Henry Jaynes Fonda

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Original article at [http://www.countyhistorian.com/cecilweb/index.php/Henry_Jaynes_Fonda "Henry Jaynes Fonda"], at Countyhistorian.com
Original article at [http://www.countyhistorian.com/cecilweb/index.php/Henry_Jaynes_Fonda "Henry Jaynes Fonda"], at Countyhistorian.com
Also see my [[Henry_Fonda_Filmography Henry Fonda Filmography]] for a list of all his films.
Also see [[Henry_Fonda_Filmography|Henry Fonda Filmography]] for a list of all his films.
This article focuses on the biography of Henry Fonda.  For more information on his ancestry see [[The Ancestry of Henry Fonda]]
This article focuses on the biography of Henry Fonda.  For more information on his ancestry see [[The Ancestry of Henry Fonda]]

Revision as of 02:12, 1 April 2009

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Henry Jaynes Fonda (1905-82), American ActorFind your family history in the World's Largest Newspaper Archive! Find News, Births and Deaths
This article should be cited as:
"Henry Jaynes Fonda", by Will Johnson, professional genealogist wjhonson@aol.com, at CountyHistorian.com URL: http://www.countyhistorian.com/cecilweb/index.php/Henry_Jaynes_Fonda, copyright 2007-8, all rights reserved.

Original article at "Henry Jaynes Fonda", at Countyhistorian.com

Also see Henry Fonda Filmography for a list of all his films.

This article focuses on the biography of Henry Fonda. For more information on his ancestry see The Ancestry of Henry Fonda

gal_Fonda_Henry_2.jpg A very young Henry Fonda (Credit afi.com)


Henry Jaynes Fonda

Early life (1905-1924)

William Brace Fonda (b. 1879), Henry's father was enumerated in the Federal Census in 1900 living, as a single man, in Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska with his own parents, and listed there as a salesman. On 10 Jun 1903, William Fonda married Herberta Jaynes (b. 1879), probably in or near Omaha, Nebraska. Moving to Grand Island, Hall County, Nebraska, they rented a house from Grand Island banker George Bell in 1904 and it was in that house that their eldest child Henry Fonda was born 16 May 1905. They only lived there for six more months. The house, marked as Henry Fonda's birthplace, was in 1966 relocated after Henry paid to have it moved from downtown, ten miles to the location at the Stuhr Museum (Seguin Gazette Enterprise (Seguin, Texas), 13 Aug 1982, page 3).

William and Herberta had two more children: Harriet in 1907/8 and Jayne in 1909/10, both born in Nebraska. Between 1905 and 1910 the family had moved back to Omaha, where they are enumerated in the Federal Census that year. Many years later, a newspaper article in which Henry talks about his father states "when he was six months old the family moved to Omaha". It's not a direct quote from Henry however, so it's unclear what the source is for this fact.

Some biographers have given the impression that William Fonda moved to Omaha and opened a print shop; however, William's occupation in 1900 was "Salesman", and in 1910 it was "Salesman, Advertising Jobber". In addition, the 1910 enumeration states specifically that he was an employee, not working on his own account. When he registered for the WWI Draft on Sep 1918, William then lists his occupation as self-employed Printer. In 1920 still in Omaha, William Fonda is now a "Proprietor, Commercial Print Shop". You will notice that in 1920, at age 14, Henry Fonda is listed as an "Office Boy" for a "Stocks and B[onds]" company.

Henry Fonda graduated from Omaha Central High School in 1923. A newspaper mention of him ten years later (The Soda Springs Sun (Soda Springs, Idaho), 20 Apr 1934) states that "during his last two years in high school he worked as a trouble-shooter" [apparently with the telephone or other communications equipment], he then went to the University of Minnesota and got a degree, his thesis being on communication systems. Another source states that he studyied journalism for two years. (see here) A newspaper article dated 1935 states that he "...trained two troups of boy scouts as a hobby while he was a fresman at the University of Michigan." (see here) Also here in an article dated 1935 it states that he "...once worked as an instructor in a Minneapolis settlement house." A much later newspaper article ("The Fondas", by Richard L Coe, Jan 1972) states that he "...thought of himself as a future newspaperman. Hank went to the University of Minnesota as a journalism major, but dropped out from exhaustion from jobs he took to pay his way through school."


