The HBO documentary about the Oscar-winning actress' life story is both fascinating and heavy, tackling topics including her mother's suicide, her battle with bulimia and multiple divorces.
Jane Fonda may be a polarizing figure, but almost everyone would agree the 80-year-old actress, activist, fashion model and fitness guru has led an extraordinary life.
She was born into a famous family, won countless awards, has been called a hero and a traitor during wartime, and enjoyed three-high profile marriages to vastly different men. She’s given probably thousands of interviews and has spent literally her entire well-documented life in front of a camera.
But after watching her new documentary "Jane Fonda in Five Acts," which premiered Monday on HBO, it’s clear Jane still has many secrets left to share.
Directed by Susan Lacy, the 135-minute film explores the entirety of her life through interviews with Jane, her friends, her colleagues and her family. It contains a treasure trove of frequently jaw-dropping confessions, from titillating details about her sex life and harrowing stories of her childhood to her struggles with eating disorders, dependency issues and motherhood.
Let's dive into the most fascinating details.
Jane Was Drunk and Hungover While Filming Her Naked, Zero-Gravity 'Barbarella' Scenes
One of Jane’s first breakout roles came in 1968 adaptation of "Barbarella," directed by her first husband Roger Vadim. The raunchy sci-fi flick saw her playing a sexpot in space and one of its most memorable scenes was shot to make it look like Jane was gyrating naked in zero gravity.
In addition to being technically difficult to shoot, the scene required Jane appear fully nude on camera and in front of the film crew. It made her nervous, so she steadied herself with alcohol.
"I was drunk," she revealed. "I drank so much vodka. It was so terrifying for me."
The shoot seemed to go well but the footage was improbably ruined when a bat -- the winged mammal, not the tool used to hit baseballs -- flew past the camera during the take. So, they tried it again the next day and this time Jane was not only once again drunk but also hungover from the previous take.
Jane Was Headed to Buffalo in a Motorhome When She Was Impregnated with Her Son Troy
Fast forward five years and Jane’s career had taken on a totally new trajectory. She won her first Oscar playing a high-priced hooker in the 1971 crime thriller "Klute," gave birth to her first child Vanessa, dedicated herself to political causes hostile regions like North Vietnam, and traded in her French director for the radical activist Tom Hayden.
Jane and Tom shared not only a love for each other but also the same strongly held worldview, so they organized a grassroots, cross-country speaking tour. They slept on friends' couches and delivered their anti-war and pro-civil rights message anywhere people would listen. Also, they had sex in moving vehicles.
"It was in a motorhome driving toward Buffalo when I became impregnated with Troy,” Jane revealed bluntly.
While it’s unclear who was driving at the time, we do know where the road took them. The highway sexcapade led to not only the birth of her first son, Troy Garity, but also to a shotgun wedding officiated by a gay Episcopal priest. The priest paid an ungodly price for performing Jane and Tom’s service, though -- he was kicked out of his own church for marrying them.
'Jane Fonda’s Workout' Helped Her Conquer an Eating Disorder While Also Contributing to the Downfall of Her Marriage
Jane’s father, Henry Fonda, was an acclaimed actor, but he wasn’t a very kind father. After her mother’s death, Jane was sent to a boarding school. It was there she studied history and learned about eating disorders like bulimia, which she thought were intriguing, as they could be traced back to Ancient Rome and Greece.
Between her fascination with ancient peoples and the insecurities she developed because her father constantly critiqued her looks, Jane said she became afflicted with bulimia while at boarding school and she battled it until the 1980s.
"I had suffered from an eating disorder for a long time," Jane explained. "Nobody knew. You know, one of the things about bulimia is that it’s a disease of denial. It takes a lot of subterfuge. You’ve very tired and you’re very angry and you’re very self-hating."
She finally conquered her bulimia and anorexia after creating "Jane Fonda’s Workout," a home exercise regimen she scripted and starred in that quickly became the highest selling VHS tape of all time. "I [quit] cold turkey," she explained. "It was really, really hard. There was something about taking control of my body, in that way, that got me over the addiction. That changed my perception of myself."
