Jane Fonda. The name and the face are enough to draw a crowd of reporters, to fire up the klieg lights and flashbulbs, to make tonight's news with her endorsement of a political candidate or her jabs at media magnate Rupert Murdoch and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or her advice on how to stay slim and trim. As a celebrity, she can write a bestseller - Cooking for Healthy Living - even though she doesn't cook. The recipes for the book were provided by her personal chef.
Fonda was born into celebrity, the photogenic daughter of respected film star Henry Fonda, descended on her mother's side from Founding Father Samuel Adams. Jane's problem simply was how to use her inherited status. The product of a fancy finishing school, she attended elite Vassar College in New York but left after two years to ramble around Europe before returning home to pursue acting and modeling. She was not off to a good start, by her own admission, relying heavily at the time on stimulants such as dexedrine. She once was busted for smuggling pills and assaulting the arresting Customs officer.
When examining the life of this woman whose image is that of an independent feminist, winner of film Oscars and television Emmys, the patterns nonetheless indicate that it was men who told her how to present herself. When she tired of the sex-kitten role developed for her by her first husband, film director Roger Vadim, she turned to political activist Tom Hayden, a founder of the radical Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. In midlife, facing a diminishing market for her acting talents, Fonda pioneered the aerobic-exercise craze, then opted for nip-and-tuck surgery before leaping into a life at the very top of the societal heap in a marital alliance with flamboyant billionaire Ted Turner, who also could guarantee an outlet for her film and print projects.
Behind this latest image is a very long shadow tracing back to 1972 and a photo of Fonda atop a North Vietnamese antiaircraft gun, a podium from which she denounced "U.S. imperialism" and embraced Americas enemies during a time of war. She even met with imprisoned and tortured Americans at a prisoner-of-war camp to persuade them of Hanoi's cause. Insight talked with a number of veterans to whom Fonda still is "Hanoi Jane."
She apologized in 1988. When veterans and other protesters had disrupted a filming project, running up the cost of her production, she took to national TV to say she was sorry for being "thoughtless and careless" in days gone by.
Butch Joeckel, former national adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans, says he's "not sure that an apology suffices. I feel her actions are unforgivable. We had soldiers, sailors, Marines in harm's way, and some of us came away from there pretty banged up. John Fales is blinded; I lost both legs above the knee, Everett Alvarez spent eight-and-a-half years in captivity there. Her apology doesn't change what happened to us."
He pauses, reflecting. "The best thing for her to do is stay out of our way."
John Fales, the vet Joeckel mentions, is a columnist about veterans' interests for the Washington Times. He says that politically correct people today "tend to leave the word `traitor' out of discussions of Jane Fonda. She and her friends on the left try to hide behind the words `heal the wounds,' but the former POWs I know who were beaten and brainwashed by her allies in North Vietnam are scarred beyond healing. Let her stand in front of the Vietnam Wall and apologize."
Alvarez, the other vet mentioned by Joeckel, was the first pilot shot down over Vietnam. He was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for the duration of the war. "We used to be fed the `news' over the camp speakers, all about the student demonstrations back home and they mentioned Fonda's visit," he tells Insight. "They also showed a film of it, along with films of the antiwar marches in Washington and Berkeley. It was sickening. …