Nationality: American. Born: Henry Jaynes Fonda in Grand Island, Nebraska, 16 May 1905. Education: Attended Omaha Central High School, graduated 1923; studied journalism, University of Minnesota (dropped out after second year). Military Service: U.S. Navy, 1942–45: lieutenant; Bronze Star and Presidential citation. Family: Married 1) the actress Margaret Sullavan, 1931 (divorced 1933); 2) Frances Seymour Brokaw, 1936 (died 1950); children: the actress Jane and the actor Peter; 3) Susan Blanchard, 1950 (divorced 1956), daughter: Amy (adopted); 4) Countess Afdera Franchetti, 1957 (divorced 1962), 5) Shirlee Adams, 1965. Career: 1925–27—performed at Omaha Community Playhouse, and worked at menial jobs; 1927—toured vaudeville with George Billings; assistant director at Omaha Playhouse; 1928—moved to New York; played summer stock at Cape Cod; 1928–32—appeared with University Players Guild, Falmouth, Massachusetts; 1929—Broadway debut in The Game of Love and Death; 1929–31—associated with National Junior Theatre, Washington, D.C.; 1934—revue appearance in New Faces; film contract with Walter Wanner; created character of Dan Harrow in The Farmer Takes a Wife on Broadway, repeated it in film debut; 1939—began association with John Ford on Young Mr. Lincoln; to obtain role of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, required to sign seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox; 1948—returned to Broadway in acclaimed performance as Mister Roberts; early 1950s—concentrated on stage appearances, culminating in portrayal of defense lawyer in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial; 1959–60—in TV series The Deputy (also co-producer); 1971–72—in TV series The Smith Family; 1974—toured and appeared on Broadway in one-man show Clarence Darrow; 1976—in TV mini-series Captains and the Kings, and Roots: The Next Generation, 1979. Awards: Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for Twelve Angry Men, 1957; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1978; Honorary Oscar, "in recognition of his brilliant accomplishments and enduring contribution to the art of motion pictures," 1980; Best Actor Academy Award, for On Golden Pond, 1981. Died: In Los Angeles, 12 August 1982.
Films as Actor:
The Farmer Takes a Wife (Fleming) (as Daniel Harrow); Way Down East (Henry King) (as David Bartlett); I Dream Too Much (Cromwell) (as Jonathan Street)
Trail of the Lonesome Pine (Hathaway) (as Dave Tolliver); The Moon's Our Home (Seiter) (as Anthony Amberton); Spendthrift (Walsh) (as Townsend Middleton)
You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang) (as Eddie Taylor); Wings of the Morning (Schuster) (as Kerry); Slim (Enright) (title role); That Certain Woman (Goulding) (as Jack Merrick)
I Met My Love Again (Ripley, Logan [uncredited], and Cukor) (as Ives); Jezebel (Wyler) (as Preston Dillard); Blockade (Dieterle) (as Marco); Spawn of the North (Hathaway) (as Jim Kimmerlee); The Mad Miss Manton (Jason) (as Peter Ames)
Jesse James (Henry King) (as Frank James); Let Us Live (Brahm) (as "Brick" Tennant); The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (The Modern Miracle) (Cummings) (as Tom Watson); Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford) (as Abraham Lincoln); Drums along the Mohawk (Ford) (as Gil Martin)
The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges) (as Charles Pike); Wild Geese Calling (Brahm) (as John); You Belong to Me (Good Morning Doctor) (Ruggles) (as Peter Kirk)
The Male Animal (Nugent) (as Tommy Turner); Rings on Her Fingers (Mamoulian) (as John Wheeler); The Magnificent Dope (Walter Lang) (as Tad); Sequence B of Tales of Manhattan (Duvivier) (as George); The Big Street (Irving Reis) (as Little Pinks); The Ox-Bow Incident (Strange Incident) (Wellman) (as Gil Carter)
The Immortal Sergeant (Stahl) (as Colin)
My Darling Clementine (Ford) (as Wyatt Earp)
The Long Night (Litvak) (as Joe Adams); The Fugitive (Ford) (title role); Daisy Kenyon (Preminger) (as Peter)
On Our Merry Way (A Miracle Can Happen) (King Vidor and Fenton) (as Hank); Fort Apache (Ford) (as Colonel Owen Thursday)
Jigsaw (Markle) (as nightclub waiter)
Grant Wood (Sorkin/Kipnis—short: included in compilation film Pictura, 1952) (as narrator); Home of the Hopeless (short) (as narrator)
The Growing Years (Resnick—short, for Girl Scouts) (as narrator); Benjy (Zinnermann—short) (as narrator)
The Impressionable Years (Elgar) (as narrator); Pictura (Dupont, Emmer, Hessens, and Resnais—doc) (as narrator)
Mister Roberts (Ford and LeRoy) (as Lieutenant Roberts)
War and Peace (King Vidor) (as Pierre); The Wrong Man (Hitchcock) (as Manny Balestrero)
The Tin Star (Anthony Mann) (as Morg Hickman); Twelve Angry Men (Lumet) (as Juror Number Eight, + co-pr)
Stage Struck (Lumet) (as Lewis Easton); Reach for Tomorrow (Weissman—short) (as narrator)
Warlock (Dmytryk) (as Clay Blaisdell); The Man Who Understood Women (Johnson) (as Willie Bauche)
Advise and Consent (Preminger) (as Robert Leffingwell); The Longest Day (Annakin, Marton, Wicki, and Oswald) (as Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.)
