Of all the luminaries who spoke for and showed up for Jane Fonda’s American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award last night, the most moving came from two different parts of the double Oscar winner’s life: her son, actor Troy Garity, and famed Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, who wrote “Born on the Fourth of July.”
Garity, keeping back tears, spoke poignantly about being the son of “Hanoi Jane.” He joked, “My firs 13 birthday parties were Hollywood fundraisers.” Garity was joined by his wife, Simone, and his older sister Vanessa. Also speaking on behalf of the Fonda family was Jane’s famous actor brother Peter Fonda, who toasted her from his table on the floor of the Dolby Theater with recollections of their Oscar winner Hollywood icon dad, Henry Fonda.
Kovic, a surprise speaker from the stage in his wheelchair, reminisced about protesting the Vietnam war with Fonda in the 1970s. “I love you, Jane,” he said.
Fonda, glowingly beautiful at age 76 in a Vera Wang gown, told the crowd: “It’s more important to stay interested than interesting.” She bemoaned the fact that she hadn’t asked more questions of the legends she acted with when she had the chance. She said the only younger star who ever asked her questions was Meryl Streep, on the set of “Julia” in 1977.
In his opening remarks of the night, AFI head Bob Gazzale told the glittering crowd that Fonda had picketed the annual AFI dinner at least twice. Once was over American involvement in Vietnam. Another time, she and Shirley MacLaine protested the lack of women in key Hollywood roles. Gazzale pointed out that led directly to the AFI changing its policies.
The crowd dressed in formal attire could not have been more star oriented. Michael Douglas (who gave Fonda the award) was joined by wife Catherine Zeta Jones. Among the presenters was Sir Howard Stringer, Sally Field, Sandra Bullock, Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Cameron Diaz, Jeff Daniels, Eva Longoria, Eve Ensler and comedian Wanda Sykes– who made some unpublishable jokes about the cause of Michael Douglas’s throat cancer and HPV. Sykes was also dressed like “Barbarella.” Much of what she said will be cut from the televised version.
HBO brought a contingent from “The Newsroom,” in which Fonda stars, including Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer (with actor husband Alessandro Nivola), Sam Waterston, Rosario Dawson, Alison Pill and Marcia Gay Harden. Other guests included director David O. Russell, married actors William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman, and Morgan Freeman, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Diane Lane, Samantha Mathis, Dylan McDermott, plus cinematographer Haskell Wexler and Fonda’s great friends, producer Paula Weinstein and actresses Melanie Griffith and Rosanna Arquette.
Last year’s AFI recipient, Mel Brooks, vowed humorously not to return, but did anyway. He told me that because of the new “Star Wars” movies, he was thinking of actually making “Spaceballs 2: The Search for the Money,” the never made but much wanted sequel to “Spaceballs.”
Fonda was seated at the main table with significant other, famed record producer Richard Perry. Perry had some of his own guests from the music world including Clive Davis and Arnold Stiefel, longtime manager of Rod Stewart, and great songwriter Carole Bayer Sager (with husband Bob Daly, former Warner Bros chief and AFI leader). Also at their table: Jackie Collins and indefatigable philanthropist Barbara Davis.
Streep’s speech is one I hope they keep intact for the TV broadcast. She remembered her work on “Julia,” her very first film, and how Fonda– hilariously– taught her how to hit her mark and stand under the right light. She thanked Jane for her “generous heart” and “presentness.”
In fact, before Meryl Streep was The Greatest American Actress, that distinction was owned by Jane Fonda, winner of two Best Actress Oscars– for “Klute” and “Coming Home,” with several more nominations.
A terrific after party nearly ended on a sour note as Hollywood regular Robert Wolders, boyfriend of Fonda’s step mother Shirlee, fell off a raised platform and hit his head. Fonda and daughter Vanessa rushed to his aide as paramedics swooped in. Luckily, Wolders recovered well enough to sit up after the Fondas’ ministrations.