Nationality: American. Born: Henry Jaynes Fonda in Grand Island, Nebraska, 16 May 1905. Education: Attended Omaha Central High School, graduated 1923; studied journalism, University of Minnesota (dropped out after second year). Military Service: U.S. Navy, 1942–45: lieutenant; Bronze Star and Presidential citation. Family: Married 1) the actress Margaret Sullavan, 1931 (divorced 1933); 2) Frances Seymour Brokaw, 1936 (died 1950); children: the actress Jane and the actor Peter; 3) Susan Blanchard, 1950 (divorced 1956), daughter: Amy (adopted); 4) Countess Afdera Franchetti, 1957 (divorced 1962), 5) Shirlee Adams, 1965. Career: 1925–27—performed at Omaha Community Playhouse, and worked at menial jobs; 1927—toured vaudeville with George Billings; assistant director at Omaha Playhouse; 1928—moved to New York; played summer stock at Cape Cod; 1928–32—appeared with University Players Guild, Falmouth, Massachusetts; 1929—Broadway debut in The Game of Love and Death ; 1929–31—associated with National Junior Theatre, Washington, D.C.; 1934—revue appearance in New Faces ; film contract with Walter Wanner; created character of Dan Harrow in The Farmer Takes a Wife on Broadway, repeated it in film debut; 1939—began association with John Ford on Young Mr. Lincoln ; to obtain role of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath , required to sign seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox; 1948—returned to Broadway in acclaimed performance as Mister Roberts ; early 1950s—concentrated on stage appearances, culminating in portrayal of defense lawyer in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial ; 1959–60—in TV series The Deputy (also co-producer); 1971–72—in TV series The Smith Family ; 1974—toured and appeared on Broadway in one-man show Clarence Darrow ; 1976—in TV mini-series Captains and the Kings , and Roots: The Next Generation , 1979. Awards: Best Foreign Actor, British Academy, for Twelve Angry Men , 1957; Life Achievement Award, American Film Institute, 1978; Honorary Oscar, "in recognition of his brilliant accomplishments and enduring contribution to the art of motion pictures," 1980; Best Actor Academy Award, for On Golden Pond , 1981. Died: In Los Angeles, 12 August 1982.
The Farmer Takes a Wife (Fleming) (as Daniel Harrow); Way Down East (Henry King) (as David Bartlett); I Dream Too Much (Cromwell) (as Jonathan Street)
Trail of the Lonesome Pine (Hathaway) (as Dave Tolliver); The Moon's Our Home (Seiter) (as Anthony Amberton); Spendthrift (Walsh) (as Townsend Middleton)
You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang) (as Eddie Taylor); Wings of the Morning (Schuster) (as Kerry); Slim (Enright) (title role); That Certain Woman (Goulding) (as Jack Merrick)
I Met My Love Again (Ripley, Logan [uncredited], and Cukor) (as Ives); Jezebel (Wyler) (as Preston Dillard); Blockade (Dieterle) (as Marco); Spawn of the North (Hathaway) (as Jim Kimmerlee); The Mad Miss Manton (Jason) (as Peter Ames)
Jesse James (Henry King) (as Frank James); Let Us Live (Brahm) (as "Brick" Tennant); The Story of Alexander Graham Bell ( The Modern Miracle ) (Cummings) (as Tom Watson); Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford) (as Abraham Lincoln); Drums along the Mohawk (Ford) (as Gil Martin)
The Grapes of Wrath (Ford) (as Tom Joad); Lillian Russell (Cummings) (as Alexander Moore); The Return of Frank James (Fritz Lang) (as Frank James/Ben Woodson); Chad Hanna (Henry King) (title role)
The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges) (as Charles Pike); Wild Geese Calling (Brahm) (as John); You Belong to Me ( Good Morning Doctor ) (Ruggles) (as Peter Kirk)
