“Through most of my life, I have been defined by my parents and my husbands. But finally, having done what I call in my book a life review, I understand who I am. I’m a late bloomer to that, but since we live so much longer, it’s a wonderful thing”. Reports Jane McDonald.
American actress, writer, political activist and fitness guru Jane Fonda rose to fame in the 1960s with films Barbarella and Cat Ballou. She has won two Academy Awards and received several other movie awards and nominations during more than 50 years as an actress, and is most often known for her workout videos. She produced and starred in over 20 exercise videos released between 1982 and 1995, and once again in 2010.
In her memoirs Prime Time, released last year, Fonda speaks about the joy of being old, the theme of her life being gutsiness, and devotes almost 50 pages to sex advice.
“I have never found a book that talks about everything from the psyche and spirit and wisdom to penile implants,” she told Time magazine. “So I decided that I’d write about as much of the research as I possibly could – everything I wanted to know as a woman who is 73 years old and still sexually active. I see people who aren’t traditionally beautiful, but if they’re having good sex, you can tell.”
She’s written it in her “Act III,” and at age 73 seems to be at peace with who she has become, older and wiser, with the addition of a new hip and knee. Prime Time is part autobiographical confessional, part life advice, the two intertwined, so that reading the book is often like talking to a friend — if the friend were an Academy Award-winning actress with a string of famous husbands – with Fonda’s honesty making her anecdotes more compelling.
If you’re wondering about online dating, Fonda says go for it, but be sure you know what you want out of the relationship first. She met her now-boyfriend, music producer Richard Perry, when she wasn’t looking and actress Carrie Fisher reconnected the two after they had met decades earlier.
“When we’ve grown up (and that took a while for me),” she writes, “we are clearer about who we are, what we want and don’t want, and this can mean that later in life the unexpected can always happen — if we remain open to it.”
In her own terms, Fonda has married three very ‘alpha’ men: Roger Vadim, the creative alpha; Tom Hayden, the political alpha; and Ted Turner, the explorer alpha. “I’ve never been turned on to a man who couldn’t teach me new things. They all taught me new things, but Ted taught me so much,” she says.
“One of the reasons Ted and I split up is that Ted does not slow down. Ted lives horizontally, moving across his land and then across the world horizontally – chased, I believe, by demons. I wanted to live vertically, and I told him so, and he wasn’t able tochange.” Fonda believes instead that it is wonderful to mellow with age, “…the natural slowing down that comes with age is really important.”
“Most people who are older are more content if they’re positive. That’s what doing a life review did for me. It allows you to look at your past through new eyes, eyes of forgiveness. If you go through life in bitterness and depression, then that becomes the norm. If you look at life with forgiveness, the pathways change and they become the new norm.”
Fonda maintains an upbeat tone throughout the book (which lucky because let’s face it, no one wants to read a depressing book on aging), and she’s careful not to assume everyone has the means and privileges she does.
In her eating-healthy section the advice is, other than eating by color, is to never diet. “It’s one thing to not eat healthy when young, but when you’re older, it’s much more important… every calorie needs to be whole” she says. When it comes to staying healthy and ‘living in the moment’, Fonda says; “Being in nature helps me. Walking. Climbing. I’m never happier than at 14,000 feet.”
There are stories about her own struggles with self-esteem, relationships and health to reassure readers that she often labored to find the answers to life’s big questions. Fonda doesn’t stop at the emotional stuff — there’s financial and health advice in the mix, including retirement planning and the practicalities of sex in later years.
Some of Prime Time’s advice is eye-rollingly rudimentary, as with her 11 ingredients for successful aging, which include not abusing alcohol, getting enough sleep, exercising, but it’s the chapter on sex that will no doubt be appreciated by men and women who perhaps don’t feel comfortable talking to their own doctor about changes in their bodies — this at least may be a catalyst for starting a dialogue.
According to anyone with an opinion about the Fondas, the single most formative event in the family’s history was the 1950 suicide of Jane’s mother, Frances. She slit her throat after calling out to Jane, who ignored her, and who carries the lifelong guilt of not having tried to help. Many biographies and memoirs touch upon this incident, among them Peter Fonda’s “Don’t Tell Dad,” Brooke Hayward’s “Haywire” and Henry Fonda’s “Fonda: My Life,” and Fonda’s own “My Life So Far”, but interestingly the ever-optimistic Prime Time stays clear of the subject.
Fonda says she will always regret the controversial 1972 photograph showing her sitting on a North Vietnamese missile launcher aimed at American soldiers. She told Britain’s Hello! Magazine; “In 1972 I was photographed… without really realizing what I was doing. I paid heavily for that mistake, and am still criticized for it. I’ll go to my grave with regrets about that picture.”
However the chirpy Prime Time does not dwell on Fonda’s past politics. “Today, as the separate skeins of my life weave themselves into its final fabric,” she writes, it is aging that she wants to address. She cites research and interviews with upbeat, lively, sexually active older people to extract all-purpose lessons about endurance.
This older, mellower Fonda provides a sharp contrast with the no-nonsense Jane who talked so openly about her wild and varied experiences in her books of the past. Here Fonda arrives at generalities that happen to suit her specific personality. “Interestingly, I discovered research that indicates that whether our childhoods were happy or miserable is not all that important in later life,” this survivor of a parental suicide interestingly points out.
In talking to Time magazine recently Fonda says if she could go back in time she would tell her younger self that, “This too shall pass. It’s much more important to be interested than to be interesting!”
“There’s a study and what was found was that starting at 50, people across the board are happier, less hostile, less anxious than when they were younger. The scientists aren’t sure why, but there are several possibilities. Older people have a long backward view. They’ve been there and done that and survived. We know what we need. We travel lighter.”
And what of that famous stripy leotard? Well Fonda says she still has it. “I found it way in the back of a storage room. I was so happy.”
Jane Fonda’s book Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit; Making the Most of All of Your Life is available now through Random House (www.randomhouse.com.au) and is highly recommended.