Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

The Crazy World of Limousine Leftists

The adventures of Jane Fonda.

Actually, I’ve always thought the right-wing is too hard on Hanoi Jane. Whatever her faults, she was right about Nixon’s war crimes in Indochina.


One day, at the height of her fame in the mid-Seventies, Jane Fonda turned up on the doorstep of her ex-husband, Roger Vadim. She was lugging a bulging sack.

Vadim’s glamorous new girlfriend let her in, thrilled to meet the movie icon at last. But her excitement soon turned to disbelief. The star of Julia, Klute and The China Syndrome had come to do her laundry.

Why? Because her second husband, Tom Hayden, a Left-wing activist with a bulbous nose and acne-scarred cheeks, had forbidden her to have either a washing machine or dishwasher. Far too bourgeois.

Jane Fonda had a turbulent marriage to her second husbandJane Fonda had a turbulent marriage to her second husband

Not only that, but he’d made her sell her comfortable house in Los Angeles and buy a shabby two-bedroom shack in Santa Monica that smelled of mildew, where the couple shared a mattress on the floor. She couldn’t even wear her Cartier wristwatch any more, because Hayden disliked any show of possessions. So she’d replaced it with a cheaper Timex.

Many of Jane Fonda’s friends looked on in disbelief as she once again subjugated herself to a man. Instead of procuring women for threesomes — as she had in her marriage to Vadim — she was now working herself to a frazzle to raise millions for her husband’s political campaigns.

Hayden had a grandiose fantasy of becoming President of the United States — and Jane was determined to make him famous. To that end, stories about ‘Tom and Jane’ would appear in the Press — it was never ‘Jane and Tom’ because Hayden insisted on his name coming first.

Once, when she did something that displeased him — she was receiving too much attention — he encouraged her to discuss her short-comings in front of him and other friends. And Jane meekly obliged.

To the despair of her brother Peter and daughter Vanessa, who both loathed Hayden, she allowed herself to be belittled for years. ‘I simply didn’t think my ideas or feelings were as important or credible as his,’ she confessed later.

So why did Jane Fonda abase herself to a man whom so many of those close to her despised?

The key lay in Hayden’s sterling Left-wing credentials, which she’d failed to acquire herself. Indeed, as a fledgling revolutionary, she’d made one ghastly blunder after another.

After deciding to leave Vadim, she’d cast around for a worthy cause. It was Marlon Brando who pointed her towards the American Native Indians, who were complaining of discrimination. He also told her to check out the Black Panthers, who believed in combating police persecution with violence and revolutionary fervour.

Jane was immediately eager to speak out for both. Fired with zeal, she flew to San Francisco to support the takeover of Alcatraz, a former federal prison that the American Native Indians wanted to turn into a cultural centre.

Squatting in a corner of the prison yard, she smoked pot with some Sioux Indian leaders, who were frankly bewildered at having a movie star in their midst.

Later, she joined another Indian protest that involved scaling the fences of a fort. The soldiers stopped to ogle the star — braless under her T-shirt — before firing tear gas into the demonstrators.

The next day, Jane staged a Press conference. Unfortunately, this caused a good deal of resentment among the Indian leaders, who couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

Turbulent: Tom Hayden did a number of things during his relationship with Jane Fonda but she stayed with him because of left-wing credentialsTurbulent: Tom Hayden did a number of things during his relationship with Jane Fonda but she stayed with him because of left-wing credentials

Far from helping, Fonda was creating problems; furthermore, they didn’t want to be identified with a star who seemed out to get publicity for herself. Finally, an Indian leader quietly informed her that she couldn’t be their spokesman — she simply didn’t know enough about the long history of white oppression.

It was hardly a promising start to Jane’s rebirth as a radical. Still, there was always the Black Panthers.

For them, she opened her chequebook, paying a $2,000 phone bill, lending them her credit card and posting bail for Panthers who’d been arrested. The Panthers promptly charged a car to her Visa card — then lost both the car and the card. One of them skipped town after she’d stumped up $50,000 bail money. When she heard the Panthers were calling her a ‘white honky bitch’ behind her back and spreading false rumours that she was sleeping with their leader, she called it a day.

What next? Convinced she’d found a new mentor, Jane started pursuing a married political activist who was working with soldiers against the Vietnam war. Within weeks, Frank Gardner, 27, was her lover and giving her a crash course in the issues.

