Jane Fonda, 73, Breezed (she copped a '74 Oscar for Bree Daniels in Klute) into Berkeley last Wednesday evening to plug her new book, "Prime Time," at the First Congregational Church in the heart of South side's Jesus Jungle. Jesus Jungle is five block-hogging churches bounded on the North by Bancroft Way and on the South by Haste Street, West of Telegraph—two blocks of churches.
The event had been sold out for days. Extra chairs had to be crammed into the church sanctuary to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd (900) of mostly older women.
I dished with some of the audience before the talk to see if I could pick up a vibe. One woman voiced a quibble, I was curious about. 'What if you're a fatty, like me, and you hope to change, but then you see how thin Jane is and feel hopeless by comparison."
Another questioned Fonda's breast implants and other plastic surgery. "She said she wanted to age naturally."
But all doubts evaporated as Fonda worked her mojo. A charismatic key-note speaker,
she won over her gaga audience early.
Fonda started off with berkeley recollections of bringing her three-year-old daughter to a free school run by the Red Family commune, a Berkeley political-activist commune (including Bob Scheer and Tom Hayden). "It's probably all in my 22 page FBI file," from the period, she laughed.
When commuting to Berkeley to drop off her daughter at the commune school, she was living, she told me at the book signing, in a hotel in San Francisco for the filming of a 1974 film, Steelyard Blues. She was only commuting to Berkeley less than three weeks, she said. As to reports that she had "lived briefly" in the Elmwood, she said, "What's the Elmwood?"
In a big audience pleaser, Fonda apologized for wearing prescription sunglasses, but said she lost her reading glasses, and besides the sunglasses matched her clothes (laughter). That's not very Berkeley," she improvised, "but I live in Hollywood" (more laughter).
Fonda sermonized, from her new book, on aging, exercise, personal growth, and, of course—sex. "Why do I talk so much about sex?" (She told Jay Lenno, Aug. 12, she "likes it slow and easy," and told the church audience she'd been celibate six years after leaving Ted Turner but was now "shacked up" with her latest boyfriend). She said she would never marry again.
Her new book book which she wrote and researched herself ("pretty good for a college drop-out"), using, she said, her laptop sporadically. "I started out at 14 pica, and in the course of the writing needed 18 pica. I lost eye-sight to gain insight," she said, drawing a big laugh.
This was not the first infirmity she revealed. She has had a hip and knee replacement,
a lumpectomy, and plastic surgery, she said.
"It was so sad when I left Ted's twenty room mansion for one bedroom-no closet—in my daughter's apartment," she recalled. "It was one of the worst days of my life. I wondered whether I had done the right thing. Maybe I should have stayed where I didn't have to work for a living."
Fonda said she had grown in the post-Ted period, learning how to live without men; she now questions patriarchy, she said.
Acknowledging that old age "is hard if you're ill or poor," she spoke, inspirationally, of the golden years, saying it was possible to gain insights on the past and forgive loved ones—now gone. "Poor things, they did the best they could."
Ranging from Victor Frankl ("Man's Search for Meaning") to "the lowdown on getting it up in act three (we've closed shop down there"), Fonda concluded with a plea for elders to use their life-time wisdom "to make a difference in the world."
I had been told that security would be beefed up and it was. Four unarmed security guards flanked the outer aisles and one kept me from getting closer with my camera.
The senior security guard declined to say whether any guards were undercover. "Besides," he said, "if we told you that, then we'd lose our advantage."
In the question-and-answer period and during the book signing, those missing the good-old-days of Cody's got a blast from the past, as Jane offered to answer all questions, un-filtered. Although Fonda read questions written in advance rather than directly from a Cody's audience—answer all questions she did.
We learned: her favorite role model was the Lone Ranger, a nick-name Tom Hayden used in referring to her in his writing; he was not a good parent and has had to " do a lot of work" with her daughter "to explain this period."
That: she left Ted, from whom she learned a lot, but left because she wanted a slower pace to her life, (not over her conversion to Christianity in 2002, as I reported); doesn't care what's written about her; didn't care that Monster Mom was panned. "Now young people who never heard of me, know me as "Monster Mom." And she wants to do a TV series about an "old, funny, serious woman."
Cristina Doan, 20, of San Jose, a second generation Vietnamese U.C. berkeley undergraduate wrote in her submitted question that her family had been destroyed by North Vietnam and she is bitter that Fonda may have given momentum to Ho Chi Minh's victory over the South.
Jane has heard this one many times. She no longer apologizes, but commented that the young woman should be grateful she is alive, a Cal student, and in a position to "do something in the world."
A real Cody moment occurred during book signings when a young tall man with white hair read aloud in the balcony from a poetic tribute to Fonda. He was not clearly audible from downstairs, where many said his free speech rights were violated by two security guards, who ushered him out.
I met the poet outside, where he said he was from Sonoma State. He gave me the scribbled notes from his Fonda tribute, which was, as billed, a tribute. As Fonda's audience filed past the poet on the way out, many exchanged pleasantries with the alleged disruptor.
From Fonda to Berkeley farce in Jesus Jungle.
Ted Friedman has lived in the South side shadows of Jesus Jungle for 40 years. Cristina Doan speaks for herself in the Commentary Section.