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Friday, 20 April, 2001, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Jane Fonda: Not so plain
What next for Jane Fonda as her marriage ends?
She's been Barbarella, Hanoi Jane, and Workout Queen. But now Jane Fonda has yet another persona: born-again Christian divorcée, writes Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit.

The gossip columns said it was just too good to last.

Jane Fonda, who brazenly paraded her left-wing credentials in a country in which even to be labelled 'liberal' is seen as the kiss of death, and Ted Turner, the Mouth of the South, a maverick conservative who turned CNN from Chicken Noodle News into a worldwide media empire.

Together they were always going to be the Odd Couple. For once, the gossip columns got it right.

Jane Fonda with Ted Turner
Ted Turner was shocked by Fonda's conversion to Christianity
After nine years of marriage Fonda and Turner have announced that they are to divorce. Fonda is said to have blamed Turner for neglecting her in favour of his business interests, but the real reason, according to Turner, is his wife's recent conversion to Christianity.

Turner, who once described Christianity as "a religion for losers" says, in an interview with New Yorker magazine, "She just came home and said: 'I've become a Christian.'

"That's a pretty big change for your wife of many years to tell you. That's a shock."

But there have already been many other radical changes in the Jane Fonda story, and great passions and rejections too.


She was born in 1937 into Hollywood's aristocracy. Her father, Henry Fonda, achieved legendary status through films such as The Grapes of Wrath and Twelve Angry Men.

Brother Peter was the drug-fuelled wunderkind responsible for that hippest of all hippy road movies, Easy Rider.

But, from the start, Jane Fonda's private life was unsettled. Off screen, her diffident, tongue-tied father verbally humiliated her and her brother, a far cry from the kind and moral characters which were the backbone of his career.

Henry Fonda
Her father Henry Fonda humiliated Jane and her brother Peter
Her mother, the New York socialite Frances Brokaw, slit her own throat in a mental asylum when Jane was 12.

Fonda's time at Vassar College, America's most prestigious girls' school, was blighted by the bulimia with which she would struggle until she was 36.

Although initially uninterested in acting, she moved to New York in 1958 and studied at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio, alma mater of Marlon Brando and James Dean.

Sex symbol

A string of Hollywood films followed before the 25-year-old Fonda moved to France to make a movie with Alain Delon and met the director Roger Vadim, former husband of Brigitte Bardot. Impressed by Vadim's "European intellectualism", Fonda married him two years later, in 1967.

Vadim attempted to turn Jane Fonda into a Bardot-esque sex symbol, but his cult sci-fi spoof Barbarella, designed to establish Vadim as a major director in the States, is more noted for its quaint 60's campness than anything else.

Her "fun but rather empty life", as she puts it, with Vadim soon turned sour, especially after he compared her charms unfavourably to Bardot's. The footloose Jane Fonda entered the most controversial period of her life.

Jane Fonda in Hanoi in 1972
Jane Fonda now describes her visit to Hanoi as "thoughtless"
Films like They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Klute, for which she won the first of her two Oscars, were filmed in a heady political atmosphere, dominated by the Vietnam war.

Now a major star, she espoused both radical feminism and an anti-war ideology directly at odds with the majority of her fellow Americans.

A 1972 visit to the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, saw Jane Fonda pictured at an anti-aircraft battery. The photos shocked America and, even now, many still consider Hanoi Jane to be a traitor unworthy of forgiveness.


She recently expressed regret at her support for the Viet Cong, saying, "It hurt so many soldiers. It galvanised such hostility. It was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done. It was just thoughtless."

A second marriage, to would-be radical politician Tom Hayden proved a failure, unlike Fonda's career, which went from strength to strength.

A second Oscar, for Coming Home, which dealt with the emotional aftermath of the Vietnam war, and her magisterial portrayal of the writer Lillian Hellman in Julia, merely added to her reputation as a serious and articulate actress.

Jane Fonda today
Will she now return to the silver screen?
The 1980s saw Fonda's reconciliation with her dying father mirrored in the touching On Golden Pond, her re-invention as the Queen of the Workout Video and the start of her unlikely relationship with Ted Turner.

Today Fonda rejects much of her past, preferring to spend time with her children and their families. She has not acted for a decade but, given the right opportunity, who would bet that another big-screen appearance by Fonda is not on the cards?

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