"The Railroad" ep. of How the West Was Won (George Marshall) (as Jethro Stuart); Spencer's Mountain (Daves) (as Clay Spencer); Rangers of Yellowstone (short) (as narrator)
The Best Man (Schaffner) (as William Russell); Fail Safe (Lumet) (as the President); Sex and the Single Girl (Quine) (as Frank)
The Rounders (Kennedy) (as Howdy Lewis); In Harm's Way (Preminger) (as CINCPAC Admiral); Battle of the Bulge (Annakin) (as Lieutenant Colonel Kiley)
One ep. of La Guerre secrète (La guerra segreta; Spione unter sich; The Dirty Game; The Dirty Agents) (Terence Young, Christian-Jaque, and Lizzani) (as Kourlov); A Big Hand for the Little Lady (Big Deal at Dodge City) (Cook) (as Meredith)
Welcome to Hard Times (Killer on a Horse) (Kennedy) (as Will Blue); Stranger on the Run (Siegel—for TV) (as Ben Chamberlin); The Golden Flame (Brown) (as narrator); All about People (for United Jewish Welfare Fund—doc)
Firecreek (McEveety) (as Larkin); Yours, Mine and Ours (Shavelson) (as Frank Beardsley); Madigan (Siegel) (as Commissioner Anthony X. Russell); The Boston Strangler (Fleischer) (as John S. Bottomly); Born to Buck (Tibbs) (as narrator); C'era una volta il West (Once upon a Time in the West) (Sergio Leone) (as Frank)
An Impression of John Steinbeck—Writer (Wrye—short) (as narrator)
Too Late the Hero (Aldrich) (as Captain Nolan); There Was a Crooked Man (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Woodward Lopeman); The Cheyenne Social Club (Kelly) (as Harley Sullivan)
Sometimes a Great Notion (Never Give an Inch) (Paul Newman) (as Henry Stamper); Directed by John Ford (Bogdanovich—doc) (as interviewee)
The Red Pony (Totten—for TV) (as Carl Tiffin); Ash Wednesday (Peerce) (as Mark Sawyer); The Alpha Caper (Inside Job) (Robert Michael Lewis—for TV) (as Mark Forbes); Le Serpent (The Serpent) (Verneuil) (as Allan Davies); Film Making Techniques: Acting (Barr—doc) (as interviewee)
Mussolini—ultimo atto (The Last Four Days; Last Days of Mussolini) (Lizzani) (as Cardinal Schuster); Il mio nome e nessuno (My Name Is Nobody) (Valeril) (as Jack Beauregard); Valley Forge (as narrator)
Collision Course (Page—for TV)
Midway (Battle of Midway) (Smight) (as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz); The Displaced Person (Glenn Jordan—for TV)
Tentacles (Tentacoli) (Hellman, i.e., Sonia Assonitis); Rollercoaster (Goldstone) (as Simon Davenport); Il grande attaco (The Great Battle; The Biggest Battle; Battle Force; La battaglia di Mareth; The Battle of Mareth) (Lenzi) (as "Gen. Foster"); The World of Andrew Wyeth (Schwartz and Wallace—for TV) (introductory appearance); Alcohol Abuse: The Early Warning Signs (short) (as narrator)
The Great Smokey Roadblock (The Last of the Cowboys; Elegant John and His Ladies) (John Leone) (as Elegant John); Fedora (Wilder) (as himself); Big Yellow Schooner to Byzantium (Stouffer—short) (as narrator); Home to Stay (Delbert Mann—for TV); The Swarm (Irwin Allen) (as Dr. Krim); America's Sweetheart: The Mary Pickford Story (Edwards—for TV) (as narrator)
Gideon's Trumpet (Robert E. Collins—for TV) (as Clarence Earl Gideon); The Jilting of Granny Weatherall (Haines—for TV); The Oldest Living Graduate (Hofsiss—for TV)
On Golden Pond (Rydell) (as Norman Thayer Jr.); Summer Solstice (Rosenblum—for TV)
By FONDA: book—
My Life, as told to Howard Teichman, New York, 1981.