The Male Animal (Nugent) (as Tommy Turner); Rings on Her Fingers (Mamoulian) (as John Wheeler); The Magnificent Dope (Walter Lang) (as Tad); Sequence B of Tales of Manhattan (Duvivier) (as George); The Big Street (Irving Reis) (as Little Pinks); The Ox-Bow Incident ( Strange Incident ) (Wellman) (as Gil Carter)
The Immortal Sergeant (Stahl) (as Colin)
My Darling Clementine (Ford) (as Wyatt Earp)
The Long Night (Litvak) (as Joe Adams); The Fugitive (Ford) (title role); Daisy Kenyon (Preminger) (as Peter)
On Our Merry Way ( A Miracle Can Happen ) (King Vidor and Fenton) (as Hank); Fort Apache (Ford) (as Colonel Owen Thursday)
Jigsaw (Markle) (as nightclub waiter)
Grant Wood (Sorkin/Kipnis—short: included in compilation film Pictura , 1952) (as narrator); Home of the Hopeless (short) (as narrator)
The Growing Years (Resnick—short, for Girl Scouts) (as narrator); Benjy (Zinnermann—short) (as narrator)
The Impressionable Years (Elgar) (as narrator); Pictura (Dupont, Emmer, Hessens, and Resnais—doc) (as narrator)
Mister Roberts (Ford and LeRoy) (as Lieutenant Roberts)
War and Peace (King Vidor) (as Pierre); The Wrong Man (Hitchcock) (as Manny Balestrero)
The Tin Star (Anthony Mann) (as Morg Hickman); Twelve Angry Men (Lumet) (as Juror Number Eight, + co-pr)
Stage Struck (Lumet) (as Lewis Easton); Reach for Tomorrow (Weissman—short) (as narrator)
Warlock (Dmytryk) (as Clay Blaisdell); The Man Who Understood Women (Johnson) (as Willie Bauche)
Advise and Consent (Preminger) (as Robert Leffingwell); The Longest Day (Annakin, Marton, Wicki, and Oswald) (as Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.)
"The Railroad" ep. of How the West Was Won (George Marshall) (as Jethro Stuart); Spencer's Mountain (Daves) (as Clay Spencer); Rangers of Yellowstone (short) (as narrator)
The Best Man (Schaffner) (as William Russell); Fail Safe (Lumet) (as the President); Sex and the Single Girl (Quine) (as Frank)
The Rounders (Kennedy) (as Howdy Lewis); In Harm's Way (Preminger) (as CINCPAC Admiral); Battle of the Bulge (Annakin) (as Lieutenant Colonel Kiley)
One ep. of La Guerre secrète ( La guerra segreta ; Spione unter sich ; The Dirty Game ; The Dirty Agents ) (Terence Young, Christian-Jaque, and Lizzani) (as Kourlov); A Big Hand for the Little Lady ( Big Deal at Dodge City ) (Cook) (as Meredith)
Welcome to Hard Times ( Killer on a Horse ) (Kennedy) (as Will Blue); Stranger on the Run (Siegel—for TV) (as Ben Chamberlin); The Golden Flame (Brown) (as narrator); All about People (for United Jewish Welfare Fund—doc)
Firecreek (McEveety) (as Larkin); Yours, Mine and Ours (Shavelson) (as Frank Beardsley); Madigan (Siegel) (as Commissioner Anthony X. Russell); The Boston Strangler (Fleischer) (as John S. Bottomly); Born to Buck (Tibbs) (as narrator); C'era una volta il West ( Once upon a Time in the West ) (Sergio Leone) (as Frank)
An Impression of John Steinbeck—Writer (Wrye—short) (as narrator)
Too Late the Hero (Aldrich) (as Captain Nolan); There Was a Crooked Man (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (as Woodward Lopeman); The Cheyenne Social Club (Kelly) (as Harley Sullivan)
Sometimes a Great Notion ( Never Give an Inch ) (Paul Newman) (as Henry Stamper); Directed by John Ford (Bogdanovich—doc) (as interviewee)
The Red Pony (Totten—for TV) (as Carl Tiffin); Ash Wednesday (Peerce) (as Mark Sawyer); The Alpha Caper ( Inside Job ) (Robert Michael Lewis—for TV) (as Mark Forbes); Le Serpent ( The Serpent ) (Verneuil) (as Allan Davies); Film Making Techniques: Acting (Barr—doc) (as interviewee)
Mussolini—ultimo atto ( The Last Four Days ; Last Days of Mussolini ) (Lizzani) (as Cardinal Schuster); Il mio nome e nessuno ( My Name Is Nobody ) (Valeril) (as Jack Beauregard); Valley Forge (as narrator)
