Jane Fonda: One of Hollywood’s Strongest Leading Ladies

It might sound contradictory, but perhaps the greatest testament to Jane Fonda’s six-decade career is how many people are unfamiliar with every facet of it. Not everyone who grew up with Fonda as the face of 1980s workout culture is immediately aware of the ambitious artistic extremes of her screen acting career; younger viewers getting to know her through her breezy, Emmy-nominated work in Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” may not all be aware of her serious Hollywood history of political and feminist activism. Fonda’s name means different things to different people, though one hopes her most enduring reputation — and certainly the one netting her a career Golden Lion at Venice last year and now a Lumière Award  — will be as one of Hollywood’s strongest, most spikily intelligent leading ladies: gifted at her craft, yes, but an actor who also brought her progressive personal politics to bear in her work, helping to expand and redefine the role of women in modern American cinema.

It’s not a trajectory you would have seen coming from her blithe, bouncy screen debut in the 1960 comedy “Tall Story,” playing a dimwit home economics student and cheerleader attempting to snare a college basketball star into marriage. The film was no feminist triumph, it did showcase her game, snappy comic timing, exercised throughout the 1960s in a series of variable vehicles from Period of Adjustment to “Cat Ballou” to “Barefoot in the Park” — the smart, bittersweet Neil Simon newlyweds study that made good on the chemistry she and fellow Venice honoree Robert Redford had first teased in 1966’s “The Chase.”

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