By FONDA: articles—
"Fonda on Fonda," in Films and Filming (London), February 1963.
"Reflections on Forty Years of Make-Believe," interview with C. L. Hanson, in Cinema (Beverly Hills), December 1966.
Interview with Roberta Ostroff, in Take One (Montreal), March-April 1972.
"Fonda on Fonda," interview with R. Nogueira, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1973.
On FONDA: books—
Springer, John, The Fondas: The Films and Careers of Henry, Jane, and Peter Fonda, New York, 1970.
Kerbel, Michael, Henry Fonda, New York, 1975.
Goldstein, Norm, Henry Fonda: His Life and Work, London, 1982.
Thomas, Tony, The Films of Henry Fonda, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1983.
Cole, Gerald, and Wes Farrell, The Fondas, London, 1984.
Roberts, Allen, and Max Goldstein, Henry Fonda: A Biography, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1984.
Fonda, Afdera, Never before Noon: An Autobiography, with Clifford Thurlow, New York, 1986.
Piton, Jean-Pierre, Henry Fonda, Paris, 1986.
Tiratova, Evgeniia, Genri Fonda, Moscow, 1989.
Collier, Peter, The Fondas: A Hollywood Dynasty, London, 1991.
Sweeney, Kevin, Henry Fonda: A Bio-Bibliography, New York, 1992.
On FONDA: articles—
Springer, John, "Henry Fonda," in Films in Review (New York), November 1960.
Ross, Lillian, "Henry Fonda," in New Yorker, 28 October 1961.
Cowie, Peter, "Fonda," in Films and Filming (London), April 1962.
Hagen, R., "Fonda: Without a Method," in Films and Filming (London), June 1966.
Logan, Joshua, "Fonda Memories," in Show (Hollywood), April 1970.
Current Biography 1974, New York, 1974.
"Dialogue on Film: Henry Fonda," seminar in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1977.
Morris, George, "Henry Fonda," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Rosterman, R., "Henry Fonda Omaha Tribute," in Films in Review (New York), April 1981.
Corliss, Richard, "Two Who Get It Right," in Time (New York), 16 November 1981.
Buckley, M., "Henry Fonda," in Films in Review (New York), January 1982.
Sarris, Andrew, "Henry Fonda: An Appreciation," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1982.
Schickel, Richard, "The Making of a Legend—From Abe Lincoln to Norman Thayer," in People Weekly (New York), 12 April 1982.
Obituary in New York Times, 13 August 1982.
Schickel, Richard, "A Palpable, Homespun Integrity," in Time (New York), 23 August 1982.
Obituary in Cinéma (Paris), October 1982.
Cieutat, M., "Henry Fonda ou l'Amérique des certitudes," in Positif (Paris), March 1983.
Fonda, Jane, "Remembering Dad," in TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 11 January 1992.
* * *
If one actor could be taken as the personification of liberal America, it would have to be Henry Fonda. In contrast to the twofisted, redneck persona of John Ford's other favorite protagonist, John Wayne, Fonda stood for a quiet, troubled decency. His was a figure of reasoned integrity, slow to anger, aiming always to overcome his opponents by persuasion rather than force, if humanly possible. Dreamy idealism emanated from his shy, gangling lope. Four years into his film career he played Young Mr. Lincoln; his Tom Joad aside, this portrait of Lincoln as a struggling, truth-seeking young lawyer is the definitive early Fonda performance.
