G.I. Jane

A Hollywood Daughter’s Radical Past Winds up on the Cutting Room Floor

"This film was a false thing about a false thing, and it is that which is true."

Fonda had experienced the paradox of "life acting." After she won an Oscar for Klute, it was her politics that rated an article in Life: "Nag, Nag, Nag! Jane Fonda Has Become a Nonstop Activist." There was "scarcely an evil—be it racism, sexism, capitalism, or the war in Vietnam—she has not taken on." Fonda proclaimed herself "a revolutionary woman" ready to support all radical struggles. Her new project, a righteous outlaw comedy called Steelyard Blues, was, she proudly informed Life, "a film which says stealing is not theft, property is theft." Proudhon in Beverly Hills! John Wayne had finally met his match.

For years, America's beloved warrior-cowboy had been a tireless right-wing blowhard—or was it a nag? The Duke was not only the top box-office attraction of 1971 but also the most outspoken. "I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility," he told Playboy in an interview published that April. Wayne held the press responsible for the My Lai massacre and compared the plight of the South Vietnamese to that of Jews in Nazi Germany. Suddenly, here was little Jane Fonda calling Wayne's revered Richard Nixon "the worst war criminal in the history of the world."

Illustration by Tim Lane

Steelyard Blues—a programmatically amateurish guerrilla-theater parody of Klute in which Sutherland plays a visionary social bandit and Fonda a happy hooker with an Afro wig—went into production that summer in Oakland. It was there that Jane encountered radical feminism; she spent time at the Red Family collective, the most celebrated of East Bay political communes, ostentatiously stocked with shotguns and the writings of Kim Il Sung. (The Red Family had recently expelled one of its founders, Tom Hayden, either for "male chauvinism" or the "bourgeois privatism" of his relationship with the ex-wife of fellow-communard Robert Scheer.)

After Steelyard Blues wrapped, Fonda flew to France to discuss a project with Jean-Luc Godard, then at the height of his Maoist period, and embarked—with Francine Parker's camera crew—on the month-long F.T.A. Pacific tour, with stops at bases in Hawaii, the Philippines, and Okinawa. The 21 shows were seen by some 64,000 servicemen. Vivian Gornick, who covered the tour in the Voice, reported, "As the month progressed it became clear, even to me, that indeed the F.T.A. was surrounded, wherever it went, by agents of the CID, the OSI, the CIA, the local police, the various national investigating agencies of the countries it visited. In fact, one of the most incredible elements in the entire Asian tour of the F.T.A. was the miracle of frightened attention that it received from the U.S. military. . . . Men were confined to base, 'riot conditions' were declared, GIs were photographed."

Jane Fonda, national threat: Mocking the brass and attacking male chauvinism, bringing down the house with jokes about officers "fragged" in the field by their own men, these obscenity-rich shows were not subtle. According to Gornick, Fonda was enamored of a particular phrase, forever speculating on the "political correctness" of everything she observed—nevertheless the movie shows her singing, hoofing, mugging, working hard, and seemingly enjoying herself as part of the ensemble. The filmed F.T.A. Show is a magical mystery tour with a chaotic energy feeding on its own self-righteousness that amply documents the then widespread, now conveniently forgotten, G.I. hostility toward the war.

Fonda maintained that even her disapproving father was moved to tears when he saw the film. American International Pictures, the home of youth exploitation flicks, opened F.T.A. ("the show the Pentagon couldn't stop!") on July 14—one day before the world learned of Fonda's trip to Hanoi. Despite this publicity, the movie ran only a week before AIP withdrew it from circulation.

Fonda had informed the world that she would "passively" support McGovern as preferable to Nixon (even if he was no more prepared to make fundamental social change). Despite this, she was hung around McGovern's neck. William Buckley wittily suggested that a President McGovern would name her secretary of state. Two Republican congressmen demanded she be convicted for treason; Richard Ichord, the Democrat who chaired the House Committee on Internal Security, declared her a criminal. It was, after all, an election year.

Along with Tom Hayden, Fonda established the Indochina Peace Campaign, a nine-week, 90-city tour to get out the antiwar vote. A few weeks before the election, Tout Va Bien, the movie Fonda made for Godard and his partner Jean-Pierre Gorin, had its American premiere—along with an unauthorized sequel, Letter to Jane—at the New York Film Festival.

"If we hire stars we'll get money," an off-screen voice explains at the onset of Tout Va Bien. True enough: Thanks to the participation of Fonda, cast as an American journalist in France, and Yves Montand, who plays her filmmaker husband, the movie was financed by Paramount. Fonda's first line is "Fucking male chauvinist," but she speaks French throughout—enjoying her finest moment in a lengthy argument with Montand, during which she brandishes a photo of male genitalia. Tout Va Bien was misleadingly promoted as Godard's commercial comeback and tepidly received, despite Fonda's stellar turn. She's "most appealing (and very funny) as a solemn American political correspondent who becomes radicalized after being trapped overnight in a strike in a Paris sausage factory," Vincent Canby wrote in the Times. Was the actress having too much fun?

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