Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 23 February 1939; son of Henry Jaynes (an actor) and Frances Sophia (a financier; maiden name, Seymour) Fonda; brother of actress-activist Jane Fonda. Family: Married 1) Susan Jane Brewer, October 8, 1961 (divorced, April 1974); 2) Portia Rebecca Crockett McGuane (a writer), 1976; children: Bridget, Justin, Thomas (step-son). Education: Attended University of Omaha, 1957–60. Career: Film debut as Dr. Mark Cheswick, Tammy and the Doctor , Universal, 1963; actor in television specials, including Carol for Another Christmas , 1964; The Return of the Smothers Brothers , 1970; Circus of the Stars , CBS, 1977; Welcome Home , HBO, 1987; Sgt. Pepper: It Was Twenty Years Ago Today , PBS, 1987; Unauthorized Biography: Jane Fonda , syndicated, 1988; National Basketball Players Association Awards , 1989; Dennis Hopper , Crazy about the Movies , Cinemax, 1991; Fonda on Fonda , TNT, 1992; Blue Water Hunters (documentary), PBS, 1992; and Harley-Davidson: The American Motorcycle , TBS, 1993; narrated The American Dream TV series, 1998; actor in several television episodes, 1962—; actor in roles on stage, including (stage debut) lead, The Golden Fleece , Omaha Community Playhouse, Omaha, NE, 1960; (New York debut) Private Oglethorpe, Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole , Morosco Theatre, 1961; and lead, Under the Yum Yum Tree , Mineola Playhouse, New York City, 1962. Awards: Theatre World ward, 1961–62; Golden Globe award, best actor, Independent Spirit Award, best male lead, and New York Film Critics Circle Award, best actor, all 1998, all for Ulee's Gold. Address: Indian Hills Ranch, Route 38G, Box 2040, Livingston, MT 59047, U.S.A. Agent: William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
The Victors (Foreman) (as Weaver); Tammy and the Doctor (Keller) (as Dr. Mark Cheswick)
Lilith (Rossen) (as Stephen Evshevsky); The Young Lovers (Goldwyn Jr.) (as Eddie Slocum)
The Wild Angels (Corman) (as Heavenly Blues)
The Trip (Corman) (as Paul Groves)
Certain Honorable Men (Segal—for TV) (as Robbie Conroy); Tre passi nel delirio ( Spirits of the Dead , Tales of Mystery and Imagination ) (Fellini, Malle, Vadim) (as Baron Wilhelm)
Easy Rider (Hopper) (as Wyatt (Captain America)) (+ sc, pr)
The Hired Hand (as Harry Collings) (+ sc, d); The Last Movie ( Chinchero ) (Hopper) (as Young Sheriff)
Two People (Wise) (as Evan Bonner)
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (Hough) (as Larry Rayder); Los Cazadores ( Open Season ) (Collinson) (as Ken)
Race with the Devil (Starrett) (as Roger March); 92 in the Shade (McGuane) (as Skelton); Killer Force (Guest) (as Bradley)
Futureworld (Heffron) (as Chuck Browning); Fighting Mad (Demme) (as Tom Hunter)
Circus of the Stars #2 (Bregman—for TV) (as Performer); Outlaw Blues (Heffron) (as Bobby Ogden)
High-Ballin' (Carter) (as Rane)
The Recon Game (Collinson); Wanda Nevada (as Beaudray Demerille) (+ d)
The Hostage Tower (Guzman—for TV) (as Mike Graham)
The Cannonball Run (Needham) (as Chief Biker)
Split Image (Kotcheff) (as Kirklander)
Spasms ( Death Bite ) (Fruet) (as Dr. Tom Brasilian); Daijoobu, Mai Furendo ( All Right, My Friend ) (Murakami) (as Gonzy Traumerai); Dance of the Dwarfs ( Dance of the Dwarves , Jungle Heat ) (Trikonis) (as Harry Bediker); Peppermint-Frieden (Rosenbaum) (as Mr. Freedom)
Certain Fury (Gyllenhaal) (as Rodney); A Reason to Live (Levin—for TV) (as Gus Stewart)
Hawken's Breed (Pierce); Mercenary Fighters ( Freedom Fighters ) (Nissimoff) (as Virelli)
Indifferenti, Gli (Bolognini, mini—for TV) (as Leo); Sonore ( Sound ) (Proietti—for TV)
The Rose Garden ( Der Rosengarten ) (Rademakers) (as Herbert Schluter)
