Going for the Heartburn: Jane Fonda and Jane Brody

Original Publication: Vogue, October, 1986.

When exercist Jane Fonda and nutritionist Jane Brody meet over lunch, it makes for some healthy dish.

The two Janes finally met at lunch recently, the goddess of fitness and the princess of nutrition. Food avoidance was of prime concern, and they chattered away about irradiation, longitudinal studies of aerobic injuries, and PABA allergies. Theirs wasn’t the usual comportment of ladies who lunch. Jane Fonda was in New York City for a whirlwind day of media appearances to promote her new exercise video and terrific workout and diet book, Jane Fonda’s New Workout and Weight-Loss Program (Simon and Schuster). Jane Brody, the syndicated personal-health columnist for The New York Times, whose latest best-seller, Jane Brody’s Good Food Book: Living the High-Carbohydrate Way (Norton), is sacred in the Fonda kitchen, came to the private dining room of the Ritz Carlton Hotel as a member of the working press. In the world of Wheatena and leg lifts, however, Brody, who proffers such recipes as “Tex-Mex Kasha” and “Bulgur-Beef Balls,” gets the heart rate going as fast as Fonda does. After all, Brody has given pasta intellectual respectability. 

It quickly became obvious that both women love to instruct. (Or as Jane Fonda exclaimed, “To think ‘endorphin’ is a household word now!”) Both women also like to feign distress about national talk-show appearances, without which they’d sell far fewer books. “It always feels awful when you’re sitting there,” Jane B. said. She is small and dark, and her voice sounds a litle like Dr. Ruth’s without the accent. Jane F. proclaimed herself an unabashed fan: “I gave your book to fifty of my best friends for Christmas. My family lives on your recipes, that Granny Smith chicken, those apple pancakes . . . It works so well to put water in my wine.” The waiter inquired what Jane Fonda would like to drink. Nobody had dared anything other than Perrier and lime. “I’ll have a Campari and soda just to spite you,” Jane Fonda said, her blue eyes sparkling. “Mmmmm,” she murmured as she sipped. “It tastes so Italian.”

Lunch began with consommé, followed by several stalks of steamed asparagus, a small piece of tarragon chicken, and a large baked potato. Baked potatoes are very in these days, as long as nothing like butter or sour cream gets near them. Jane Fonda cupped half her backed potato in the palm of her hand and dug into it with her fork. Jane Brody whirled pieces of hers around in her tarragon sauce. “Do your children go along with you?” Jane F. asked Jane B. “I have a child who’s willing to eat four vegetables,” Jane B. said. Jane F. confessed despair at the eating habits of her eighteen-year-old daughter, Vanessa Vadim: “No matter what I cook, she hates it.”

Fonda did allow that the problem might stem from Vanessa’s infancy, when there was “nothing between Adelle Davis and Similac.” Then she told a wicked story on herself: “I used to feed her a combination of goat’s milk, desiccated baby beef liver, cranberry concentrate, and yeast. I finally wrote to Adelle Davis to ask, ‘Why does she throw up all the time?’” Today, Vanessa “only eats Twinkies or anything cooked by a Frenchman.” Jane B. reassured her: “You are not responsible for children once they reach the age of nutritional reason.”

The conversation inevitably turned to face lifts. “I wouldn’t touch ‘em,” declared Jane B. Jane F. was not so sure. “I can’t promise you I would never have a face lift,” she said carefully. “However, I have survived a director who took my chin in his hand and said, ‘You’ll never be able to do a tragedy with a nose like that.’ He was the same one who told me I should have my back teeth removed so I could have sunken hollow cheeks like Suzy Parker. I have seen a lot of women on both coasts who’ve had face lifts and lost their personalities.” “Like one of my neighbors,” chimed in Jane B. “Her brother gave it to her for her sixtieth birthday.” Jane F. played George Burns to Jane B.’s Gracie, demonstrating a charming sense of humor she’s sometimes been accused of lacking: “I hope he was a plastic surgeon.” “No,” Jane B. explained, “a multimillionaire. He gave her the money.”

Neither Jane looks remotely her age. Fonda at forty-eight is unbelievable. She looks thirty-five or twenty-two, depending on the viewer’s age. Brody, forty-five, looks a radiant thirty-seven-and-a-half. Someone asked how old middle age was. “It’s two years after however old you are,” Jane B. pronounced. Then, in the guise of asking questions, she began to offer Fonda advice: “Have you ever considered not putting such gorgeous women on you videotapes? I’d like a more realistic goal.” She also let Jane F. know that her orthopedist’s office was filled with “Fonda fallout. Some of those exercises on your first tape I could never do. I’d break in half.” Jane F. sweetly told her she’d dropped one difficult yoga exercise for her new tape, and said some people favor a mixed-media approach: “They do buttocks from the first tape, the stomach from the ‘Challenge’ tape, and legs from the new one.” Jane B. changed the subject. “You should take a look at underwear. I can’t find a leotard to run in with a good built-in bra.” 

Over dessert – blueberries and boysenberries plain – Jane F. said that as she aged she had to discard some movie projects and search for “appropriate stories. Let’s face it, if I hadn’t produced most of my own films since 1971, I wouldn’t have had much of a career.” “I’ve got one,” Jane B. interrupted. “My husband’s been working on a movie script for years. It’s absolutely wonderful. I’ll send it to you.” Without blinking, Jane F. asked if Jane B. could send some research papers, too.

Like Jane F., Jane B. rises every morning at 5:00 AM. She plays tennis, swims, and runs each day in Central Park, but she doesn’t always like what she sees there. Her pet peeve: joggers who bounce when they’re supposed to be stretching. “I run by and say, ‘Don’t bounce!’” Bouncing in general, Jane F. agreed, is on a downward curve, now that low-impact aerobics are on the scene. Jane F. herself is getting heavily into speedwalking: “I should have a closet like Imelda Marcos’s for all the shoes they send me. Right now I’m trying five different kinds for speedwalking.” So, does that mean that bouncing in aerobics might disappear entirely, someone wanted to know. “Oh, no. There will always be people who like to bounce.”

This article is typed from the original material.  Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.