Distinguished celebrity biographer and Vanity Fair contributing editor Bosworth (Marlon Brando, 2001, etc.) recounts the life story of an American icon in all its heady—and at times, unabashedly scandalous—glory.
Ten years in the making, the book is based in exhaustive and meticulous research as well as a friendship the author began with Fonda in the late 1960s when they were both students studying at the Actors Studio in New York. Bosworth divides Fonda’s life into five distinctive stages, naming each after the “archetype” Fonda embodied during those phases: daughter, actress, movie star/sex symbol, political activist and workout guru/tycoon wife. With consummate skill and insight, the author follows Fonda through a childhood that included tortured relationships with an emotionally unavailable father, Henry Fonda, and a troubled mother who committed suicide at age 42. As young adult, Fonda’s dynamism drove her toward defining herself as an actress-artist (rather than her father’s actress daughter). At the same time, a need for quasi-paternal control caused her to fall into Svengali-like relationships with men—most notably, director Roger Vadim and activist Tom Hayden. In the early ’70s, Fonda’s rebelliousness caused her to move toward the political left and speak out against the Vietnam War. As a way to help fund Hayden’s political ambitions, Fonda began a workout studio in the ’80s that evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry. No longer the sexpot, she was now an Academy Award–winning feminist-actress who took pride in “empowering women to be in charge of their bodies.” Bosworth’s coverage of Fonda’s apparent backslide into the Stepford-esque wife of media tycoon Ted Turner is not nearly as in-depth as that she gives to the other phases of her colorfully tumultuous history. But this does not take away from her total effort, which is as epic as the life she chronicles.
Reading to savor.