20 Things You Never Knew About Jane Fonda

A world-famous actress, model, activist and environmentalist, Jane Fonda has spent a lifetime in the limelight. As the daughter of celebrated actor Henry Fonda, it’s no surprise that Jane grew up to make her name in movies.

Best known for her Academy Award-winning roles in Klute and Coming Home, Fonda has also collected two BAFTAs, seven Golden Globes and an Emmy along the way.

But her famous roles and aerobics routines aren’t all that this intrepid actress should be known for. Here are 20 things you probably didn’t know about Jane Fonda.

20. She once went skinny dipping with Michael Jackson

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On Golden Pond was released in 1981, and starred both Jane Fonda and her father Henry Fonda, the latter in his final theatrical role.

Given that Jane Fonda was working on a film set with her father, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the shenanigans would be kept to a minimum.

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With that said, the set of On Golden Pond quickly became a bustling celebrity hang out spot, especially once work was done for the day.

Specifically, Michael Jackson apparently made a habit of visiting the set, and even allegedly went skinny dipping with Jane Fonda.

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Fonda later said of the period of time she spent shooting On Golden Pond: [Michael Jackson] came and lived with me for about a week, in the same home. He slept on a mattress that he pulled out on the floor of the living room. I slept on a loft upstairs.”

Fonda went on to say: I knew him pretty well. I went to his house a lot. He came over to my house a lot.”

19. She was spat at by a veteran at a 2005 book signing

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Credit: Michael A. McCoy / AP

Jane Fonda has been committed to her political principles for decades, even when it has made her deeply unpopular among some groups.

In particular, many members of the US military have long held a grudge against Jane Fonda for her staunchly anti-war stance throughout the Vietnam War.

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This grudge came to a head when in 2005, a former US Naval officer confronted Jane Fonda at a book signing of hers.

The Navy veteran lined up to get a book signed by Fonda, and then spat tobacco in her face, as revenge for the anti-war comments he found offensive.

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Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking about the incident, Fonda’s assailant said: “It was a debt of honour. She spit in our faces for 37 years. It was absolutely worth it.”

He went on to say: “There are a lot of veterans who would love to do what I did.” For her part, Fonda declined to press charges.

18. She once showed up to a university tea party dressed only in gloves and pearls

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You probably know the story of Jane Fonda dropping out of university to spend six months studying art in Paris, but you might not know about the trouble she got into while studying.

Jane Fonda attended Vassar, the highly selective liberal arts college in the US, and she soon got a reputation for flaunting the rules.

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For example, many of Fonda’s university friends used to attend afternoon tea parties at the college’s Rose Parlor.

Jane Fonda would attend as well, but was soon reprimanded for not adhering to the dress code of gloves and pearls.

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Frustrated with the constant policing of her outfits at these afternoon teas, Jane Fonda came up with an ingenious way of flouting the rules.

One afternoon, Fonda showed up at the Rose Lounge wearing the required gloves and string of pearls, but neglected to wear anything else!

17. A producer told Fonda to get her jaw reshaped on her very first movie

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Working as an actor or actress in Hollywood has a lot of benefits, not least that it is the ultimate dream job for a lot of people.

However, it does have its fair share of drawbacks, including the intense scrutiny anyone performing in the industry is placed under.

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Fonda was thrilled to land her film debut in Tall Story in 1960. Starring as college girl June Ryder, she was cast as the female lead opposite Anthony Perkins in this romantic comedy.

But behind the scenes, the film was “a kafkaesque nightmare”, according to Fonda, with her looks and acting ability heavily criticised.

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Fonda later recalled how one studio representative “suggested that after filming I might consider having my jaw broken and reset and my back teeth pulled to create a more chiselled look.”

Fonda rejected this advice but stayed in Hollywood, earning her first Golden Globe for Walk on the Wild Side two years later.

16. She turned down the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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The Exorcist, Bonnie and Clyde, Diamonds Are Forever and Doctor Zhivago are just a few of the famous movies that Fonda has turned down in her time.

With that said, perhaps the most surprising role Fonda was offered was Mildred Ratched, the tyrannical head nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

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Jane Fonda’s early career often had her playing gorgeous leading ladies, very different roles from the cold and brutal nurse.

Perhaps that is why Fonda rejected the part, but whatever the reason, Louise Fletcher eagerly snatched up the role.