Collision Course (Page—for TV)
Midway ( Battle of Midway ) (Smight) (as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz); The Displaced Person (Glenn Jordan—for TV)
Tentacles ( Tentacoli ) (Hellman, i.e., Sonia Assonitis); Rollercoaster (Goldstone) (as Simon Davenport); Il grande attaco ( The Great Battle ; The Biggest Battle ; Battle Force ; La battaglia di Mareth ; The Battle of Mareth ) (Lenzi) (as "Gen. Foster"); The World of Andrew Wyeth (Schwartz and Wallace—for TV) (introductory appearance); Alcohol Abuse: The Early Warning Signs (short) (as narrator)
The Great Smokey Roadblock ( The Last of the Cowboys ; Elegant John and His Ladies ) (John Leone) (as Elegant John); Fedora (Wilder) (as himself); Big Yellow Schooner to Byzantium (Stouffer—short) (as narrator); Home to Stay (Delbert Mann—for TV); The Swarm (Irwin Allen) (as Dr. Krim); America's Sweetheart: The Mary Pickford Story (Edwards—for TV) (as narrator)
Meteor (Neame) (as President of the United States); Wanda Nevada (Peter Fonda) (as Prospector); City on Fire (Rakoff) (as Fire Chief Albert Risley)
Gideon's Trumpet (Robert E. Collins—for TV) (as Clarence Earl Gideon); The Jilting of Granny Weatherall (Haines—for TV); The Oldest Living Graduate (Hofsiss—for TV)
On Golden Pond (Rydell) (as Norman Thayer Jr.); Summer Solstice (Rosenblum—for TV)
My Life , as told to Howard Teichman, New York, 1981.
"Fonda on Fonda," in Films and Filming (London), February 1963.
"Reflections on Forty Years of Make-Believe," interview with C. L. Hanson, in Cinema (Beverly Hills), December 1966.
Interview with Roberta Ostroff, in Take One (Montreal), March-April 1972.
"Fonda on Fonda," interview with R. Nogueira, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1973.
Springer, John, The Fondas: The Films and Careers of Henry, Jane, and Peter Fonda , New York, 1970.
Kerbel, Michael, Henry Fonda , New York, 1975.
Goldstein, Norm, Henry Fonda: His Life and Work , London, 1982.
Thomas, Tony, The Films of Henry Fonda , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1983.
Cole, Gerald, and Wes Farrell, The Fondas , London, 1984.
Roberts, Allen, and Max Goldstein, Henry Fonda: A Biography , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1984.
Fonda, Afdera, Never before Noon: An Autobiography , with Clifford Thurlow, New York, 1986.
Piton, Jean-Pierre, Henry Fonda , Paris, 1986.
Tiratova, Evgeniia, Genri Fonda , Moscow, 1989.
Collier, Peter, The Fondas: A Hollywood Dynasty , London, 1991.
Sweeney, Kevin, Henry Fonda: A Bio-Bibliography , New York, 1992.
Springer, John, "Henry Fonda," in Films in Review (New York), November 1960.
Ross, Lillian, "Henry Fonda," in New Yorker , 28 October 1961.
Cowie, Peter, "Fonda," in Films and Filming (London), April 1962.
Hagen, R., "Fonda: Without a Method," in Films and Filming (London), June 1966.
Logan, Joshua, "Fonda Memories," in Show (Hollywood), April 1970.
Current Biography 1974 , New York, 1974.
"Dialogue on Film: Henry Fonda," seminar in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1977.
Morris, George, "Henry Fonda," in The Movie Star , edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Rosterman, R., "Henry Fonda Omaha Tribute," in Films in Review (New York), April 1981.
Corliss, Richard, "Two Who Get It Right," in Time (New York), 16 November 1981.
Buckley, M., "Henry Fonda," in Films in Review (New York), January 1982.
Sarris, Andrew, "Henry Fonda: An Appreciation," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1982.
Schickel, Richard, "The Making of a Legend—From Abe Lincoln to Norman Thayer," in People Weekly (New York), 12 April 1982.
