My Life So Far
By Jane Fonda
(Random House, 625 pages)
A Lotus Grows in the Mud
By Goldie Hawn
(Penguin Group, 400 pages)
In today's celebrity culture of assembly-line hookups and hacked Blackberries, it's difficult to issue so much as a champagne burp of concern for any workings of real-time human development. In effect, these days we're stuck in a blinding rut of diamond-encrusted clutches resting on ornate tables at charity benefits for survivors of breast-implant leakage, drumming our painted fingernails on some invisible plane resting atop the next crappy film project, press junket or bit of weight-conscious candor with Star Jones. To play along is to slowly die … on the couch, with a tabloid in your hand.
If there can be any explanation for this absurdity (beyond a blithe toast to Bonnie Fuller and Rupert Murdoch for inundating and captivating our weary souls), recent best-selling autobiographies from Jane Fonda and Goldie Hawn the yin and yang of the late 1960s-early 1970s feminine mystique go some distance in unearthing it. Both were industry pawns of the Ladies Home Journal cover-girl variety in their career beginnings, fussing with their faces to attain the perfect illusion of naiveté. But both are also, arguably, survivors of the burgeoning mass-media obsession with celebrity rising from simple iconic placement to activism, stumbling all the way and both are a little more loopy for it. Jane, the brunette bad seed, and Goldie, the dumb blonde, do manage to skirt self-indulgence in their menopausal meanderings, but one of them namely, Jane actually crafts a reasonable pastiche of her American character. Goldie? Not so much.
My Life So Far, Fonda's lengthy tome, is delivered in the same staccato tone as most of her celebrated performances. She juggles defensiveness and insecurity while tiptoeing through fathers (Henry hated her), husbands (cheaters!) and, somewhat disturbingly, her own vagina.
"It's not easy to study your vagina," she writes. "It takes commitment. You have to maneuver yourself into the perfect position to catch the light and not cast shadows … .
"I found my clitoris, of course, and for a good year was sure it was a penis waiting to be liberated, and I felt sad that Mother wouldn't even be around to learn that her daughter was really her longed-for son. I never told anyone about my concerns, just as I had never told anyone about my unusual childhood fantasies, the possible molestation by the nanny's boyfriend, or my 'down there' sickness at camp. They all stayed inside me, my secret evilness."
While Fonda's candor (fueled by her strong relationship with Eve Ensler) may seem unnecessary, her early tumult would play out tenfold throughout most of her life separated here into three acts. She quickly became a poster child for every female concern published in guidance-counselor pamphlets, all while raising the stakes of a vital career. After having her body brutally critiqued throughout her first Warner Bros. studio film, Tall Story (1960), she fell apart.
"It all became about hair and big cheeks and small breasts, and I couldn't handle it, coming as it did on the heels of an emerging selfhood," she writes. "I went into a three-year tailspin of private self-destruction, depression and passivity. I don't mean this by way of self-pity. There are a lot worse things in life than having your body critiqued, and stardom is a whole lot better than a kick in the ass."
That was just the beginning of Fonda feeling "the burn" in her ass (we're talking her comical exercise tape, not a social disease) and her bulimia, which persisted through the time of Jane Fonda's Workout Video (originally released in 1982).
Following her sex-camp in Barbarella (1968) and sex-employment in Klute (1971), Fonda delved her bleeding heart into the hotbed of anti-war protest, joining Klute co-star Donald Sutherland in a vaudeville alternative to Bob Hope's USO called FTA (Fuck the Army or Free the Army, depending on the audience). And here's where we all know this story Fonda fell from grace. Essentially a pawn to the movement, she crossed enemy lines, perched herself atop an enemy tank and forever burned herself in the public retina.
"It is possible that the Vietnamese had it all planned," she writes. "I will never know. If they did, can I really blame them? If I was used, I allowed it to happen. It was my mistake, and I have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for it."
Like she did at a recent book signing where one disgruntled veteran spat in her face. Hanoi Jane just kept on signing. Clearly, Fonda's public life didn't end there. Her life, so far, remains anything but boring, although her current foray into Christianity (Ted Turner was not pleased, their marriage ended, etc.) can be a little hard to swallow.
Not as hard to swallow, though, as Goldie Hawn's ridiculously tepid account of one celebrity's wispy embrace of Buddhism, A Lotus Grows in the Mud. Less a traditional confessional, the book offers streams of consciousness and "postcards," and it's printed in blue ink. Tragic.
"Without fear, we cannot evolve," she prescribes. "It is a natural human emotion that protects us from harm or even death. It creates something called the 'fight-or-flight' response,' where people either fight or run away."
"The important thing in life is what we are doing today," she follows later, insightfully. "What we are doing tomorrow. Not what we did yesterday. Through my long journey of self-discovery, I have come to understand that my Oscar is not who I am. I am not my success; I am not my model; I am not my fame."
All of this long day's journey into nausea culminates in a transformational Hollywood heavy-breathing exercise.
"I'm breathing to her rhythm, not mine. After about ten minutes, I start to feel a strange buzzing in my head, and then I start to get scared. What's this going to do to my brain?"
Probably not much.
But what both of these autobiographies succeed in doing, in disparate ways, is illustrating the power and the pratfalls of stardom and that if you're going to go crazy, best to err on the Fonda side.
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