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Fletcher went on to win an Academy Award for playing Ratched, a character that has gone on to become one of the most famous cinematic villains of all time.

Nowadays, a certain age group are more likely to associate Sarah Paulson with Nurse Ratched than Fletcher, thanks to the hugely successful Netflix show Ratched which was released in 2019.

15. She’s used her double-jointedness to escape police handcuffs

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Famous people getting into trouble with the authorities, even becoming known for their outlandish and sometimes criminal behaviour, is nothing new.

From rockstars throwing televisions out of hotel windows and partying all night, to paranoid actors starting physical fights with the paparazzi, many celebrities have made a name for themselves with the exploits that end up on the front page.

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Over the course of her career, Jane Fonda has had more than a few run-ins with the police, whether because of her activism or just her personal behaviour.

At some point during these run-ins, Fonda discovered she had a natural advantage to help her out.

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Credit: Jared Soares via The New York Times

After one night in jail in the early 70s, Fonda was escorted to the courthouse. She slipped out of her handcuffs to pose for her mugshot.

“I have double-jointed hands, so I just made my hand real small, and got out of my handcuffs before the policewoman knew what I was doing,” Fonda said to Vanity Fair in 2016.

14. She was spied on by the NSA from 1967 to 1973

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Fonda’s anti-war opinions were no secret in the 70s. She protested against the Vietnam War and infamously posed alongside a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun in 1972.

Fonda later said that she was guided to take the picture by Vietnamese soldiers before she knew what was happening, and said the “momentary lack of judgement” was something she regretted.

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However, the damage was already done. The image heightened the public’s perception of Fonda as a powerful and dangerous anti-war activist, which drew the attention of American authorities.

Specifically, although it wasn’t revealed until 2013, the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA) took her activism very seriously.

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Credit: Getty Images via Vogue

Fonda and then-husband Tom Hayden were among the 1,600 people whom the NSA spied on between 1967 and 1973.

Their messages were intercepted by Britain’s GCHQ and sent back to the US government to be searched for anti-war and anti-White House sentiments.

13. She’s named after Henry VIII’s third wife, who’s also a distant relation

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There are several celebrities with some kind of relation to nobility, but they tend to be British actors or actresses from prominent and old families.

That is already pretty unusual, but it’s even more unusual for an American actress like Jane Fonda to have her own relation to the crown.

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Credit: Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

What most fans don’t know is that Jane Fonda’s full name is actually Jane Seymour Fonda, which should give you a hint as to who she is related to.

Fonda is distantly related to Jane Seymour, the Tudor Queen of England, through her mother’s side of the family.

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Credit: Tiffany Nicholson via The Guardian

Fonda’s classmates used to nickname her Lady Jane, after the historic Jane Seymour’s title when she was a lady-in-waiting at Henry VIII’s court.

Given Fonda’s history of activism and her political affiliations, however, it’s fair to assume that Fonda isn’t super thrilled by her royal connections.

12. Her workout video was the best-selling VHS for six years running

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Fonda’s career spans decades at this point, but as well as having longevity, it also has variety.

Fonda began her entertainment career as a print model for magazines and advertisements, before moving into acting.

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Fonda has also spent periods of her life exclusively focussing on activism: attending rallies and protests as well as publicly throwing her weight behind worthy causes.

With all that said, for many people, the period of Fonda’s career that is best known to them will be her 80s fitness phase.

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Fonda’s iconic aerobics video, simply titled Jane Fonda’s Workout, came out in 1982. She created it following the success of her book of the same name, which was the first-ever training regimen published by a female celebrity.

Jane Fonda’s Workout has been credited with transforming the women’s fitness industry at a time when most products and classes were targeted towards men. It sold a stunning 17 million copies, becoming the top VHS for six years.

11. Protesters shouting “traitor” tried to block her from filming Stanley & Iris

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Despite Fonda’s political activism making her a valued ally when it came to many important causes, her outspoken honesty and commitment to her beliefs also angered many US citizens.

When she was set to film 1990’s Stanley & Iris in Waterbury, Connecticut, a local WW2 veteran named Guitano Russo started a campaign against her.

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Branding her a “traitor,” Russo arranged anti-Fonda picketing, rallies and boycotts before the actress arrived in the city.