Fatal Mission (Rowe) (+ sc); Flashing on the Sixties: A Tribal Document (Law) (as Himself)
Family Express (as Nick)
South Beach (Williamson) (as Jake)
Bodies, Rest & Motion (Steinberg) (as Motorcycle Rider); Deadfall (Coppola) (as Pete); Molly & Gina ( Burnhill ) (Leder) (as Larry Stanton); Warren Oates: Across the Border (Thurman) (as Himself)
Nadja (Almereyda) (as Dracula/Dr. Van Helsing); Love and a .45 (Talkington) (as Vergil Cheatham)
Grace of My Heart (Anders) (as Guru Dave); Escape from L.A. (Carpenter) (as Pipeline); Don't Look Back (Murphy—for TV) (as Mouse); Painted Hero ( Shadow of the Past ) (Benedict) (as Ray the Cook)
Ulee's Gold (Nunez) (as Ulysses "Ulee" Jackson)
The Tempest (Bender—for TV) (as Guideon Prosper)
The Limey (Soderbergh) (as Valentine); The Passion of Ayn Rand (Menaul) (as Frank); Keeping Time (Cain); Motorcycles: Born to Be Wild (for TV) (as Host/Narrator)
Thomas and the Magic Railroad (Allcroft) (as Grandpa Burnett); Stone South of Heaven, West of Hell (Yoakam); Route 66: America's Main Street (Baker—for TV) (as Host); Second Skin (Roodt) (as Merv Gutman)
Idaho Transfer ( Deranged ) (d)
By FONDA: books—
Don't Tell Dad (memoir), New York, 1998.
On FONDA: books—
Brough, James, Fabulous Fondas , McKay, 1970.
Springer, John, The Fondas: The Films and Careers of Henry, Jane, and Peter Fonda , New York, 1970.
Collier, Peter, The Fondas: A Hollywood Dynasty , New York, 1991.
Hill, Lee, Easy Rider , London, 1996.
On FONDA: articles—
Miller, E., "Peter Fonda on His Own," in Seventeen , August 1963.
Reed, R., "Holden Caulfield at 27," in Esquire , February 1968.
Ewing, Iain, and Tony Reif, "Fonda," in Take One , vol. 2, no. 3, January-February 1969.
Goldstein, Richard, "Captain America, The Beautiful," in The New York Times , 3 August 1969.
Campbell, Elizabeth, "Peter Fonda and the Making of Easy Rider ," in Rolling Stone , 6 September 1969.
"Thoughts and Attitudes about Easy Rider ," in Film Quarterly , Autumn 1969.
Thompson, Toby, "The Disappearance of Peter Fonda," in Esquire , March 1984.
Maslin, Janet, "From the Company of Bees to That of Humans," in The New York Times , 13 June 1997.
Schoemer, Karen, "Rebirth of a Cult Hero," in Newsweek , 16 June 1997.
Singer, M., "Whose Movie Is This?" in New Yorker , 22–29 June 1998.
Wertheimer, Ron, "The Ayn Rand Cliff Notes: Philosophy as Foreplay," in The New York Times , 28 May 1999.
Maslin, Janet, "Touring Show-Business Royalty and Its Under-world," in The New York Times , 8 October 1999.
* * *
Most movie stars are either briefly famous or seem to have been around forever; an acting career with a "second act" is a rarity. But Peter Fonda is definitely an actor's whose career has enjoyed a second act. After becoming internationally famous with his 1969 classic Easy Rider , it would be another 28 years before he received his first Academy Award nomination for the 1997 film Ulee's Gold —and saw the rebirth of his career.
Peter Fonda is a member of one of filmdom's most formidable Hollywood dynasties—the Fondas—and for much of his career he has had to work in the shadow of father Henry, sister Jane, and even daughter Bridget. Born in 1939, Peter was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Nebraska following his mother's suicide, and he studied acting at the University of Omaha. He made his Broadway debut in Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole , for which the New York Drama Critics Circle named him the most promising actor of 1961. Following his screen debut in Tammy and the Doctor (1963), he made two more big-budget films— The Victors and Lillith (both 1964)—before a marijuana-influenced lifestyle and appearance change left him virtually unemployable in mainstream films.