Fonda's acting, like his screen image, was built around an unpretentious honesty, a seemingly artless naturalism which concealed a good deal of hard work. "My goal," he once remarked, "is that the audience must never see the wheels go round, not see the work that goes into this. It must seem effortless and real." His achievement was to make goodness appear both likable and credible, even if on occasion a touch priggish. There was a darker side to his character, which rarely appeared on screen, although he was now and again cast in unsympathetic roles and even, late in his career, as villains. Fonda himself was well aware of this less amiable aspect. "I don't really like myself. Never have. People mix me up with the characters I play." Perhaps for that reason, he was only really happy while working. "I was damn lucky I became an actor. . . . Acting to me is putting on a mask. The worst torture that can happen to me is not having a mask to get in back of."
John Ford supplied Fonda with several of his best masks. In addition to his Abe Lincoln, he was a serenely heroic Wyatt Earp in the mythopoetic My Darling Clementine, and the emotional power of his Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath—building skillfully on his own Midwest rural background—lent validity to that film's populism. Ford also made shrewd use of Fonda's stuffier side, casting him against type as the stiff-necked martinet to John Wayne's easygoing subordinate in Fort Apache.
With his air of melancholy determination, Fonda was ideally fitted for those films in which a lone individual reluctantly but doggedly resists the consensus: the protestor against a lynching in Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident, the dissenting conscience in Lumet's archetypal jury-drama Twelve Angry Men. The downbeat, claustrophobic impact of Hitchcock's The Wrong Man derived in great part from the intensity of Fonda's central performance. He could also play comedy, though the roles that came his way were far from his best. Sturges's The Lady Eve provided a sparkling exception, Fonda preserving an engaging solemnity in the face of Stanwyck's protean and wily adventuress.
Integrity can become boring, and so at times could Fonda—especially in a bad film, of which he was cast in far too many. Twice in his career he fled from Hollywood entirely: into the Navy during the war, and then from 1948 to 1955 returning to his first and lasting love, the theater. Only Ford's insistence lured him back for the film of his Broadway hit, Mr. Roberts. Ironically, the two men then disagreed vehemently over interpretation, eventually coming to blows, and never worked together again.
Parts were never lacking, but the films got duller, with Fonda filling stolid cameos as authority figures. Sergio Leone, though, offered him the blackest role of his career, in Once upon a Time in the West. Fonda played it to the hilt, gunning down defenseless nine-yearolds with evident relish. His last feature film, On Golden Pond, brought his long-delayed Best Actor Oscar, and his first good role in years. The dignity of his performance, and that of Katharine Hepburn, rescued the movie from gross sentimentality, and turned it into a moving valedictory.
Fonda also is the senior member of one of Hollywood's most celebrated acting families. Daughter Jane became a preeminent (and highly controversial) movie star of the 1960s and 1970s; son Peter's participation in Easy Rider alone earns him more than an asterisk in the Hollywood history books; and commencing in the late 1980s, granddaughter Bridget (the daughter of Peter) became a star of Hollywood films. And since his death, Fonda (along with his family) has been the subject of several biographies.
—Philip Kemp, updated by Rob Edelman
A star of both stage and screen for more than 50 years, Henry Fonda (1905-1982) was known for portraying the average "every man" with sincerity, integrity, and decency. Though Fonda occasionally played characters with a dark or impatient side, critics considered most all of his performances to be natural and unassuming. Despite spectacular performances in films such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Fonda did not receive an Academy Award until a shortly before his death.
Fonda was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, on May 16, 1905. He was the oldest of three children, born to William Brace Fonda and his wife, Herberta (nee Jaynes). William Fonda worked as a printer. When Fonda was still an infant, the family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where his father opened a print shop. As a child, Fonda liked to write, winning a short story contest when he was ten years old. Two years later he began working in his father's shop after school.
Discovered the Theater
After graduating from Omaha Central High School in 1923, Fonda entered the University of Minnesota to study journalism. William Fonda insisted that his son hold a job while in college, and Fonda held two. He worked as a physical education instructor at a settlement house and for the telephone company. The strain of maintaining two jobs may have contributed to Fonda's dropping out of school after about two years. In 1925, Fonda returned to Omaha, to look for a job in journalism. A friend of his mother's, Dorothy Brando (mother of famous American actor Marlon Brando), offered him a chance to audition for a part at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Dorothy Brando was an amateur actress and very involved with the group. Despite his inexperience, Fonda was cast as Ricky in You and I. Though initially unsure of himself, Fonda grew to love the experience. Soon he was spending a significant amount of time at the Playhouse, performing odd jobs such as ushering and set building.