However, a local phone survey showed that 73% of Waterbury residents didn’t mind the star visiting, so Russo’s attempts to stir up opposition to Fonda’s visit weren’t particularly successful.

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Despite Fonda maintaining much public support, the controversy was so great that Waterbury’s mayor had to reassure Fonda and the cast that they were welcome in the neighbourhood.

Unfortunately for Fonda, Stanley & Iris was both a critical and commercial failure, so it probably wasn’t worth going to a filming location where she was unwelcome.

10. Her role in The China Syndrome was actually written for a man

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While nowadays there are several amazing and complex female characters to have broken throug in both cinema and TV, there was a time when they were much harder to come by.

Not only that, but one of the most idolised strong female characters in film history, Ripley from Alien, was actually first written as a man and then adapted so the role could be played by Sigourney Weaver.

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As unusual as this process sounds, it’s is actually not the only time this has happened, as Jane Fonda experienced something similar.

Richard Dreyfuss was originally set to star in The China Syndrome. He was meant to play a camera operator, who would have been the lead character in this 1979 thriller.

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However, after getting into a row with the studio, Dreyfuss left the project. In the meantime, Jane Fonda expressed an interest, even though there were no main female characters in the film.

It was decided that Fonda should take the lead role, now re-written as a female TV presenter. This last-minute role won Fonda a BAFTA, and she was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

9. She retired from films in 1990 (then returned 15 years later)

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After starring in Stanley & Iris with Robert De Niro, Fonda announced she was leaving the big screen for good.

Fonda instead spent the next decade making 11 workout videos, becoming even more of a household name in the fitness world.

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Even though she had claimed to be retired, Fonda eventually made the decision to return to acting, returning to the silver screen in 2005 with the box office triumph Monster-in-Law.

Speaking to the LA Times in 2019, Fonda noted, “It’s not like I’ve had some grand scheme, you know, some strategy overall.”

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Fonda went on to say: “I just needed those 15 years off to kind of find myself, and in the process felt, ‘OK, I can find joy in acting again if Hollywood will have me back.’ And it did.”

Most recently, Jane Fonda starred in the 2018 film Book Club, though she is also still continuing to act in the long-running TV show Grace and Frankie.

8. She once had a fivesome with Warren Beatty and one of The Mamas & the Papas

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Jane Fonda has been pretty outspoken about many of her exploits, but some have been revealed by other parties.

For example, John Phillips, singer and guitarist of The Mamas and the Papas, revealed a truly surprising story about himself and Jane Fonda in his 1986 autobiography.

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According to Phillips, both he and his wife Michelle were invited to Jane Fonda’s house, along with actor Warren Beatty.

Phillips alleges that while there, the four of them plus Fonda’s husband got up to what Phillips called “a mid-sized romp”.

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This is not the only story to connect Fonda and Beatty either, as Beatty has previously told of a situation where the pair were asked to kiss “until we had practically eaten each other’s heads off” for an audition. Wow.

Unfortunately, after having to get to know each other so intimately and quickly in the audition, neither actor was actually offered their respective parts.

7. Fonda’s second husband hated her success, insisted they move into a small house to hide her wealth

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Jane Fonda’s professional life has often been a whirlwind, and her personal life has been similarly fast-paced at times.

As a young actress, Fonda was married three times: to director Roger Vadim, activist Tom Hayden and businessman Ted Turner.

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Of the three husbands, Tom Hayden was unique in that he didn’t have the wealth and resources of Fonda’s other partners.

This became a problem in their relationship, as Hayden was reportedly uncomfortable with Fonda’s wealth and self-sufficiency, and wanted her to hide it.

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Fonda and Hayden moved into a small and modest house, and Hayden even forced Fonda to replace her expensive Cartier watch with a less pricey Timex.

Hayden’s inability to accept Fonda’s success and money eventually led to their divorce in 1990, and Fonda married Ted Turner just a year later.

6. David Crosby taught her how to play guitar

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Once you become famous, it’s an accepted part of life to associate almost exclusively with other celebrities, simply because they understand your circumstances better than anyone else.

This means that if you are born into an already famous family, you tend to grow up around other people that the general public would consider celebrities.

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Jane Fonda’s father Henry Fonda was a famous film star, and so Jane Fonda grew up with all the benefits of being in a famous family.

