“I don’t know what happened to Jon,” Jane Fonda told Howard Stern about Jon Voight in a Wednesday interview. “We were pretty close. He was my best friend among Hollywood people. We won Academy Awards together for Coming Home.”
But now, because the star of Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, and The Champ sees the world through a new lens, Fonda rules out the possibility of any friendship. “I couldn’t, no,” she says of holding a friendship with someone who holds very different political views. “I couldn’t.”
“I also recommit myself to your congregation as an active and full participant — not only for myself but because I want my two children to have the experience.”
“He changed into an extreme right-winger,” which she called “very sad.” Others who recall the half-century friendship between the liberal Democrat Henry Fonda and the conservative Republican Jimmy Stewart regard Jane Fonda’s intolerance as very sad.
Fonda, after all, merely needs to overlook the fact that Voight voted for the man who ultimately won the presidential election. Voight’s loyalty to Fonda proved so great that he remained friends with her despite the worshipful tone she took toward cult leader Jim Jones in the weeks after the pair filmed Coming Home.
“Since Tom and I came to your Peoples Temple we have received no fewer than 25 letters — wonderful, moving, human letters from members of your congregation,” Fonda wrote Jones in the summer of 1977. “They have prompted me to write you this brief message to tell you again how deeply moved I was by the experience that Sunday — the atmosphere, the obvious need you have remarkably filled in thousands of lives, how humanely, passionately, and articulately you have redefined the role of church, Christ, religion.”
So deeply did Fonda fall under Jones’s spell that she joined Peoples Temple.
Ironically, at a 1977 event at the Golden Gate Bridge decrying suicides at the scenic site, Jones pointed to Fonda joining Peoples Temple as rescuing him from ennui. The Peoples Temple leader declared that “at one time or other we have all felt the alienation and despair. I think the despair got to me yesterday. If it hadn’t been for an Academy Award-winning actress joining our church … I think I would have been in a suicidal mood myself today for perhaps the first time in my life, so I have a particular and personal empathy for what we are doing here today.”
Jones, a notorious liar, told a truth here. A Fonda letter to him leaves little doubt about the nature of her association with Peoples Temple.
“I also recommit myself to your congregation as an active and full participant — not only for myself but because I want my two children to have the experience.” She promised to return to the Temple when she finished shooting Comes a Horseman, a film memorable for the fact that part of the shot in which a horse drags a Jason Robards stunt-double to his death callously made it into the movie.
Before Fonda finished filming that August, Peoples Temple had fled San Francisco for South America after a cloud of allegations appeared that included beatings of members (including a teenage lesbian spotted hugging a woman), staging faith healings that witnessed Jones attempt to pass off raw chicken as the “cancers” he removed from diseased bodies, suckering members into donating their homes, and running a foster care operation for the purpose of seizing public welfare funds.
Fonda stuck by the beleaguered pastor. As I cover at greater length and depth in Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco, Fonda operated in California leftish circles that rewarded Jones with the imprimatur of politicians, journalists, academics, and celebrities for providing the conscripted political manpower of his flock and a reliable counter to the rising voice of conservative clergy.
“We are familiar with the work of Reverend Jones and Peoples Temple,” Fonda, husband Tom Hayden, San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, California assemblyman Willie Brown, and other progressives proclaimed in a public letter released in the summer of 1977, “and have no hesitancy in commending them for their example in setting a high standard of ethics and morality in the community and also for providing enormous material assistance to poor, minority and disadvantaged people in every area of human need.”
In South America, Peoples Temple assigned the codename Xavier to the actress on its shortwave communications and screened Julia, in which Fonda stars as Lillian Hellman, for the captives-communards in Jonestown. “I was of course particularly interested,” one member reflected in a diary found after the carnage, “because of the connection of Fonda with the Temple.”
That connection ultimately became severed, not because Fonda publicly denounced Jones but because Jones denounced Fonda. Records indicate calls to Fonda from Jones’s wife went unanswered by the actress. In Jonestown, the increasingly erratic Jones labeled her a “sellout” and “over the hill.” He told his cloistered followers, “Jane Fonda will not have anything to do with her former liberal friends, having at one time in her highest moments, gave her body for some $50,000 to help the [Black] Panthers. She’s now playing it safe, and on a quest in her middle years to be popular and acceptable, and hopes to see her husband become president.”
A few months later, on November 18, 1978, more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple in which Fonda named herself “an active and full participant” took their own lives at the request of Jim Jones, the implicit command of archers and gunmen that surrounded, and the conditioning of years of dry runs. Jones called their final act “revolutionary suicide,” a term borrowed from the title of a Huey Newton book. Many imagined their deaths as an act of protest against capitalism. It went down, until 9/11, as the largest loss of civilian life in a manmade catastrophe in American history. In Jane Fonda’s judgment, the man behind it all set “a high standard of ethics and morality.”
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The dupe of Ho Chi Minh and Jim Jones now wants readers to trust her about climate change. During her tour to promote What Can I Do? My Path from Climate Despair to Action, Fonda talked this week to Today, The Howard Stern Show, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. Nobody asked her about her fawning support for a maniac. USA Today even wrote, “Fonda has long stood up to forces bigger than herself and held her ground.” In 1977, she joined, as joiners do, the bullies. When the small people of Peoples Temple needed a champion, she and her famous friends rallied on behalf of their oppressor. She acted as a flunky for a madman who kidnapped, raped, brutalized, and ultimately murdered his followers — and then she acted as though it never happened.
More than four decades later, she bullies again. She declares Jon Voight, author of some of the most memorable performances on the silver screen during the late 1960s and the 1970s, a pariah for his politics, knowing that they both work in an industry in which careers wither and die over something as irrelevant to acting as how one votes. Where’s that Joe Buck? Not on a movie set, if Jane Fonda can help it.
“If you know something is wrong and you don’t do everything that you can to make it right,” Fonda told Stern Thursday, “you’re going to get to the end of your life with so many bad feelings and regrets.”
Fonda never made it right by publicly apologizing for publicly legitimizing a lunatic. In fact, she cites the fact that “I never got to f— Che Guevara” as her biggest regret, according to an authorized biography written by Patricia Bosworth. The appeal of making a religion of politics that attracted her to Peoples Temple clearly tugs on her today, when, like a caricatured zealot, she balks at friendship with an old friend and anyone else who rejects her faith. When you do not know right from wrong, you cannot “know something is wrong” or even begin to “make it right.” Fonda’s problem at 39 remains her problem at 82. She believes correct politics absolves one of atrocious behavior.
Jane Fonda, who cannot shut up about everything else, maintains a monkish, 42-year silence on Jim Jones. That silence, undoubtedly caused by “bad feelings and regrets,” acts as the closest thing to contrition for those still looking for it.