Dorothy Brando (b.~1895), was an amateur actress and the co-founder of the Omaha Community Playhouse. She was also the mother of Marlon Brando (b. 1924) and a friend to Henry Fonda's mother Herberta. She first got Henry Fonda interested in acting, but she was not a part of the cast or crew of his first role Roderick "Ricky" White in the play You and I at that playhouse, which ran for only four performances in Oct 1925. It's quite possible that the credit for encouraging Henry Fonda might go to the man who directed him in five of his first six plays there, a man named Gregory Foley.

The first newspaper mention of Henry Fonda I find is Feb 1926 (Waterloo Evening Courier, 24 Feb 1926, pg 10), when he appeared at "The Strand" playing the role of Major John Hay, secretary to Abraham Lincoln, who was played by George Billings. I here correct Biography.com which is probably citing Kevin Sweeney who incorrectly reports that this occurred only in the Summer of 1927. Answers.com here states that Billings and Fonda toured for three months, after which, he returning to Omaha, became "assistant director at the Omaha Community Playhouse."

In April 1926, Henry Fonda was "a pirate" in Captain Applejack which ran for four performances. In May he was "a footman" in The Swan which ran for four performances. In Oct 1926, it was Gregory Foley who asked Henry Fonda to play the starring role of Merton in Merton of the Movies. That December, he was "Tilly" the musical clown in He Who Gets Slapped which ran for four performances. Richard Coe goes on to state that Henry once starred opposite Dorothy Brando in O'Neills Beyond the Horizon.

"Dad had a $30-a-week job as a clerk at the Retail Credit Company in Omaha, but Marlon Brando's mother a friend of my grandmother's, got him involved in the Omaha Community Playhouse, where dad was offered the part of Merton in the play Merton of the Movies." (My Life, page 34) I think Jane here is rushing through the early chronology, and just focuses in on Merton because Merton was Henry's first starring role, and so stands out. The story of the play Merton of the Movies is that Merton is a terrible actor. When film producers see how funny his over-acting is, they put him in a comedy but tell him it's a drama.

In Apr 1927, "Greg Foley then offered him a job as the assistant director for the 1927-28 season for a flat salary of $500." (Sweeney, p5)


In his early twenties, "...he hitched a ride to Cape Cod with a family friend and soon hooked up with the University Players, a summer stock repertory company in Falmouth, Massachusetts." (My Life, p. 35) Rather then just the overly vague "his early twenties" we can pinpoint this exactly to 1928, but no earlier or later, so he was 23. And contrary to Wikipedia's nonsense, the first mention of these particular "University Players" (the name was rather generic) is in a New York Times article 25 May 1928, announcing their formation.

In May 1928, Fonda was in his last play that season in Omaha, Never Can Tell, he then drove East with a family friend and hooked up with the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts. Henry was given the juvenile lead in their production of The Barker starring Minor Watson, which ran in Jul 1928 for 7 performances. "Bernie Hanighan, a friend of Fonda's from Omaha...invited Fonda to drive with him to Falmouth...where the University Players were staging plays." (Sweeney p6) He accepted their offer to work with them for $5 a week.

Fonda performed in two plays for the University Players that Summer, but after the season ended, he had to compete with numerous other actors in the crowded New York City market. He finally found work in December 1928 with the National Junior Theatre in Washington, D.C.


In April 1929, Bernie Hanighan, organized a musical Close Up at Cambridge. The Junior season was ending and so Fonda came to Cambridge to do this one scene with Margaret Sullavan (cf "Margaret Sullavan", Wikipedia). That's when he fell in love with her. Jane seems to confuse how and where he met Margaret and pushes it forward into the Summer, "When Margaret Sullavan was invited to join the University Players the following summer in Falmouth, she stole his shy Nebraska heart. Their romance bloomed until Sullavan went off to star in a Broadway play." (My Story, p. 36).

In a 31 May 1931 New York Times article, this part of Margaret Sullavan's life is summed up by this quote:
"...[she went] to the Copley Theatre School in Boston. A year later, when she came home as the feminine lead in a road company of Strictly Dishonorable....[there came] an evening at Princeton where she replace Margaret Perry as the visiting artiste in a collegiate production of Three Artists and a Lady. [Seeing her here] Mr [Elmer] Harris ventured an offer to Miss Sullavan to appear in her first New York show."

