Jane Fonda has been called many things. The daughter of Hollywood royalty. A complete sexpot. A trailblazer, an activist, an award-winning actress and, gulp, a traitor.
The breadth and depth of Fonda’s career was vividly outlined as the American Film Institute feted her with its 42nd Life Achievement Award in a gala ceremony June 5 at the Dolby Theatre, an edited version of which will air on TNT.
And it will need editing, because the stories told about the two-time Oscar winner were seemingly endless — in a good way.
Starting off with Meryl Streep, who reflected back on meeting Fonda during shooting of 1977’s “Julia,” reminiscing about her mentorship and guidance.
“Jane has a feral alertness. She made me feel lumpy and from New Jersey, which I am,” Streep said, as Fonda looked on, laughing. “You told me about how to stand on my mark, staying in the light, and made me, a day player, feel special. Jane, you also helped me lose weight after each child.”
The parade of participants including Cameron Diaz, Lily Tomlin, Eva Longoria, Sally Field, Peter Fonda, Jeff Daniels, Ron Kovic and Sandra Bullock was interspersed with clips of Fonda discussing a range of subjects including life — and work — with her famous father Henry, acting classes, living in France with director Roger Vadim, the workout craze and coming back into the business in rom-coms and most recently, as a Ted Turner-like media owner in “The Newsroom” and as Nancy Reagan in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
And then there were the movie clips of some of her most memorable and impactful roles. “Klute.” “Coming Home.” “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” “On Golden Pond.” “Nine to Five.” And, yes, “Barbarella.”
That 1968 kitschy but sexy showcase for Fonda — based on a French comic book — was a big topic of conversation throughout the evening. Wanda Sykes even came out in a Barbarella-inspired costume, and made some profane comments that provoked groans from the audience, which included Diane Lane, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Gay Harden and Sam Waterston.
In the parade of A-list stars to the stage, two especially stood out, Ron Kovic, the partially paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who inspired “Coming Home,” and Fonda’s son with former husband Tom Hayden, Troy Garity.
“If my mother thinks it was difficult being the daughter of Henry Fonda, she should try being the son of Hanoi Jane,” Garity said. “My first 13 birthday parties were fundraisers. My mother never hired a nanny to watch out for me. That’s what the FBI was for. I was sent to school in leg warmers. We took holidays in conflict zones,” he recounted, to raucous laughter from the house.
Kovic, taking the stage in his wheelchair, received a standing ovation and told the crowd how he met Fonda during a rally at Claremont College. “I told the crowd I was a Vietnam vet, shot at, that men were crying out for help at VA hospitals, and that I couldn’t support the war. I may have lost my body, but not my mind. It would lead to ‘Coming Home,’ and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to have contributed in a small way.”
The other anecdotes told by Fonda’s friends and colleagues recognized the scope of her career, her portrayals of strong female characters, her political activism — most with a strong dose of comedy thrown in.
Daniels came out with a guitar and performed a song with the chorus “Did I mention she’s fit? Abs, buns and thighs.”
“We all find her annoying,” said Bullock. “She’s better than us. Everything she does is better — and she’s proved it’s never too late to start over.”
Continuing the humor right up to the end was Michael Douglas, who said Fonda’s career came down to one thing.
“Her body,” he said, before quickly interjecting, “of work.” Douglas, there with wife Catherine Zeta Jones, was the one who got the honor of actually presenting Fonda with her AFI Award.
“It’s not easy being the kid of a legend,” he continued. “Jane and I grew up in the shadows of giants but had to come into our own identity. On ‘The China Syndrome,’ I realized she was one-of-a-kind. She left her chosen field and came back. She is that rare combination of movie star and great actress.” As Fonda smiled at him, he told her, “You are true film royalty.”
“AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda” airs on TNT Saturday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, with encores scheduled on TCM.