One of those benefits was being given guitar lessons not just by any old guitar tutor, but by David Crosby himself.

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That’s right: Jane Fonda’s childhood guitar instructor was a founding member of both The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

There’s, unfortunately, no information of what Jane Fonda was like as a guitar student, but hopefully she was as in awe of Crosby as he deserved.

5. She found out her mother had taken her own life from a magazine

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Henry Fonda, and his children, Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda, were for a time all working successfully in the entertainment industry.

This led to a perception of them as the perfect Hollywood family, with all members succeeding on an individual and family level.

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Unfortunately, this stifling image led to a lot of private pressure to keep up appearances, especially in regards to Jane Fonda’s mother Frances Fonda.

Tragically, Frances Fonda ended her life in 1950, at Craig House Psychiatric Hospital where she was receiving treatment.

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In order to maintain their perfect image, Henry Fonda told both Jane Fonda and her brother that their mother had died from heart failure.

Keeping the secret meant telling their high school teachers to lie to both Jane and Peter Fonda, and cancelling their magazine subscriptions so they wouldn’t find out via a tabloid. Jane Fonda eventually found out while reading a magazine she got from a friend at school.

4. She once (allegedly) kicked a policeman while fleeing arrest

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We’ve already discussed the fact that throughout her life, Jane Fonda has been unafraid of getting into trouble on behalf of causes she believes in.

With that said, one of her most infamous run-ins with police did not actually have anything to do with her political activism.

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In 1970, Jane Fonda was arrested at Cleveland Airport, after police officers found 105 bottles of pills in her luggage.

Fonda allegedly kicked both the police officer attempting to make the arrest and a customs agent, before trying to flee.

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This story no doubt damaged Jane Fonda’s reputation, but eventually, it came out that some of the publicised details were wrong.

The pills found in her luggage were nothing more than vitamins, and she had kicked the officers for chasing her into the women’s bathroom.

3. In 1967 she was almost charged with obscenity in Italy for appearing naked in a film

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Jane Fonda has continued to court controversy throughout her career, making headlines frequently even in her advanced age.

However, she began tempting scandal in 1964, when she appeared nude in the Italian movie La Ronde.

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Agreeing to appear nude in a film might not seem like such a significant issue today, but in the mid-60s it was met with outrage.

Not only that, but Fonda was one of the first major American actresses to agree to appear nude in a foreign film.

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Fonda again appeared topless two years later in 1966, in the French-Italian drama La Cureé, or The Game is Over.

The Game is Over was a commercial success in France, but caused a stir in Italy, with all copies being recalled on the grounds of obscenity. 23 Italian cinema owners and one producer who worked on the film were charged with obscenity, while Jane Fonda narrowly avoided a similar charge.

2. She was born on the day Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released

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On 21st December 1937, Fonda was born in New York City. Her birth coincided with the release of Disney’s first animated film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

This was the first-ever cell-animated feature film. Adjusted for inflation, it remains the highest-grossing animated film of all time.

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In a somewhat rare occurrence, Jane Fonda only shares her birthdate with two other celebrities.

Specifically, Fonda shares a birthday with Claire Motte and Leonid Kvinikhidze, who would both also be 83 years old today.

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Claire Motte was a French dancer who worked as the principal ballerina of the corps de ballet before tragically dying at the age of 48 in 1986.

Leonid Kvinikhidz was a Soviet director, screenwriter and all-around filmmaker, best known for the films A Straw Hat, The Heavenly Swallows, and June 31.

1. She’s the first actor ever to be nominated for an Oscar the same year as her father

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Jane Fonda has been regarded as a trailblazer for much of her life, but her first record-setting moment came relatively early in her career.

In 1982, Jane Fonda and her father Henry Fonda became the first-ever father-daughter pair to be nominated for individual Oscars in the same year.

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Both father and daughter were nominated for their work on On Golden Pond, with Jane Fonda being nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Henry Fonda being nominated for Best Actor.

Henry Fonda won in his category, while Jane Fonda lost out, but Jane Fonda had already won two Best Actress Oscars by that point.

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Jane Fonda had previously won an Academy Award for Best Actress for Klute in 1971, and Coming Home in 1978. Thanks to those wins, Jane Fonda and Henry Fonda still hold the record as the only father and daughter to have both won Oscars in leading role categories.