Fonda: Driving Passions

Fonda kneels facing the big wind machines and the camera, and waves her new Workout sweatshirt into the breeze. Her smile dazzles on and off, and then Fonda decides to strike one of her most famous poses: balanced on her hip with one leg straight out and the other straight up hugged against her head — one of the contortions of the ‘eighties that have so effectively replaced her clenched fist of the ‘sixties. Immediately it is apparent that the camera is her friend and time is not her enemy.

Without binoculars it would be impossible to see this woman is forty-six years old, and a mother — also a wealthy entrepreneur, a best-selling author, one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed actresses and successful producers, a political wife, an outspoken activist and one of the country’s most admired women who is still disliked by millions.

In Hollywood, however, she’s led the way for successful actresses to produce their own films; and in publishing she’s simply a phenomenon: sales of 1.25 million hardcover copies of Jane Fonda’s Workout Book at $19.95, two years straight on the best-seller list; the Workout video tape, the most successful ever made; and the Workout record, two million sold. In addition there are a highly profitable book and tape for pregnant women and a 1984 Jane Fonda calendar that features health-food recipes. Another book for older women is on the way, and so is a new, tougher Workout tape called “Challenge.” Now there are also Workout clothes. So far the millions generated by these endeavors go to a cause: in November of 1982, Fonda’s husband, activist and writer Tom Hayden, was elected to the California State Assembly in a campaign that ran up bills of nearly two million dollars. Fonda also supports his grass-

Fonda is a paragon of total energy, but the most striking thing about her is her total control. Whatever furies may be raging inside her, she holds a great deal in — which is crucial, perhaps, if you’re given to extremes and fear letting go. Every so often, though, Fonda gives an indication that there might be a softer, more human person within. On the way to a political event after a hectic day recently, she put her head back on the car seat, closed her eyes, and said, “Wouldn’t a wonderful French dinner be good right now, with a nice bottle of wine?” When someone suggested she go and have just that, she replied, “Just fantasizing.” and kept to the horrendous schedule.

It’s not easy to be a symbol.

Fonda, however, considers herself an actress first. She is currently developing five film scripts, is talking to Barbra Streisand about their starring together in a historical epic about lady garment workers, and will star this spring in an ABC made-for-TV movie, The Dollmaker, as an uprooted Appalachian mother struggling to survive factory life in Detroit.

The day I interviewed her, Fonda had awakened at 5:30 A.M. to run alone for an hour around the perimeter of Central Park; she had appeared before millions on Good Morning America; posed for hours for Vogue, sandwiching business meetings in between appointments, and made a speech at two different political fundraisers. This interview was conducted in the photo studio between light-meter readings, at the makeup table, and while her hair was blown dry. It was continued in the back of a car on the way to the fundraisers, including one where Andy Warhol presented his red, white. and blue portrait of Fonda. It was midnight before she got back to the airport hotel.

Early the next morning she flew home to California.

Maureen Orth: Did it surprise you that a recent Gallup poll found you the fourth most admired woman in the U.S.?

Jane Fonda: It surprises me — the company I’m in. I mean my being sandwiched in between Nancy Reagan and Margaret Thatcher shows we’re a pretty schizophrenic country, or that hype plays a major role in what we think about who’s who. But I’m not surprised.

MO: Why not?

JF: I get hundreds of letters every week and they’re letters of both support and concern, and I can’t help but feel a sense of responsibility. Women come to me with questions. They come to me with problems. They come to me with fears and expressions of support, and I can’t possibly fill all of those needs. But we do need role models. I grew up with no woman role model at all.

MO: Do you have any now?

JF: Katharine Hepburn is an extremely important role model as I get older. Knowing her, watching her, seeing how she is handling aging, still remaining an independent, vital, and strong person who develops very deep and close relationships.

MO: Why do you think you ‘re a role model for women?

JF: People unconsciously need to know what’s possible. Can you be a mother and a professional woman? Can you be an artist and political? Can you be a businesswoman and still have values?

MO: Do you think about these things a lot?

JF: Yes, I do. Through a great deal of good fortune I’ve been able to put some of these things into practice. The fact that I can make films that are important socially and also commercially successful, the fact that I can develop a broad line of clothing. I want to be able to show that you can do both.

MO: How do you?

JF: I have to be very honest about it. There’s no way I could do everything I do if I didn’t have money. I can afford to have someone help me with my children, pick them up from school when I can’t be there, and make dinner at night. If I couldn’t afford to have a secretary; if I couldn’t afford to have someone help me on film development . . . there’s a lot of support structure there.

MO: Do you enjoy managing, hiring and firing?

JF: It’s excruciatingly difficult and problematic

MO: So you don’t really like this administrative part of business?

JF: I’m not good at it. I’m an emotional person. I can become enamored of someone and think she is just wonderful and want to be her friend, but she may not be the best person to run the business. I’m also very busy — it’s not the main part of my life.

MO: Do you feel comfortable then. having this big, growing, fitness empire?

JF: I don’t think of it as an empire. Each part of it is specific and personal. I know that if I step beyond the area that I have credibility in, it won’t work. A lot of people say go into makeup or perfume or cosmetics — no way.