Fonda's father did not approve of his son's new career choice. He made Fonda take a job as a clerk in a credit company to support himself. Still, Fonda was cast in the lead role of Merton of the Movies at the Playhouse in 1926 or 1927. When William Fonda attended a performance, he recognized his son's talent. Fonda got an early break in 1927 when he wrote a sketch for George Billings, a leading impersonator of former president Abraham Lincoln. The sketch featured a role for Fonda as Lincoln's secretary. He toured on the vaudeville circuit with Billings for three months. When he returned to Omaha at the end of the tour, Fonda became the assistant director at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
In 1928, Fonda moved to New York City to pursue a professional acting career. That summer, he worked in summer stock at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts. He was the third assistant stage manager and had several small rolls. Fonda began an association with the University Players Guild, based in Falmouth, Massachusetts. He spent the next four summers (and one-year long season in Baltimore, Maryland) appearing in a number of University Players productions, first in smaller rolls, then in bigger ones. Not all were successes. Fonda's role as the dumb boxer in Is Zat So? was critically panned. As he had done in Omaha, Fonda performed other tasks for the Guild, including setting up the lighting and building and painting sets. Fonda liked to paint (primarily landscapes and still lifes), pursuing it as a hobby for the rest of his life.
Made Broadway Debut
Fonda's first appearance on Broadway was a small walk-on role in the 1929 production of The Game of Life and Death. The production closed after six weeks, and it would take several years for Fonda to establish himself in New York City. In addition to his summer work with the University Players Guild, Fonda appeared in many productions of the National Junior Theatre in Washington, D.C. He appeared in many productions in 1929 through 1931, including a stint as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Fonda was married in 1931, to fellow actress, Margaret Sullivan. The marriage was short-lived, however, and the couple divorced in 1933.
By the early 1930s, Fonda appeared more regularly in productions in New York City. In 1932, for example, he played Eustace in I Loved You Wednesday. Critics began noticing Fonda in 1934 when he appeared in the revue New Faces, doing comic sketches with actress Imogene Coca. Through his work in summer stock, Fonda got a big break later in 1934 when he was cast as the farmer, Dan Harrow, in The Farmer Takes a Wife. After a run in Washington D.C., the play moved to New York City, where it was critically and commercially acclaimed. Producer, Walter Wanger offered Fonda a film contract. Although Fonda demanded $1000 per week, Wanger agreed to the terms. Instead of jumping immediately to films, Fonda appeared in the Broadway play All Good Americans.
Began Film Career
In 1935, Fonda made his film debut in The Farmer Takes a Wife, opposite co-star Janet Gaynor. Though he had created the role on stage, Fonda was not the first choice for the screen version. His work garnered widespread critical attention. In a review of the film, Andre Sennwald of The New York Times fortuitously wrote, "Mr. Fonda, in his film debut, is the bright particular star of the occasion. As the virtuous farm boy, he plays with an immensely winning simplicity which will quickly make him one of our most attractive film actors." Fonda immediately began making American epic-type films including The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936) and was a recognized film star. Despite his Hollywood success, Fonda continued to appear both in films and in theater in New York City. He married his second wife, Frances Seymour Brokaw, in 1936. They had two children together, Jane and Peter, both of whom later became actors.
In 1939, Fonda first film with director John Ford, Young Mr. Lincoln, received much acclaim. This marked the beginning of fruitful creative association. Fonda appeared in many of Ford's films, as did another screen legend, John Wayne. After the pair made Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), Ford was eager to cast him as Tom Joad in a 1940 screen version of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. To secure the role, however, Fonda had to sign a seven-year deal with 20th Century-Fox. The result was one of Fonda's best performances, one that cemented his reputation for emotionally honest and powerful acting. Unfortunately, the contract also meant that Fonda was forced to take roles he probably would not have agreed to otherwise. For example, he appeared in the 1941 comedy, Lady Eve. While he did receive some praise for this work, the genre as a whole was not his strong suit.