Fortunately this was no impediment for his new-found friends at American International Pictures under Roger Corman, then the King of B movies. Fonda's next two films, The Wild Angels (1966) and the Jack Nicholson-written The Trip (1967), were popular with the youth market, became cult favorites and familiarized Fonda with the basics of 'guerrilla' filmmaking—working extraordinarily cheaply outside the studio system. During a 1967 publicity tour for The Trip , after smoking some grass and drinking some beer in his Toronto hotel room filled with publicity photos he was expected to sign, Fonda kept starring at a publicity still from The Wild Angels of himself and Bruce Dern on a motorcycle, and "I understood immediately just what kind of motorcycle, sex, and drug movie I should make next." Instead of a hundred Hells Angels on their way to a funeral, it would be two bikers in search of America—a reverse Western, heading East. He knew how it would end and, after sketching out the beginning and middle, he called his friend Dennis Hopper and proposed that they both write and star in what would eventually become Easy Rider , with Fonda to produce and Hooper to direct. Writer Terry Southern also made major contributions to the script. Because Fonda had miscalculated when Mardi Gras started, the filmmakers were suddenly forced to film the Mardi Gras sequence first. While filming the graveyard scene where the two leads and their hooker dates (Karen Black and Toni Basil) drop acid, Hooper asked Fonda to climb up onto a statue and ask his mother why she had abandoned him by committing suicide. Fonda objected to using his personal life so publicly, but Hopper won out, and the final scene is quite effective.
Fonda as Wyatt (Captain America) is definitely the film's central character; he is the one who inevitably realizes that he and Billy "blew it," and according to The New York Times he also "embodies an entire culture—its heroes and its myths." Playboy said not since James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause or Brando's The Wild One "has a movie actor so captured the imagination and admiration of a generation." But Fonda's acting is often overlooked because of the much-flashier roles of his two main costars: Hopper as Billy, the ultimate egocentric hippie, and Nicholson as drunken attorney George Hanson, in a performance that would forever establish his film career. In fact, both Hopper (before Easy Rider in Giant , and after in Apocalypse Now , Blue Velvet , and Speed ) and Nicholson (from Five Easy Pieces to As Good As It Gets ) have long had distinguished film careers, while a 1984 Esquire article about Fonda was entitled "The Disappearance of Peter Fonda." It concerned how he had directed a couple films and had appeared in dozens of low-budget and foreign flicks, some of which did quite well ( Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry for example), "and twenty-odd films later I haven't been offered a large-budget movie. Why aren't I offered the good scripts, like my sister."
That good script he hoped for in 1984 turned out to be for a no-budget film released in 1997: Victor Nuñez's Ulee's Gold , the story of a Florida beekeeper with a son in prison, a vanished daughter-inlaw, and two granddaughters living with him with whom he barely connects. The plot begins when his son calls from prison telling Ulee he has to go collect his daughter-in-law, who is being held by two thugs. When Fonda read the script he knew, "This was the role for me. I was this man. The part of Ulee—short for Ulysses—demanded the kind of performance only actors like my father give. They must be played with the lightest touch. As a matter of fact, they must be played by being the part." The New York Times ' Janet Maslin called his performance "quietly astonishing," adding, "It would be accurate but barely adequate to call this the finest work of Mr. Fonda's career. Lionized nearly 30 years ago as the epitome of hip complacency, then dormant for a long while, he emerges here as a figure of unexpected stature." His performance earned him an Oscar nomination and more roles. In Steven Soderbergh's The Limey (1999), Maslin said Fonda played his role "with what seems to be a sense memory of every Hollywood-style rich hipster he ever encountered, which is to say he gets right into the spirit of things." And The New York Times ' Ron Wertheimer claimed that, in the Showtime film The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999), "only Peter Fonda, as Rand's pathetic husband, Frank O'Connor, is really worth watching." One gets the feeling Fonda will at last be given the opportunity to play more roles worth watching.