Henry Fonda

Henry Fonda

actor, producer, additional crew

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. He was born in Grand Island, Hall, Nebraska, the son of Herberta Elma (Jaynes) and William Brace Fonda, who was a commercial printer, and 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-1600s, 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 La jolie batelière (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 La fille du bois maudit (1936), the gritty Depression-era drama J'ai le droit de vivre (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 L'insoumise (1938) and the equally superb Vers sa destinée (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 Sur la piste des Mohawks (1939) and Les raisins de la colère (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 La poursuite infernale (1946)), a reluctant posse member (L'étrange incident (1942), a juror committed to the ideal of total justice in (12 Hommes en colère (1957)) or a nightclub musician wrongly accused of murder (Le faux coupable (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 Le retour de 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 Miss Manton est folle (1938) and Un coeur pris au piège (1941). He was also good value as a poker-playing grifter in the western comedy Gros coup à Dodge City (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 Il était une fois dans l'Ouest (1968). Illness curtailed his work in the 1970s. His final screen role was as an octogenarian in La maison du lac (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.

  • Birthday

    May 16, 1905
  • Place of Birth

    Grand Island, Nebraska, USA

Known For

Awards

19 wins & 18 nominations

Online Film & Television Association
2004
Acting
Winner - OFTA Film Hall of Fame
Academy Awards, USA
1982
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Winner - Oscar
On Golden Pond (1981)
1981
The consummate actor, in recognition of his brilliant accomplishments and enduring contribution to ... More
Winner - Honorary Award
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Movies & TV Shows

All
Movies
TV Shows