The first major biography of the iconic actor Henry Fonda, a story of stardom, manhood, and the American character.
Henry Fonda’s performances–in The Grapes of Wrath, Young Mr. Lincoln, The Lady Eve, 12 Angry Men, On Golden Pond–helped define “American” in the twentieth century. He worked with movie masters from Ford and Sturges to Hitchcock and Leone. He was a Broadway legend. He fought in World War II and was loved the world over.
Yet much of his life was rage and struggle. Why did Fonda marry five times–tempestuously to actress Margaret Sullavan, tragically to heiress Frances Brokaw, mother of Jane and Peter? Was he a man of integrity, worthy of the heroes he played, or the harsh father his children describe, the iceman who went onstage hours after his wife killed herself? Why did suicide shadow his life and art? What memories troubled him so?
McKinney’s Fonda is dark, complex, fascinating, and a product of glamour and acclaim, early losses and Midwestern demons–a man haunted by what he’d seen, and by who he was.
About Devin McKinney
DEVIN MCKINNEY, author of Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History (2003), has written for The Village Voice, The Oxford American, The Guardian, The American Prospect, Film Quarterly, and numerous other publications. He lives in southern Pennsylvania.
For McKinney (Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History, 2003), Henry Fonda (1905–1982) is very much a mystery: an affable common man on screen whose piercing blue eyes suggested dark depths. It was a face of wisdom and pain, which is why no one else has ever played Abraham Lincoln with so much quiet conviction. Fonda knew suffering, and he was the cause of suffering in others. He saw death up close—as a youth in Nebraska (where he witnessed a mob take over a local jail and lynch a black man) and as a soldier in World War II and in the suicide of his wife, Frances, a wealthy heiress who finally wearied of the demands of being Mrs. Henry Fonda. (A third wife, Susan Blanchard, would also divorce him for “extreme mental cruelty.”) Though well liked as an actor, he was chilly and distant as a husband and an apparent controlling terror to children Peter and Jane. He may not have liked himself that much either, as there were possible suicide attempts of his own. Through it all, Fonda greeted every struggle with either stoic Christian Science hardiness or dogged denial, plunging into work to keep from dealing with the domestic turmoil. The face said it all. No one ever had a problem believing him as an actor. “Fonda’s fate all along, his curse and his cure, has been to become the thing that haunts him,” writes the author in this excellent work of biography. – Kirkus Reviews
Henry Fonda, a parched and private American icon
The Washington Post Book Review – October 27, 2012 (Excerpt)
Henry Fonda became an icon in an age of icons: Cagney, Bogart, Gable, Stewart, Cooper and Grant, to name a few. All of them created memorable characters, of which the most memorable was their own, an image that embodied some virtue to be emulated or trait to be admired. As Devin McKinney puts it in “The Man Who Saw a Ghost,” Fonda was “an American artist caught up in representing his country’s history” by creating “an image of the national man that is kaleidoscopic, frightening, and wildly improbable.”
Moreover, if McKinney is right, Fonda became iconic by playing an icon in his breakthrough film, “Young Mr. Lincoln.” In the movies, McKinney says, “We witness a fusing of faces, and of fates. Lincoln starts to speak; Fonda starts to exist. The one steps into destiny, the other into movie myth.” Elaborating on that myth is McKinney’s task, and he pursues it through a detailed and often provocative account of Fonda’s life and career. He attempts to demonstrate how Fonda’s Broadway triumph in “Mister Roberts” linked up with films like “Young Mr. Lincoln,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “My Darling Clementine”: “Doug Roberts . . . joined Abe Lincoln, Tom Joad, and Wyatt Earp in the public mind as a classic Henry Fonda role, a patriotic paradigm, an American hero.” [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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