's the girl who's just beautiful enough to make the
moviegoer who walks out of the theater say to himself, 'She's just the kind of
girl I can go for." And what he means by that is 'That's the kind of girl who
could go for me.' She's the kind of a girl that someone can say, 'This is my
wife, isn't she beautiful? And not, 'This is my wife, isn't she Dresden china?'
I mean she's the kind of girl who a moviegoer can think of as beautiful and
still envision her down at the old Falcon Launderette, wheeling a baby carriage.
And that's why some of the great beauties haven't become great stars."
After Tall Story, in which she played
a cheerleader in addition to Wisconsin Plum, Jane returned to New York with the
feeling that she needed better scripts and more training.
'she started going to all sorts of classes
again," said Joe Wolhandler, her press agent. 'she kept worrying about
whether she'd live up to her father. She used to says, 'My name will open the
doors, but I'm afraid I'll fall flat on my face." But Jane at twenty-one knew
where she wanted to go and what had to be done to get there.
And no one should get credit for this but her father.
I remember the first time I met her, I went home and told my wife, "I
would like our little girl to grow up like Jane.' Her father did a great job of
bringing her up. Someone has to get
the credit for the way she is and I think it's her father.
"I never had any trouble publicizing Jane.
I it was all there to begin with. The
first thing I did was I made her quit modeling. She was making four, five
hundred a day at it and using the money to support herself, but I said, 'Either
you're going to be a model or an actress."
first experience on the stage as a professional actress had been in summer stock
at Fort Lee, New Jersey, where she appeared in The Moon Is Blue.
Her first experience on Broadway, in There Was A Little Girl, occurred
soon after she returned to New York from making Tall Story.
father thought the play and the part weren't right for me," Jane later told
Lillian Ross for her book, The Player. "It was about rape, and
When I spoke to her father, he told me, "Well,
I didn't read the script of There Was A little Girl. I've never
advised her against anything."
agrees that the play, although a flop, did not hurt Jane's career. When she
walked into Sardi's after her opening night performance, Broadway's theater
crowd acted as if a moment had occurred. It
producers had given a party first over some bistro on the East Side, but Jane
wanted to go to Sardi's," her father told me. "I tried to dissuade
her---without spelling it out. I
tried to say, 'Let's don't,' or, 'It'll be crowded.' But she was determined
she wanted to go to Sardi's and she went off in a taxi with about five or six
others, and I went in my car. And
they had a big table by the time we arrived.
And I don't know whether you've been at Sardi's after an opening night,
'so within five minutes, you look around Sardi's
and at every table there's' somebody reading and everybody else is leaning
forward listening to the reviews. And they dropped a paper on our table, and the
young man next to Jane was reading it. And I was opposite her at the table just
watching. And of course, it was a
dreadful review. Well, I could see
Jane's eyes almost start to cross like she's just been pole-axed.
And finally she just sort of shook her head and looked across at me and
said, 'Dad, I know what you mean.' I wouldn't go through that myself for
Among the reviews was one by Brooks Atkinson of the
New York Times. In it, he wrote, "If her old man ever has time to
hop over from the Morosco to catch her performance, he will probably wish that
he could yank her from There Was A Little Girl."
second Broadway play, Invitation to a March, was about five months more
successful than her first. That is, it ran five months. Again Jane remembers it
with some unhappiness.
had a very cool exterior, she was very uncommunicative." Said Shelly Winters,
who left the cast of the play before it reached New York.
"But underneath I could see a terrible, terrible loneliness and a
feeling of separation from the human race. She's so quick to feel rejected.
after acting class, she'd say, 'You want to have lunch?' And I'll say, 'Yeah
but I have an appointment, we'll have to have a quick lunch.' So then she
suddenly doesn't want to have lunch."
to Arthur Laurents, Shelley at one point made a frontal attack on Jane's cool
'shelley, hit Jane," he told me. "Slammed her in the face at a
rehearsal. She said, 'They're
upstaging me,' and she gave Jane a shove and cracked her in the face and Jane
got this startled look and tears came to her eyes."
are close friends now, and Jane denies the story.
can't dislike Shelley two days in a row," she told me.
"You have to love Shelly." ##
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