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Coming home

Jane Fonda,former sex kitten and model,returns to Broadway after half a century

March 8, 2009 4:36:32 pm

Jane Fonda,it’s hard to believe,is 71. She has been a sex kitten,a fashion model,a radical and war protester,an Oscar-winning movie star,an exercise impresario and the consort of a billionaire. Her marital history alone has made her a kind of cultural bellwether. Her first husband,the French director Roger Vadim,introduced her to threesomes; she first made love with her second husband,Tom Hayden,after he showed her some slides of Vietnamese peasants; and her third husband,Ted Turner,told her on their first date,“I have friends who are Communists.”

These days Fonda is revisiting an earlier incarnation,Broadway actress,and this month she will star in 33 Variations,written and directed by Moises Kaufman,46 years after she last appeared on Broadway,in Strange Interlude with Geraldine Page.

She looks great. She has had a new hip installed,and a few years ago she had her breast implants removed. But she is still willowy and glamorous; she still has that smoky,velvety voice; and age has brought out her bone structure—something that the director Joshua Logan used to fret about. When she was 21,she resisted his suggestion that she have her jaw broken and her back teeth pulled so that her face would have more definition. No longer the chubby-cheeked vixen of Barbarella and Klute,Fonda has at last achieved a sort of Hepburnian elegance.

After her divorce in 2001,she has continued to live in Atlanta,where she runs a couple of nonprofit organisations and stays in touch with an extensive net of mostly female friends. In the early ’90s,after she married Ted Turner,Fonda officially announced her retirement from acting. She had more or less quit years before while still married to Tom Hayden,who gave her a hard time about it. He thought her film career called too much attention to her at the expense of “real” people who deserved more credit.
“When I was really,really unhappy with myself and my life,which happened in the second half of my marriage to Tom,I just stopped,” she said. “Acting became too painful. I just couldn’t. All the joy leached out of it.”

In 2005 Fonda resumed her movie career with Monster-in-Law,in which,starring with Jennifer Lopez,she played with great relish a nightmare version of Jane Fonda: a TV star who has burned through four husbands,gone bonkers and can’t accept that she’s getting old. It was slammed by the critics but was nevertheless a popular success and introduced her to a new generation of fans.

“That movie was the single smartest move I ever made,” she says now. She has two more films in the works,but in the meantime,when 33 Variations came her way,she embraced the chance to return to the stage. “I am not the same person I was,” she said. “I really am a different person. And I feel now that I could really be better than I have ever been in acting. It felt like something I had left prematurely.”

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