Though her home video successes were great for her career and self-esteem, they didn’t do her marriage to Tom any favors. In the documentary she revealed her best-selling tape and the best-selling book it inspired led to resentment on his part.
"He thought that I was superficial, that I wasn’t smart enough," she said.
The two divorced in 1990.
A Psychic Predicted Jane’s Marriage to Ted Turner
As the old cliché goes, when one door closes another one opens. In Jane’s case, the new door was made out of solid gold.
"[The breakup with Tom] was a difficult, dark and painful time," Jane explained, "But all of that changed after a friend gave me the name this unbelievable psychic who predicted things down to the minutiae.”"
"I see money, so much money," she recalled the psychic telling her. "And I see land as far as I can see."
As it turned out, her vision was that of wealthy media mogul and CNN founder Ted Turner, who owns a massive Montana ranch and had apparently been pining away for Jane for some time. Ted dialed her up and asked her out the very same day her divorce with Tom hit the papers. Jane told him she needed six months to get over her heartbreak, though, and sure enough six months later to the day he called her back again.
Jane had no trouble explaining her attraction to him: "He was a genius entrepreneur billionaire. He was also gorgeous, a very handsome man. Very, very sexy.”
She even described how he thoroughly aroused her on their very first date: "I felt like I was being eaten. He was devouring me."
Before long Ted and Jane were hiking, riding, and going on fly fishing adventures. She said they understood each other because they were both children of suicide, and they made a great couple because he saw the big picture while she was good with the small details. "I learned a lot from all the men in my life, but I learned the most from Ted," Jane said.
Jane's Mom Committed Suicide When She Was a Girl ... and Jane Didn’t Visit Her Grave Until Filming the Doc
A constant theme of "Jane Fonda in Five Acts" is the profound effect her childhood and relationship with her parents has had on her adult life.
As a father, Henry Fonda could be cruel. "He was a hero to so many people, but these kinds of men aren’t always good fathers. It’s hard to be both," Jane explained.
As a husband, he could be worse. He was a womanizer who eventually decided to leave Jane’s mother, Frances Ford Fonda, for a younger woman. But three months after asking Frances for a divorce, she slit her own throat with a razor on her 42nd birthday.
Jane was a young girl when her mom took her own life and was lied to at first about her cause of death. She was told it was a heart attack and didn’t learn her mom had killed herself until reading all the grisly details in a newspaper. Not only her did mom’s death further tarnish Jane’s already poor relationship with her father, but it also lead to an icy relationship between her and her first daughter Vanessa.
She described giving birth to Vanessa in the film: "It was a traumatic birth. They used forceps, and they tore me. I hemorrhaged a lot. I was suffering from postpartum depression. My milk didn’t come. That bond that was supposed to happen, it just didn’t."
"I felt like I was a bad mother and I was terrified," she continued. "It surprised me, this feeling of fear, and later on as I looked back at it, I knew why ... I always saw my mother as a victim. Woman equals victim. I am a woman. I am going to be damaged. I am going to be crushed."
Years later, Jane hired a lawyer to unseal her mom's medical records. She learned Frances had been diagnosed with manic depression and got the chance to read some of her diary entries which offered insight into the sources of her pain. "What a gift," Jane explained with tears in her eyes. "Suddenly it’s like, it had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t that I was not lovable. It’s that things would happen to her, she had a very, very hard childhood ... on some fundamental way it broke her.”
Jane drove out to her mother's burial site to film a scene for the end of the documentary. It’s the first time she had come to visit her. "My mother died in 1950 and I never had an inclination to come here ... it’s the right time for me to come and visit her grave," Jane said.
Jane took a seat by her mother’s grave before reflecting on her relationship with her parents as well as her daughter. "Their incapacity for love isn’t because they weren’t worthy of love, it’s because they too had been wounded," Jane said. "It goes from one generation to another, and somebody’s gotta break the cycle."
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.