"She appeared as Goldina opposite Fonda in the first production of their second summer stock season in 1929, The Devil in the Cheese, her debut on the professional stage." (Wikipedia, "Margaret Sullavan")

A very young Henry Fonda (Credit afi.com)

Henry Fonda made his Broadway debut as a walk‐on in 1929's The Game of Love and Death. The entry for "Henry Fonda" in the Internet Broadway database states that this play ran from Nov 1929 to Jan 1930 and that he next appeared on Broadway Oct 1932. I would note of course that the Internet Broadway database is run by a bunch of maroons who want you to snail-mail or fax them corrections! How last decade!


Henry, like many aspiring actors and singers, worked part-time, during this time, as a male model for artists. In Apr 1930 a book was published listing some of these model's with their measurements and his name was mentioned there. And right now, a dozen art historians are scrambling through dusty paintings and water-stained photographs to find a naked 25-year-old Henry Fonda....

At this time, the Omaha Community Playhouse made him an offer of a round-trip ticket and the opportunity to guest-star in any play he chose (Sweeney p7). That is how, in Apr 1930, he is enumerated, living in the household of his parents back in Omaha as an unemployed actor, and single. Kevin Sweeney says that April 1930 he was back in Omaha in the play A Kiss for Cinderella. That Summer he reprised the role, this time opposite Margaret Sullavan for the University Players in West Falmouth, Mass.

Arrrrrrghhhh! I hate it when this happens. Here on NewspaperArchive.com we see a page from the Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York), and newspaper archive has it indexed at 9 Jul 1930, page 31. This is one of the pages I was using as evidence that Henry and Margaret had married earlier than reported. OK. Now, the first thing I notice is that the image of this page actually says "Page Sixteen", not page 31. The date on the page is blurred just enough that it could be 1930 or 1936. I'm starting to get a bad feeling here. Slowly flipping back I notice something odd. Every page, even-numbered in the index appears to say "1930", but every page odd-numbered in the index appears to say "1936"! Gah! Smacks forehead, NewspaperArchive has merged two different sets of pages into one run! So apparently this announcement of a new film Reno in the Fall co-starring Henry Fonda opposite Margaret Sullavan, and calling him her "ex-husband" is supposed to be dated 9 Jul 1936. So much for my great new revelation.

Henry Fonda loved this part evidently, playing yet again the Prince in A Kiss for Cinderella in Nov 1930 opposite Suzanne Pollard (stage name "Shirley Horton"), daughter of the Governor of Virginia (Kingsport Times (Kingsport, Tennessee), 30 Nov 1930, page 8). Note that Kevin Sweeney ignores this appearance.


Margaret Sullavan's career now took off while Henry's was still on the slow burner. Margaret had "gone on the road as an understudy in a play called Strictly Dishonorable" (Sweeney p8). Margaret Sullavan then appeared at the Booth Theatre beginning 20 May 1931 in the title role in A Modern Virgin, which ran for 45 performances. On 17 Jul 1931 a New York Times article states that she "will appear" next week in the leading role of Coquette "in a production by the University Players of West Falmouth, Massachusetts". But shortly afterward on 29 Jul 1931 they were announcing that A Modern Virgin would now tour to Brighton Beach, Asbury Park, and then Chicago on 17 Aug. On 29 Oct it was announced that in the week of 9 Nov she would appear at the Booth Theater, in a play called If Love Were All. Meanwhile the New York Times took absolutely no notice of Henry Fonda.

Kevin Sweeney states that during 1931, Henry appeared in The Straw Hat in Aug in West Falmouth. (So what was Henry doing from Dec 1930 to Aug 1931?) Sweeney goes on to say that then the Players went to Baltimore where they performed Death Takes a Holiday next, and then in December The Ghost Train. These last two, Sweeney says were "with Margaret Sullavan." This off-season extension was supposedly a financial disaster, which led to the break-up of the troupe, at least for that season. But this was the first season where they had such an extended playing time.

The Wikipedia biography of Jimmy Stewart citing Houghton (1951) and also Eliot (2006) states that Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan married on Christmas Day 1931 in Baltimore where the University Players were for an 18-week Winter season, but by the following Summer of 1932 their marriage had ended. I've now found a contemporary newspaper announcement that they did marry on Christmas Day, 1931, but the place is not specified. Sweeney states on page 8 that they married "in the dining room of the Kernan Hotel in Baltimore. He was 26, she was 20" Henry's daughter Jane says, "After a year and a half of courting her, he proposed and they married. They lived in Greenwich Village, New York City, but the marriage only lasted about four months." Sweeney says "as lovers they fought ceaselessly...as husband and wife they fought even more" (page 8) By Feb or Mar, they had separated according to Sweeney, Henry announced he would not be returning to the Players and moved into a "flea-bitten hotel below 42nd Street".fondahenry.jpg