In March 1970, she embarked on a lengthy tour of army bases and Indian reservations with a French friend, Elisabeth Vailland, in a rented station wagon. Jane’s 18-month-old daughter, Vanessa, was deposited with her father, Roger Vadim.

Abandoned in favour of a cause that would consume her mother for years, Vanessa never forgave her. ‘She’ll be angry about it until I die,’ Jane admitted later. Vanessa ended up calling her father ‘Maman’ — French for ‘Mother’. Later, she’d say: ‘Vadim was my mother — even he said that.’

As for Jane, she was constantly being arrested for trespassing on army bases. By mid-1970, she was nearly broke, having spent thousands financing her trips and her many causes. ‘It’s sort of relaxing to be poor,’ she told friends.

It was chiefly to replenish her coffers that she agreed to star as the call girl Bree Daniels in the 1971 film Klute, which won her an Oscar. She also started sleeping with her co-star Donald Sutherland, who fell madly in love with her.

Together, they took a political vaudeville show called FTA — slang for ‘f*** the army’ — across the country. By then, both were under surveillance, so they often talked in code.

FBI agents opened her post, tapped her phone and even planted a false story that she wanted to kill the President. Her FBI files later extended to 22,000 pages.

Of course, Jane didn’t help her case by declaring publicly that what Vietnam really needed was a ‘victory for the Vietcong’ — the Communist army fighting the U.S. government over South Vietnam.

Protest: Fonda often went braless to distract soldiers but her protests actually created problems and at one stage she was told by Indians she could not be their spokesmanProtest: Fonda often went braless to distract soldiers but her protests actually created problems and at one stage she was told by Indians she could not be their spokesman

Another of her ideas was to dress protesters as dead Vietcong fighters — in white make-up and black leotards — to demonstrate on the lawn of comedian Bob Hope, who had been entertaining U.S. troops.

Eventually, Jane split from Sutherland, saying she was moving into a different phase of her life and she couldn’t share it with one man. There were soon rumours that she was having liaisons with various activists.

She supposedly confided during a feminist consciousness-raising session, ‘My biggest regret is I never got to f*** Che Guevara.’

By mid 1971, her tour of Left-wing politics, with its endless marches and violent arguments, had left her drained. At this point, Tom Hayden — in baggy trousers, his hair in long plaits — entered her life. Already a hero of the Left, he’d participated in a violent student strike at Columbia University in 1968 and helped plan the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago that summer.

When he came backstage after she’d delivered an anti-war speech, she felt an ‘electric charge’. She raced home and told a friend she’d met the man with whom she was going to spend the rest of her life.

A week later, hayden drove to Jane’s house to show her a slide show he’d put together in Indochina. As he screened pictures of Asian prostitutes who’d had plastic surgery to look ‘Americanised’, he lambasted the ‘superficial’ sexiness that Jane had once exemplified in the film Barbarella, directed by Vadim.

Agreeing with him, she began to cry. Within days, they were lovers.

The couple named their son Troi after a Vietcong martyr who attempted to assassinate U.S. Defence Sectretary Robert McNamara - before wisely changing it to TroyThe couple named their son Troi after a Vietcong martyr who attempted to assassinate U.S. Defence Sectretary Robert McNamara – before wisely changing it to Troy

From the start, she was consumed with anxiety that he might think her elitist — not least because she had a swimming pool. Later, he admitted that he saw her as ‘a rich person out of touch with reality’.

For Jane, the idea of doing something meaningful with Hayden gave her a sense of renewed purpose.

‘She sat at Tom’s feet, literally,’ remembers fellow pacifist David Dellinger. ‘She looked up to him like he was some sort of god.’

With Hayden’s support, she decided to travel alone to North Vietnam in July 1972 to collect evidence that the U.S. was deliberately bombing the river dykes. Horrified by the devastation, she asked her Vietnamese hosts if she could go on radio to make an appeal to U.S. bomber pilots.

She was next taken to visit an air defence installation on the outskirts of Hanoi. There, she was asked to climb onto the seat of an anti-aircraft gun — which she did without thinking. As soon as she’d hopped off, she exclaimed: ‘Oh my God. It’s going to look like I was trying to shoot down U.S. planes!’

It was too late: the picture went round the world. When she arrived back in the U.S. — in coolie hat and Vietnamese pyjamas — she was greeted with cries of ‘Hanoi Jane’ and accused of being a traitor.

‘What is a traitor? What is a patriot?’ was her angry retort. ‘I cried every day when I was in Vietnam. I cried for the Vietnamese and I cried for the Americans, too.’

