Regrets? Jane Fonda’s had a few. But, then again, too few to mention — for the most part.
She recently confessed to Chris Wallace that she harbors not many of them at 85.
The obvious retorts include Monster-in-Law, allowing North Vietnamese directors to use the actress as a prop on that anti-aircraft gun, and failing to win the approval of Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s gaze. Fonda pointed to another part of her life — motherhood — as a source of disappointment. This humility surprised given the generational improvement the actress demonstrated over her own mother, who took her life when her daughter was 12.
“I was not the kind of mother that I wished that I had been to my children,” Fonda admitted to Wallace. “I have great, great children — talented, smart. And I just didn’t know how to do it.”
One way she tried should top her short list of regrets, even though neither interviewers nor the oft-interviewed ever mention it.
In 1977, after spending Sunday at a religious service in San Francisco, she wrote the pastor how the experience “deeply moved” her and of “the obvious need you have so remarkably filled in thousands of lives.” She added, “I also recommit myself to your congregation as an active and full participant — not only for myself but because I want my 2 children to have the experience.”
Fonda’s self-deprecated maternal instincts or professional commitments or luck denied her children that experience.
The celebrity of Fonda deluded many into buying into the legitimacy of a lunatic who shared their politics but not their ethics.
“I am in Colorado making a film — that is why you haven’t [seen] me or Tom,” the star of the ill-fated Comes a Horseman wrote. “But when we get back, we will return to the Temple.”
They didn’t. The temple migrated to South America and set up a concentration camp disguised as a commune in the jungle. Fonda and other friends of Jim Jones ran interference for him in the face of accusations of brutal abuse, financial exploitation, and general fakery. In turn, Jones played up the connection (before souring on Fonda near the end) to his flock. Big people standing by Jim Jones helped ensure that little people stood by him, too.
“We are familiar with the work of Reverend Jones and Peoples Temple,” Fonda, then-husband Tom Hayden, Harvey Milk, and other progressives publicly avowed in 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.”
Fonda, intentionally or inadvertently, saved her children from the consequences of becoming “an active and full participant” in the Peoples Temple. Hundreds of other children, most of them black, died because their parents, relatives, or the foster system made that commitment for them.
The celebrity of Fonda, Angela Davis, Herb Caen, and other luminaries deluded many into buying into the legitimacy of a lunatic who shared their politics but not, one hopes and thinks, their ethics. Jim Jones orchestrated the “revolutionary suicide” — a phrase borrowed from Black Panther Huey Newton — of more than 900 people in Guyana a little over a year after Fonda wrote her letter committing herself and her children to Peoples Temple.
The actress engaged in a very humanizing conversation with Wallace. Her vivacity compels one to question her age as a typo. And whatever one thinks of her politics, her acting — demonstrated in the powerful On Golden Pond scene shown by Wallace, in which she reconciles with her real-life father, that leaves audiences wondering whether they watch fiction — ranks highly in Hollywood history.
This prolonged moment in the late 1970s, when the Academy Award–winner lent her talents to one of the most devious mass murderers lacking state force in history, ranks low in her history. It never coming up in interviews, even ones with open-ended questions about regrets, itself seems regrettable.
“If I discovered that I had cancer again and there was nothing I could do, I’d be okay with it,” she divulged in that CNN interview. “What I’m really scared of is getting to the end of life with a lot of regrets when there’s no time to do anything about it. And it’s one reason I’m trying to get it all done before I come to the end.”
Get it all done, Jane. Nobody wishes to cancel an 85-year-old woman for gross misjudgment 45 years ago. But saying “I’m sorry,” if difficult and embarrassing, ultimately wins not only greater external respect but an internal feeling more at peace.
Dear Comrade Angela: History Isn’t Always Black and White