Henry Jaynes Fonda (May 16, 1905 – August 12, 1982) was an American film and stage actor who had a career that spanned five decades in Hollywood. Fonda cultivated a strong, appealing screen image in several films now considered to be classics, earning one Academy Award for Best Actor from two nominations.
Henry Fonda, Actor: 12 Angry Men. Born in Grand Island, Nebraska, Henry Fonda started his acting debut with the Omaha Community Playhouse, a local amateur theater troupe directed by Dorothy Brando. He moved to the Cape Cod University Players and later Broadway, New York to expand his theatrical career from 1926 to 1934. His first major roles in Broadway include "New Faces of ...
- Acting career
- Early years
- Early career
- Later career
Henry Jaynes Fonda was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, to Elma Herberta (Jaynes) and William Brace Fonda, who worked in advertising and printing. His recent ancestry included Dutch, English, and Scottish.
Fonda started his acting debut with the Omaha Community Playhouse, a local amateur theater troupe directed by Dorothy Brando. He moved to the Cape Cod University Players and later Broadway, New York to expand his theatrical career from 1926 to 1934. His first major roles in Broadway include \\"New Faces of America\\" and \\"The Farmer Takes a Wife\\". The latter play was transferred to the screen in 1935 and became the start-up of Fonda's lifelong Hollywood career. The following year he married Frances Seymour Fonda with whom he had two children: Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda, also to become screen stars (his granddaughter is actress Bridget Fonda). He is most remembered for his roles as Abe Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), for which he received an Academy Award Nomination, and more recently, Norman Thayer in On Golden Pond (1981), for which he received an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1982. Henry Fonda is considered one of Hollywood's old-time legends and was friend and contemporary of James Stewart, John Ford and Joshua Logan. His movie career which spanned almost 50 years is completed by a notable presence in American theater and television.
This remarkable, soft-spoken American began in films as a diffident juvenile. With passing years, he matured into a star character actor who exemplified not only integrity and strength, but an ideal of the common man fighting against social injustice and oppression. Henry's father, William Brace Fonda, was a commercial printer, proprietor of the W. B. Fonda Printing Company in Omaha, Nebraska. His distant ancestors were Italians who had fled their country and moved to Holland, presumably because of political or religious persecution. In the mid-1600's, they crossed the Atlantic and settled in upstate New York where they founded a community with the Fonda name.
Growing up, Henry developed an early interest in journalism after having a story published in a local newspaper. At the age of twelve, he helped in his father's printing business for $2 a week. Following graduation from high school in 1923, he got a part-time job in Minneapolis with the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company which allowed him at first to pursue journalistic studies at the University of Minnesota. As it became difficult to juggle his working hours with his academic roster, he obtained another position as a physical education instructor at $30 a week, including room and board. By this time, he had grown to a height of six foot one and was a natural for basketball.
In 1925, having returned to Omaha, Henry reevaluated his options and came to the conclusion that journalism was not his forte, after all. For a while, he tried his hand at several temporary jobs, including as a mechanic and a window dresser. Then, despite opposition from his parents, Henry accepted an offer from Gregory Foley, director of the Omaha Playhouse, to play the title role in 'Merton of the Movies'. His father would not speak to him for a month. The play and its star received fairly good notices in the local press. It ran for a week, after which Henry observed \\"the idea of being Merton and not myself taught me that I could hide behind a mask\\". For the rest of the repertory season, Henry advanced to assistant director which enabled him to design and paint sets as well as act. A casual trip to New York, however, had already made him set his sights on Broadway. In 1928, he headed east and briefly played in summer stock before joining the University Players, a group of talented Princeton and Harvard graduates among whose number were such future luminaries as James Stewart (who would remain his closest lifelong friend), Joshua Logan and Kent Smith. Before long, Henry played leads opposite Margaret Sullavan, soon to become the first of his five wives. Both marriage and the players broke up four years later. In 1932, Henry found himself sharing a two-room New York apartment with Jimmy Stewart and Joshua Logan. For the next two years, he alternated scenic design with acting at various repertory companies. In 1934, he got a break of sorts, when he was given the chance to present a comedy sketch with Imogene Coca in the Broadway revue New Faces. That year, he also hired Leland Hayward as his personal management agent and this was to pay off handsomely.
