Vogue US March2020

(Ben Green) #1

Nostalg ia

Jonathan Van Meter first interviewed Jane Fonda for Vogue in 2001.
In December, joining her climate action in
Washington, he found her as formidable, and inspiring, as ever.

Force of Nature


ane Fonda is the most intimidating person I’ve ever
met. It was nearly 20 years ago, a week before George
W. Bush’s inauguration, when I arrived at the door
of her hotel suite in Santa Monica to interview her
for Vogue. I remember an outstretched arm—Hi, I’m
Jane Fonda—a rigid
handshake, and a once-over. No phony
smile or how nice to seeeee you. As we
sat down, I asked how much time I had.
“Let’s start with an hour,” she said,
curtly. No amount of friendly chit-chat—
how about this rain?—changed the
dynamic. Indeed, I had to fight the urge
to flee. Only once I started asking direct,
pointed questions (and stopped wasting
her time) did things turn around and
she talked animatedly, sometimes wildly
gesticulating, for well over an hour. A
woman Fonda once worked closely with
in Atlanta had described her effect to me
as a wave coming at you. “Well, I don’t
think I’ve crushed too many people,” she
said, when I told her, looking a little hurt.
“You can get out of the way and get
scared, or you can get it and go with it.”
I think I was caught off guard by that
chilly reception because I thought I had
already passed some kind of test. In the
spring and summer of ’96, I fell into a
social circle that included Vanessa Vadim,
Fonda’s daughter with the director
Roger Vadim, and Rory Kennedy, the
documentary filmmaker and daughter of
Robert Kennedy. It was a friend of a friend-of-a-friend situation,
and I took an instant liking to Vanessa. Like her mother, she
seemed both brash and bashful at once, hiding her eyes behind the
bangs of a Klute shag (ironically enough). She lived in New York
City but went everywhere with her dog, Osa, an Australian
shepherd. As smitten as I was with both of them, I wouldn’t have
dreamed of asking Vanessa questions about her mother, whom
I was fascinated by but who also reminded me of my mother—an
impatient, active worrier who suffers no fools.
And so: Just a month after the 2001 profile I wrote of Fonda for
Vogue was finished (though not yet published), I was invited to
join Vanessa’s family and a wide circle of friends to attend V-Day,
a live benefit performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues
at Madison Square Garden. It couldn’t have been starrier, with
Glenn Close, Queen Latifah, and Gloria Steinem among the

dozens of actors and rock stars on the stage. Oprah performed
in a burka. Fonda closed the show—the first time she’d done
acting of any kind since she married Ted Turner a decade earlier.
Beforehand, everyone had gathered in Fonda’s enormous hotel
suite at the Hilton across from Rockefeller Center to sip white
wine. Fonda was then under the spell of
Carol Gilligan, the feminist Harvard
professor and writer best known for her
seminal 1982 work on gender and
psychology, In a Different Voice. And
she had recently left Turner because
she felt stifled by all his manly me-first
energy and was sick of shuttling
between all of his many houses (13 at
the time). She was staying put in
Atlanta—to be close to Vanessa (who’d
moved there to be close to her mother,
who had moved there to be with
Turner)—in a tidy little Craftsman
bungalow in a groovy neighborhood.
Vanessa had recently given birth to
Malcolm, Jane’s first grandchild, and
was raising him on her own. Jane was in
the midst of renovating four lofts, in
the same neighborhood as Vanessa’s, into
one enormous space and had hired
an artist to paint the foyer to look like a
womb. “It’s the birth canal,” she’d told
me in Santa Monica. “And it’s going to
be pink. And suddenly you come through
that and...20-foot high ceilings! You
are born again into this huge open airy
space.” She let out a great gusty laugh.
“And I have nine Andy Warhols that will cover one wall.” Of...?
I asked. “Me!” she said, in a hilarious display of self-parodic glee.
At one point during the pre-V-Day gathering at the Hilton, Fonda
suddenly stood up, and in a grand actress-y gesture, as if she
had just entered stage right, swept across the room toward Rory
Kennedy and then stopped, hitting her mark. “Oh RO RY,” she
said. “Have I told you I’ve endowed a chair at Harvard?” Dramatic
pause. “It’s no Kennedy School, but it’s something.” (I have
been quoting that last bit of dialogue ever since.) There was an
after-party, too—at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown.
It was packed, with electricity in the air, everyone having a great
time. At one point, I moved to the edge of the room and lit a
cigarette, something you could still get away in those days despite
laws that forbade it. Suddenly, I could see Jane drifting through
the crowd toward me, Vanessa trailing her. As she arrived, her arm






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