MO: So the workout clothes are it for now?

JF: Yes.

MO: What about more Workout centers?

JF: Only one more, in New York.

MO: How did you decide to make fitness a business?

JF: I have been in business ever since 1971 when I decided to produce. What happened is that I turned a twenty-five-year interest in exercise and health into the Workout centers first, then into the book, the record, the videotape, and now into the clothes. I was making a lot of money as an actress, and I knew that it might not last forever. Hollywood has not always been so forgiving of older women, so it’s an uncertain time in my career.

I am quite proud of what I do with my money. I support Democratic candidates; I support issues that I feel strongly about: women’s rights, renters’ rights, development of alternative energy in California through the Campaign for Economic Democracy. I decided it was important to learn from the Republicans who do this all the time — go into a business to support the social issues that I believe in, should something happen to me.

I didn’t want the financial base to be fragile, so, for about two or three years, my husband and I thought about what business it could be. Some very smart friends of mine said never to go into a business that you don’t really know, and I finally realized there is only one thing I really know besides acting and movies, and that’s exercise. So that’s what led me to open the first Workout, owned by the Campaign for Economic Democracy.

MO: Does all the money you get from your books, video tapes, and fitness centers still go to your husband’s political organization, CED?

JF: The three existing Workouts in Beverly Hills, Encino, and San Francisco are owned by CED. Jane Fonda’s Workout Book and the second book, Pregnancy, Birth, & Recovery, are owned by CED. The record and its remake (still in the works) are owned by CED.

MO: That’s an incredible windfall for CED. (Jane Fonda’s Workout Book has contributed several million dollars to CED, making it one of the richest political organizations in California.)

JF: In addition, some of the earnings go to a children’s camp we run.

MO: I guess the next question is, then, when are you running for vice president?

JF: Never. I have no interest in it at all, none.

MO: Professional politicians often consider politics fun — the wheeling and dealing. Do you ever consider politics fun?

JF: No, I don’t like that part of politics. I enjoy visiting Tom in Sacramento. I enjoy watching him be an assemblyman. I enjoy being the wife of “Tom Hayden the assemblyman.”

MO: How do you like campaigning?

JF: I don’t like it. It’s the most stressful situation I have ever experienced.

MO: Is it hard on the family?

JF: Very hard. As the time gets closer to the actual day there’s tremendous strain. You walk five or six hours a day. Feet are blistered, nerves are ragged, tension mounts. You can’t talk about anything else but the campaign. I don’t like that. I don’t look forward to the next one, but I’ll do what needs to be done.

MO: Was it anything personal that got you involved in politics?

JF: No. It wasn’t a personal thing. Profound change is always a combination of personal and objective, right? On a personal level I was unhappy with who I was, where I was at, as a woman and as an actress. I was not happy in my marriage to Roger Vadim. I thought my life had no meaning. I was living in France in 1968. Everything was in flux. The Tet offensive showed how vulnerable we were militarily in Vietnam. French students were joining with French working people and almost overthrew the government of De Gaulle. It was a tumultuous time. Europe is a much more politicized part of the world; and I suddenly said, why am I in France? I have to go back to my own country and participate in my own movement.

MO: What did that mean?

JF: That meant leaving behind a certain world view and life style. I had a choice: I could either remain the privileged, wealthy, remote — quote, do-gooder, unquote — liberal who would descend from the mountaintop and dole out money to charities and then disappear back into the ivory tower; or I would have to personally participate. Joining the movement put me in contact with people I had never had contact with before — not just activists but poor people. I had to change the way I thought, the way I related. It’s been a very slow and gradual process, but I have changed very deeply.

MO: Does that label of Hanoi Jane haunt you?

JF: I regret it very much. And I hope that in time people will understand that those were not my sentiments. When I did the things that were the most controversial, it was during the time Nixon was running for reelection as a “peace candidate” promising he would end the war. Those of us who were following the campaign intimately knew, as the international press knew, that he was escalating the war with extreme violence. .That’s why I went over to Hanoi after having refused to for many years ..

MO: There was a time when more people disliked you than liked you. You must have made a decision to try to turn that around. Were there times in your life you considered “turning points”?

JF: When I became an activist, it was not a polite time — it was the time of the dirty tricks of Watergate, and some of those tricks were perpetrated on me. I was followed. I was threatened. My bank account was taken illegally by the FBI without a subpoena. My home was broken into, my phone tapped. The FBI later apologized. My basic rights were being violated. . . . It was a time when they called me strident. It was a strident time, and one used the tactics one considered appropriate to the time. After Watergate surfaced, it was a different ball game. So for us, hair got cut, ties got put on, and we went to Washington to lobby. The big turning point, though, was the ending of the war.

MO: Doesn’t it get to be awfully tedious that people hold you to a different standard?

JF: I think everyone should be held to those standards. It’s like the exercise clothing. From the very beginning I said I don’t want to go into clothing if it all can’t be made in the United States, by unionized workers. People said you can’t do that. It took me a year and a half to do it, and we probably will create 4600 new jobs here.

