Henry Fonda was a movie star, and a highly gifted one. His daughter Jane, a person of considerably lesser gifts (although in her youth, starring in trash such as Barbarella, she certainly could fill out a tight outfit), also became a movie star. It didn’t hurt that her daddy was already in the same business. We bring up the topic of nepotism not to be petty or snippy but to underscore that this is a woman who didn’t necessarily have to work hard and long to get to the top. She was born a Hollywood princess, and when she ascended quite swiftly and smoothly to the role of Hollywood queen, it doubtless felt quite natural to her. And like many persons who are born into royalty, and who cannot remember a time when they were not treated with near-reverence by a sizable number of the hoi polloi, she plainly had, from an early age, the vague notion that she knew more than she actually knew, and, moreover, that she certainly must know a good deal more than those slavering mobs who were so eager to glimpse her and snap pictures of her in the street, and that she consequently had not just a right but an obligation, a noblesse oblige-type obligation, to share her wisdom with the lesser beings, the common folk, who surrounded her.
Hence, as a young woman, who, of course, enjoyed all the wealth and privilege that America had to offer, she went off to Vietnam, where her country was at war, and socialized with the enemy, delivered broadcasts on their behalf, and even posed for pictures with them, including a now-iconic photograph of herself perched on an anti-aircraft gun the purpose of which was to shoot down planes being piloted by her own countrymen, although those countrymen, unlike her, were likely to be young men whose parents nobody had ever heard of and who perhaps even came from towns that nobody could find on a map. Jane’s chief objective on that day was to put a human face on Communism. She plainly felt that Communism was a good thing, and that America, which had given her everything, was worth nothing. She later apologized for the photo on the anti-aircraft gun, but then again she pretty much was forced to do so by the outrage of the masses, and if she ever delivered a broader mea culpa for her role in whitewashing a movement that, after the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina, ended up committing genocide in Cambodia, we’re unaware of it.
Many remarkable developments have occurred in the decades since Jane’s Vietnam escapade. For one thing, she was widely forgiven for her obscene collaboration with the enemy. Although to this day, indeed, she is known in some circles as Hanoi Jane, she went on to have a successful movie career and to win not one but two Academy Awards for Best Actress. Some might consider those awards undeserved. When she won for playing a hooker in Klute in 1971, she beat out Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson; when she won for Coming Home in 1978, she beat out Geraldine Page and Ingrid Bergman. All those other actresses are brilliant. Is Jane? Some of us would say no. Some would say she had nowhere near the range of those other screen and stage artists. Both of the parts she won Oscars for, moreover, are one-dimensional, forgettable. Who watches either of those movies nowadays? Who discusses them? Pretty much nobody. Then, one might ask, why did she win? Why was she nominated, over the years, for no fewer than seven Oscars? Almost no other actor has ever been nominated for so many Oscars. Hence the thought crosses one mind: has Jane, in fact, been rewarded for having been, to put it bluntly, a traitor? Hollywood is left-wing, but is it that left-wing?
Another remarkable development. Despite her fondness for the Communist enemy during the Vietnam War, she later proved to be a first-rate capitalist. Whether or not you think she’s an acting genius, she sure is a genius at business. In addition to her film career, she made millions off of workout videos. And she managed to snag, as one of her husbands, no less a tycoon than Ted Turner, who founded CNN and, at one point, owned more land in the U.S. than anyone else except the federal government. It was, in at least one sense, a marriage made in heaven, since Ted, too, despite his massive fortune, was a fan of Communism – and, moreover, as we’ve recounted at length on this website, a chum of Fidel Castro and other totalitarians.
One last remarkable thing about Jane. You might think that after her Hanoi Jane humiliation, she’d have spent the rest of her life acting – i.e. reading aloud lines written by others – and keeping her mouth shut about world events. Au contraire. She may have apologized frequently for her Vietnam debacle, but it’s hard to believe she ever really meant it. Because her basic attitudes seem not to have changed much, and she just keeps behaving as if the world needs to know what she thinks – as if, indeed, the fate of the world depends on letting everyone know what she thinks. She seems, you might even say, to be hard-wired to speak out, and, invariably, to parrot passionately, as if she had come up with the ideas herself, whatever the PC clichés of the day might be. Now 81, she was arrested twice alone in October during climate-change protests in Washington, D.C. She actually described herself at the time as a “climate scientist.” This is a new one on us: as far as we know, the nearest she’s come to being a scientist is starring in the 1979 nuke power plant drama The China Syndrome. As ever, however, the mockery of her latest self-description, which is well-deserved, has been drowned out by the hosannas: a recent Los Angeles Times article about Fonda’s lifetime of arrests, of which there have been many, was a veritable love letter; and when she appeared in 2016 on the Jimmy Fallon Show her whole history of lawbreaking was treated as nothing less than adorable, an occasion for amusement of the sort that is trotted out on such programs. But then again, how else do you expect Hollywood media to treat Hollywood royalty?