Obituary in New York Times , 13 August 1982.
Schickel, Richard, "A Palpable, Homespun Integrity," in Time (New York), 23 August 1982.
Obituary in Cinéma (Paris), October 1982.
Cieutat, M., "Henry Fonda ou l'Amérique des certitudes," in Positif (Paris), March 1983.
Fonda, Jane, "Remembering Dad," in TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 11 January 1992.
* * *
If one actor could be taken as the personification of liberal America, it would have to be Henry Fonda. In contrast to the twofisted, redneck persona of John Ford's other favorite protagonist, John Wayne, Fonda stood for a quiet, troubled decency. His was a figure of reasoned integrity, slow to anger, aiming always to overcome his opponents by persuasion rather than force, if humanly possible. Dreamy idealism emanated from his shy, gangling lope. Four years into his film career he played Young Mr. Lincoln ; his Tom Joad aside, this portrait of Lincoln as a struggling, truth-seeking young lawyer is the definitive early Fonda performance.
Fonda's acting, like his screen image, was built around an unpretentious honesty, a seemingly artless naturalism which concealed a good deal of hard work. "My goal," he once remarked, "is that the audience must never see the wheels go round, not see the work that goes into this. It must seem effortless and real." His achievement was to make goodness appear both likable and credible, even if on occasion a touch priggish. There was a darker side to his character, which rarely appeared on screen, although he was now and again cast in unsympathetic roles and even, late in his career, as villains. Fonda himself was well aware of this less amiable aspect. "I don't really like myself. Never have. People mix me up with the characters I play." Perhaps for that reason, he was only really happy while working. "I was damn lucky I became an actor. . . . Acting to me is putting on a mask. The worst torture that can happen to me is not having a mask to get in back of."
John Ford supplied Fonda with several of his best masks. In addition to his Abe Lincoln, he was a serenely heroic Wyatt Earp in the mythopoetic My Darling Clementine , and the emotional power of his Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath —building skillfully on his own Midwest rural background—lent validity to that film's populism. Ford also made shrewd use of Fonda's stuffier side, casting him against type as the stiff-necked martinet to John Wayne's easygoing subordinate in Fort Apache .
With his air of melancholy determination, Fonda was ideally fitted for those films in which a lone individual reluctantly but doggedly resists the consensus: the protestor against a lynching in Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident , the dissenting conscience in Lumet's archetypal jury-drama Twelve Angry Men . The downbeat, claustrophobic impact of Hitchcock's The Wrong Man derived in great part from the intensity of Fonda's central performance. He could also play comedy, though the roles that came his way were far from his best. Sturges's The Lady Eve provided a sparkling exception, Fonda preserving an engaging solemnity in the face of Stanwyck's protean and wily adventuress.
Integrity can become boring, and so at times could Fonda—especially in a bad film, of which he was cast in far too many. Twice in his career he fled from Hollywood entirely: into the Navy during the war, and then from 1948 to 1955 returning to his first and lasting love, the theater. Only Ford's insistence lured him back for the film of his Broadway hit, Mr. Roberts . Ironically, the two men then disagreed vehemently over interpretation, eventually coming to blows, and never worked together again.
Parts were never lacking, but the films got duller, with Fonda filling stolid cameos as authority figures. Sergio Leone, though, offered him the blackest role of his career, in Once upon a Time in the West . Fonda played it to the hilt, gunning down defenseless nine-yearolds with evident relish. His last feature film, On Golden Pond , brought his long-delayed Best Actor Oscar, and his first good role in years. The dignity of his performance, and that of Katharine Hepburn, rescued the movie from gross sentimentality, and turned it into a moving valedictory.
Fonda also is the senior member of one of Hollywood's most celebrated acting families. Daughter Jane became a preeminent (and highly controversial) movie star of the 1960s and 1970s; son Peter's participation in Easy Rider alone earns him more than an asterisk in the Hollywood history books; and commencing in the late 1980s, granddaughter Bridget (the daughter of Peter) became a star of Hollywood films. And since his death, Fonda (along with his family) has been the subject of several biographies.
—Philip Kemp, updated by Rob Edelman