MO: Did you ever think you’d have to give up your career as an actress because of your political beliefs?

JF: Yes. There were many years when I couldn’t get a job. I just had to assume I might not work anymore, and it made me very unhappy.

MO: The way you began your own film company and started choosing your own projects and producing your own films has become the prototype for a lot of actresses now.

JF: Isn’t it great?

MO: But do you think there really has been any change for women in Hollywood?

JF: Absolutely. First of all, actresses are more aware they have the right to participate in production. They have a right to be more than someone to put up in front of the camera. They have a particular point of view as women to contribute to their characters and to the film overall; and enough of them have done it — me, Streisand, Goldie Hawn with her movie Private Benjamin, and Jackie Bisset with Rich and Famous …. They want to say something about themselves. They want to be taken seriously, and they know they have a right to ask.

MO: That describes one step, which is the consciousness of the actress to want to have that right. But in terms of being allowed to have it by the powers-that-be at the studios, do you think that’s changed?

JF: Hey, we bring in the money . . . . Absolutely it’s changed.

MO: Are you no longer interested then in making films in which you’re not the producer?

JF: It doesn’t have to be my company, but I want to have some involvement in the production: in the development of the script, in the choice of director, production manager, cinematographer, key crew people, and in the distribution.

MO: Do you enjoy producing?

JF: It’s just like Workout. I enjoy the creative aspects of it. I don’t enjoy the financial aspects of it. I’m not a deal maker. I don’t particularly enjoy studio politics.

MO: Was there a moment when you decided you wanted to make films with a certain consciousness to them instead of films that offered pure entertainment?

JF: It was during that time that I was not doing very well career-wise — when my friend Bruce Gilbert and I decided to make a film about Vietnam veterans. It took six years for Coming Home to get to the point of release, and that convinced me it was necessary to enter the fray whole hog.

MO: Does acting still give you the greatest satisfaction?

JF: Absolutely,

MO: Do you have any worries about physical aging in terms of your profession?

JF: Of course — I’m an actress. If you examine the tradition in Hollywood prior to this period, when women were powerful stars in the 1940s, they would have active careers, say, up until their mid-forties; and then they would sort of try to pretend to be younger than they were and then sometimes disappear and resurface as much older character actresses. But the whole middle span of our lives as middle-aged women has never been addressed culturally, I’m worried that the same thing will happen with me. I don’t think that it will, partially because I, and other actresses who are middle-aged, are going to produce films for ourselves and there are more women who are going to want to see them. There’s a huge audience, a growing audience of middle-aged women who I think will watch us on the screen, with grey hair and all.

MO: Don’t you think that by what you’ve done with fitness you’re helping to change the whole esthetic of women in this country?

JF: Yes. Some people think the whole purpose is to try to stay young. But I don’t view it that way. The more fit I am, the more proud I am of my age. I feel better than when I was twenty, and I don’t have any desire to lie about my age. I think that when you’re healthy, no matter what age you are, you have more sexual stamina and desire and flexibility and all the things that go into an active sex life. Not only do middle-aged women have to be present on the screen and on television, but they have to be there as sensual people as well.

MO: Does life get better as you get older?

JF: Yes. I met some of the young campers at our children’s camp who told me I shouldn’t tell my real age because I don’t look my age and I should lie, and I thought, God, how sad. They’re already thinking about lying about their age.

MO: You’ve said your children have been blessed by having good fathers, and that you’ve felt guilty about not being able to spend enough time with your children. Do you still feel that way?

JF: Of course, as any busy woman does. At the same time we know we need to work because there’s too much of us left over after we perform our traditional roles of housewife and mother, and we need it for fulfillment. Yet there’s no question the best thing in the world is, for somebody to give the most concentrated and focused and full-time attention to their children.

MO: How do you deal with that?

JF: Marry the right man!

MO: Even though your father, Henry Fonda, had been ill so long, was his passing a shock to you?

JF: You can never prepare. You can sort of prepare. I knew that Dad was going, I thought that I’d be prepared and I wasn’t. It’s just so final, you know. It took a while to recover.

MO: Do you ever have time just to gab on the phone with friends or do anything frivolous?

JF: Well, I like to cook. We like to have people over to the house. Torn, is an avid baseball player, so guys get together and play baseball. People come over to the house a lot. I like to entertain small groups of friends. We like to go to movies with friends a lot. We like to go out to restaurants We have a ranch two hours north of Los Angeles and we take groups of friends up there a lot. We travel as a family quite a bit. We go fishing once or twice a year at least, and we always go to at least one foreign country every year.

MO: Where do you see yourself today — at another turning point?

JF: No. I have had many different lives, many quite extraordinary, and unbelievable differences in my life. Where I am now is where I will remain for the rest of my life. The family is solid. I feel stable and happy and lucky. I can’t take on any more, so it’s not as if I’m going to expand in any direction. Now the expansion will have to be internal.

MO: One last question: Would you ever make “Barbarella” again?

JF: No thanks. Hanging from metal posts with steel girdles digging in your ribs, and that scene with all the birds flying in my face . . . I’m too old.