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Commentary: Jane Fonda

By Lee Cullum, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

No one has been more a woman of her time than Jane Fonda. She has been perfectly in sync with every decade. In her memoir, My Life So Far, members of a certain generation of women, liberated by the 60's, will find themselves.

They may not have been sex symbols of Paris film as Jane was, but they led sex lives quite unlike their mothers'. They too evolved from bulimic adolescent to radical militant. They didn't go to Hanoi, but they filled the streets of America with unseemly demonstrations, or that's what Lyndon Johnson thought. They too pursued the body beautiful to make bearable their feminist convictions and they too became in time lost souls with a drinking problem. The born-again movement was theirs as well as Jane's and now they can take hope in her as the comeback kid of the moment.

At 67, Ms. Fonda is back in the movies, back in the news, back on the book tables of women all over the country. She looks elegant and exudes a hard-won wisdom. Once again, she is speaking for her generation in a way no one else has ever done quite so completely.

Typical of her time, Jane Fonda has traveled through some of her most critical passages accompanied by a man, from Roger Vadim, the French director, to Tom Hayden, the California activist, to Ted Turner, the nutty mogul who rescued her from her desperate 50's.

Jane did not hang on to any one of them, and perhaps never really wanted to. But Ted Turner did pave her way to philanthropy with million dollar bills, a place many would like to go. So once again Jane Fonda represents the fulfillment of fantasies, including financial comfort in her 60's.

Those were mad years with Ted Turner, a manic-depressive who knew nothing of repose. One Dallas businessman who met them said Fonda "looked like she had been ridden hard and put up wet." Another observer said they both seemed in desperate need of quiet, "with milk and cookies."

I saw them at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he sat through a speech by U.N Secretary General Koffi Annan paying no attention, hearing nothing (he had just given a wad of money to the United Nations), and she, suffering from a wretched cold, filled him in afterwards on what had been said. He left the dinner, staring straight ahead, with her trailing along behind.

But on her own, she walked into the Christian church, encouraged by Roselyn and Jimmy Carter whom she met through Ted Turner. He stormed out of the marriage in a rage, evidently believing that the first commandment - thou shalt have no other gods before me - applied to him.

He was not so great on the seventh commandment either.

Curiously, Jane Fonda decided to stay in Atlanta, an interesting choice given her early years in New York and later in California, either of which would seem a more natural home for her. Perhaps she feels safe in Atlanta, safe from too much alcohol, too little faith. Is that not the feeling of her generation as well? Don't many of them need the shelter of a closer community?

Once again, it seems, Jane Fonda is in sync with the nation, leading the women of the heartland to new epiphanies. Keep an eye on her. Whatever she does, the rest of us will likely follow, whether we know it or not.


Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.