William Manchester, editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper, called for her to be tried for sedition and shot. A Congressman suggested her tongue be cut off. Jane decided the trip to North Vietnam had changed her life.

One night, she stood naked in their bedroom and told Hayden she wanted to have a child. She said that in North Vietnam she’d met women who’d been in labour during the air strikes. As the bombs fell, they’d cry: ‘Nixon, we fight you with all the joys of a woman in childbirth!’

Jane thought if she and Hayden had a child, it would express solidarity with Vietnam. First, however, they decided to get married. The smell of pot was heavy in their living room as they exchanged vows. Outside, Hell’s Angels — friends of her brother — encircled the house because Jane had been receiving death threats.

Their little house was often under siege. Jane had to put wire over the windows because people threw things at them, especially rotten eggs. When the pressures got too great, she’d smoke a joint in the attic — because Hayden wouldn’t allow smoking in the house.

When their son was born in 1973 they named him Troi, after Nguyen Van Troi, a Vietcong ‘martyr’ who tried to assassinate U.S. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara. Later, they wisely changed it to Troy.

After the birth, Jane had an increasingly difficult time with Hayden. Not only was he drinking heavily, but — as Jane’s friend, the actor Peter Boyle, comments: ‘He was f***ing jealous of how famous she was.’ Anxious to please Hayden, she gave him $500,000 to fund his campaign to become a Senator in 1975 — but he lost.

Max Palevsky, who co-produced her movie Fun With Dick And Jane, says: ‘Tom was using Jane shamelessly. I couldn’t understand how she could be so stupid. Hayden was often publicly contemptuous of her.’ In Hayden’s presence, she’d act like an obedient little girl. Away from him, though, she was making some of her best movies, including Coming Home, a love story about a paralysed Vietnam veteran, which won three Academy Awards.

Vietnam visit: Fonda travelled to the country in 1972 and made a huge mistake when she sat on an anti-aircraft gun but realised too lateVietnam visit: Fonda travelled to the country in 1972 and made a huge mistake when she sat on an anti-aircraft gun but realised too late

When Hayden saw it, however, he snarled ‘nice try’ to Jane and stalked out of the viewing room. She was devastated.

Knowing he needed vast sums for his next electoral campaign, Jane looked for a way to earn more money. She launched an exercise studio called Workout in 1982 that spawned a $20 million fitness empire. More than $1 million of her profits went into his ‘war-chest’, and she poured $17 million into his Campaign for Economic Democracy, which he’d founded to promote progressive causes.

Yet Hayden was dour and negative around Jane, and it was rumoured he was sleeping around.

Deeply unhappy, Jane had an affair. ‘I never spoke of this to Tom, nor did I know that he himself was seeking solace elsewhere,’ she says. ‘We simply continued in our unusual, seemingly successful partnership. I’d say: “I think we should see a therapist,” and he’d say no, and I’d fall silent.’

Even when he won a seat in the Californian state assembly, nothing changed. ‘Tom hated, loathed, despised the Workout,’ says Jane’s step-daughter Nathalie. ‘Now Jane was not only a movie star — she was a one-woman conglomerate, an icon. Tom couldn’t take it.

‘He started drinking more and continued to play around. Jane closed her eyes to it.’

While he was reportedly seeing actresses Margot Kidder and Morgan Fairchild, his wife had another affair — this time with Sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman’s cinematographer. It didn’t last.

In the mid-Eighties, she was at her lowest ebb. Hayden had ridiculed her at a big benefit dinner and told people he resented being called Mr Jane Fonda. He was also spending a lot of time with Vicky Rideout, a sexy political speechwriter 20 years Jane’s junior.

On the night his wife turned 51, Hayden told her he was in love with another woman. A friend who was staying with them says Jane threw him out after discovering  he’d brought Rideout back to their own bedroom. Gathering all of his belongings into large plastic bags, she tossed them out of a window.

Deeply depressed, she pedalled on her exercise bike for five hours. ‘The physical pain is nothing compared to what I am feeling emotionally. I’m breaking apart,’ she said at the time.

In fact, Hanoi Jane was soon to undergo her third radical makeover — as a trophy wife. Yet again, she would subjugate herself to a man, but this time he was a Right-wing billionaire who would lavish on her every luxury she’d once rejected.

Adapted from Jane Fonda by Patricia Bosworth, to be published on October 1 by The Robson Press at £18.99. © 2011 Patricia Bosworth. To order a copy for £16.99 (incl p&p) call 0843 382 0000.

Leave a Reply