Like a lot of my interests these days, I was inspired to read this book by the ‘You Must Remember this’ podcast, which did a fascinating series comparing Jane Fonda and Jean Seberg – two American actresses who made films in France in the 1960s and were targeted by the FBI for their activism in the 1970s. It was listening to that which prompted me to read the former’s autobiography (the latter was found dead in a car in a Paris before she had chance to write one). To find out about this woman who is so famous and successful and – in some quarters – absolutely loathed.
What I found was a book at turns fascinating and exhausting.
There’s an intensity to Jane Fonda on film. All her characters have a determination, which echoes in her activism. And that stridency is right there in every page of this book. As such it can be quite exhausting reading it as Jane charges through her life with an energy and fury which few could match. Not that she doesn’t have doubts or flaws or worries about what she’s done or what she’s going to do. It’s just that despite the normal human foibles, there is a relentlessness to Jane Fonda which is truly admirable, even as it’s that little bit terrifying.
I write books about actresses (although mine so far have all been British) and so reading this was a research opportunity. And for an author, it would be harder to find a better template for a complicated character. This isn’t a lady who is trying to whitewash her past and just celebrate the glory of her career, but nor is she here to whip herself in public for her mistakes. Instead she is trying to live the examined life: to work out why she did the things she did.
Which makes the way the narrative of her life tails off towards the end of this of this 2006 memoir decidedly odd. As when she marries Ted Turner, she seemingly disappears from her own story. Where we had a strong strident protagonist, we now have a void. What makes this really interesting is that she was already divorced by the time she wrote this, and it feels like she still hadn’t worked out what to say about the experience. Maybe she just needs a bit of time and I am happy to give it to her.
As of course, since then we’ve also had a career upswing for her and so obviously there’d be more to say. I’d have to steel myself before I picked it up, but I’d be more than happy to read it.
If you’d like to find out about the actresses I write about, then there are worse places to start than picking up ‘An Interview with Charles Ravens‘ (which is available completely for free). Charles knew them all and some of his insights are most insightful…