In the early 1940s, during the onset of American involvement in World War II, Fonda wanted to serve in the military. The head of 20th-Centur Fox, Darryl Zanuck, worked behind the scenes to ensure this did not happen. After Fonda completed The Immortal Sergeant and The Ox-Bow Incident in 1942, he volunteered for the United States Navy, though he was exempt from serving. Fonda worked in operations and air combat intelligence. For his heroism, he earned the Bronze Star and a presidential citation. Before his discharge in 1945, Fonda reached the rank of lieutenant.
After his tour of duty was ended, Fonda briefly returned to film before concentrating on theater. After his calmly valiant turn as Wyatt Earp in John Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946), Fonda appeared in Ford's Fort Apache (1948). Fonda's role in Fort Apache showed a different side to his acting abilities: his character was darker, meaner, and a bit stuffy. It was his last starring film role for seven years.
In 1948, Fonda returned to Broadway and starred in Mister Roberts. He did not miss any of the long-running show's 1077 performances, and later claimed that this was one of his favorite roles. Fonda was praised for his accomplishments, receiving critical acclaim for his genuinene performances. He later recreated the role on a national tour. During the run of Mister Roberts, Fonda's tumultuous marriage to Frances Seymour Brokaw came to an end. Mentally unstable for much of their marriage, she committed suicide on October 14, 1950, when Fonda demanded a divorce. Fonda was married for a third time to Susan Blanchard, on December 28, 1950. He adopted her daughter, Amy, from a previous relationship. The couple divorced in 1956.
While Fonda continued to appear on Broadway in the 1950s, in such plays as Point of No Return (1951) and The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (1953), he also returned to film. His first project was a film version of Mister Roberts (1955). This was the last collaboration between Fonda and John Ford, who took over the directorial helm at Fonda's request. However, they had completely opposite opinions on interpretation, which resulted in physical clashes. Ford became ill and was unable to complete the work, so Mervyn Le Roy took over as director. Still, Fonda was never happy with the way the film turned out.
Fonda had mixed success with films throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Though many critics believed that he was miscast as Pierre, others praise his work in War and Peace (1956). The only time Fonda acted as a film producer was for 1957's Twelve Angry Men, in which he also had a starring role as the juror who saves the life of the accused man. He played political roles in several movies in the early 1960s, including a turn as the president of the United States in Fail-Safe (1963). Fonda continued to explore his dark side by playing villains several times, primarily in westerns such as Firecreek (1968) and Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). Fonda married his fourth wife, Countess Adfera Franchetti, on March 10, 1957. They divorced in 1962. Fonda married for the fifth and final time to model and stewardess Shirlee Adams, in 1965.
Professionally, Fonda concentrated on theater and television. In 1959, he was the co-producer and star of the short-lived series The Deputy. In 1962, he returned to Broadway to appear in A Gift of Time with Olivia De Havilland. Fonda took a second try at a television series in 1971-72 as the patriarch of The Smith Family. One of Fonda's last major theater roles was as Clarence Darrow in a one-man show. From 1974 until 1975, Fonda appeared in this role on Broadway and on a national tour. Before one performance, he collapsed backstage and was forced to have a pacemaker installed on his heart. This marked the beginning of frequent health problems. Despite frequent hospitalization, Fonda continued to work.
Fonda's last film role was one of his most memorable and acclaimed. In 1981, he appeared in On Golden Pond as an irascible old professor reflecting on his life, trying to make peace with his daughter (played by Fonda's daughter Jane), and face his own fears about death. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote "Mr. Fonda gives one of the great performances of his long, truly distinguished career. Here is film acting of the highest order—As you watch him in On Golden Pond, you're seeing the intelligence, force and grace of a talent that has been maturing on screen for almost 50 years." Fonda won his only Academy Award for this role, a short time before his death. He died of heart failure on August 12, 1982, in Los Angeles, California. He was 77 years old.
American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Cassell Companion to Cinema, Cassell, 1997.
The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, volume 1, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers-3: Actors and Actresses, third edition, edited by Amy L. Unterburger, St. James Press, 1997.
Thomson, David, A Biographical Dictionary of Film, third edition, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
New York Times, August 9, 1935, p. 21; December 4, 1981, p.D4; August 13, 1982, p. A1
Variety, August 18, 1982, p. 4. □