It was Hayward who persuaded the 29-year old to become a motion picture actor, despite initial misgivings and reluctance on Henry's part. Independent producer Walter Wanger, whose growing stock company was birthed at United Artists, needed a star for The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935). With both first choice actors Gary Cooper and Joel McCrea otherwise engaged, Henry was the next available option. After all, he had just completed a successful run on Broadway in the stage version. The cheesy publicity tag line for the picture was \\"you'll be fonder of Fonda\\", but the film was an undeniable hit. Wanger, realizing he had a good thing going, next cast Henry in a succession of A-grade pictures which capitalized on his image as the sincere, unaffected country boy. Pick of the bunch were the Technicolor outdoor western The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), the gritty Depression-era drama You Only Live Once (1937) (with Henry as a back-to-the-wall good guy forced into becoming a fugitive from the law by circumstance), the screwball comedy The Moon's Our Home (1936) (with ex-wife Sullavan), the excellent pre-civil war-era romantic drama Jezebel (1938) and the equally superb Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), in which Henry gave his best screen performance to date as the 'jackleg lawyer from Springfield'. Henry made two more films with director John Ford: the pioneering drama Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), with Henry as Tom Joad, often regarded his career-defining role as the archetypal grassroots American trying to stand up against oppression. It also set the tone for his subsequent career. Whether he played a lawman (Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine (1946)), a reluctant posse member (The Ox-Bow Incident (1942), a juror committed to the ideal of total justice in (12 Angry Men (1957)) or a nightclub musician wrongly accused of murder (The Wrong Man (1956)), his characters were alike in projecting integrity and quiet authority. In this vein, he also gave a totally convincing (though historically inaccurate) portrayal in the titular role of The Return of Frank James (1940), a rare example of a sequel improving upon the original.
Henry rarely featured in comedy, except for a couple of good turns opposite Barbara Stanwyck -- with whom he shared an excellent on-screen chemistry -- in The Mad Miss Manton (1938) and The Lady Eve (1941). He was also good value as a poker-playing grifter in the western comedy A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966). Finally, just to confound those who would typecast him, he gave a chilling performance as one of the coldest, meanest stone killers ever to roam the West, in Sergio Leone's classic Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Illness curtailed his work in the 1970s. His final screen role was as an octogenarian in On Golden Pond (1981), in which he was joined by his daughter Jane. It finally won him an Oscar on the heels of an earlier Honorary Academy Award. Too ill to attend the ceremony, he died soon after at the age of 77, having left a lasting legacy matched by few of his peers.
- Henry Jaynes Fonda
- One-Take FondaHank
- May 16, 1905 in Grand Island, Nebraska, USA
Henry Fonda, American actor who appeared in more than 90 films over six decades and created quintessential American heroes. His movies included Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, The Ox-Bow Incident, Fort Apache, 12 Angry Men, Once Upon a Time in the West, and On Golden Pond.
- He Had A Strange Childhood. Henry Fonda’s childhood was downright bizarre. Born in 1905 in Nebraska, Fonda’s parents were strict Christian Scientists. This meant the entire family didn’t believe in doctors, and instead they learned to rely only on themselves for health matters and most other problems.
- He Was A Bashful Boy. As a pre-pubescent boy, Fonda’s “awkward stage” was worse than most. Not only was he short for his age, he was horribly shy—after all, his sheltered upbringing hadn’t given him a lot of practice in talking to strangers.
- He Got A Big Break. The early years of Fonda’s life were taken up with all-American pursuits like sports, helping his father at his print plant, and majoring in journalism at the University of Minnesota.
- He Had An Early Obsession. The Omaha Community Playhouse was where Fonda made his name, and for good reason. Dodie Brando, the mother of legendary actor Marlon Brando, was the one who got Fonda to audition, and he took to the stage like a duck to water.
Maybe the most underrated of all actors of the golden era, quiet, shy and ernest, Henry Fonda, was, in retrospect, one of the best actors of all time, and belongs in the discussion of the best of the Hollywood film stars.