Jane Fonda, who probably knew Margaret Sullavan later in life, describes her in her autobiography as "a petite, talented, flirtatious, temperamental, Scarlett O'Hara-style southern belle...."(My Life, p36)


Margaret's career was climbing higher. On 14 Mar 1932, the New York Times states that Margaret Sullavan "has been engaged" as a member of the cast of Happy Landing which will open 28 Mar. On 4 May the New York Times states that Margaret Sullavan "who recently closed" in Happy Landing has been engaged for the leading role in Coast-to-Coast at Broad Street Theatre, Newark. On 24 May 1932 the NYT announced that The Boy Friend was set to open 6 Jun on Broadway and the cast was to include Margaret Sullavan. Meanwhile the New York Times still took no notice of Henry Fonda.

Jane Fonda states that just after Henry and Margaret separated, Margaret had taken up with producer Jed Harris. "Dad would stand outside her window, knowing Harris was inside with her."
"That just destroyed me," he said a lifetime later to Howard Teichmann. "Never in my life have I felt so betrayed, so rejected, so alone."
Could "Jed Harris" and Elmer Harris be the same person?

Meanwhile for Henry Fonda, work was non-existent. Even though he had said he wouldn't, he tried to go back to the University Players, but Joshua Logan had already replaced him with a Princeton architectural graduate named Jimmy Stewart. Fonda was forced to take a menial summer job in Surrey, Maine. (So what did Fonda do for money between say Feb and June of 1932? I haven't found anything yet.)

At this same time, Henry's future wife, socialite Frances (Seymour) Brokaw who had married George Tuttle Brokaw on 10 Jan 1931 as her first husband (New York Times, 11 Jan 1931) was "...living in splendor as Mrs Brokaw, in a mansion with a moat on Fifth Avenue..." (My Life, p 36). The exact address being 1 East 79th Street. A photo of George appears here.

It has been reported that it was in this Summer of 1932 that Henry met and was the roommate of fellow-actor Jimmy Stewart, at the Madison Square Hotel "while both worked on Broadway" (Seguin Gazette Enterprise (Seguin, Texas), 13 Aug 1982, page 3), but this is both true and false. Some sources state that Stewart was also a member of the University Players, starting that Summer, which is true. But Stewart replaced Fonda, they did not work together. Jimmy Stewart was in Massachusetts for the Summer of 1932, and Henry Fonda was in Maine. They were not roomming together in New York City, with or without Joshua Logan. And when they all did room together, it wasn't at the Madison Square Hotel.

I do not think Fonda appeared in the Theatre Unit's "Carry Nation" at West Falmouth, Massachusetts. The article in the New York Times, (5 Sep 1932, "Summer Theatres Still Testing Plays") does not mention him in the cast. The play shortly afterward moved to Broadway.

And in fact in Sep 1932, in another play that Sweeney missed, Henry Fonda played the part of Inspector Enderby in Michael and Mary (Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, NH) 6 Sep 1932), which must have had a short run as the following month he was appearing on Broadway as Eustace in I Love You Wednesday which opened 11 Oct 1932, closing that December after 63 performances. This must have appeared to Henry as a new high-water mark, he previously having only been in short-runs. Two other notable members of this cast were Humphrey Bogart and Arline Francis.

Henry's appearance in I Love You Wednesday proves that he could not have been in the Broadway run of Carry Nation as that started 29 Oct at the Biltmore and ended in November after 30 performances. However Jimmy Stewart was in this play, evidently his Broadway debut, so he must have been living in New York City at that time.

Jane says of this general period, but which I will place exactly here, "For a while he shared a two-room apartment on the West side with Josh Logan, Jimmy Stewart and radio actor Myron McCormick." (My Life, p 36) Sweeney on page 9 agrees, stating that "Fonda moved into a two-room apartment on West 64th Street with Logan, Myron McCormick and...Jimmy Stewart".

So what I think is that he may have been roommates with Stewart starting in the Fall or Winter of 1932, not the just-ended Summer. Fall was when all the summer stock actors moved back into New York City looking for the big score and living on rice and water. The University Players, now called the "Theatre Unit" however were perhaps doing a tad better, moving Carry Nation to Broadway for 30 performances.


Henry Fonda next played Winter stock in East Orange, New Jersey. He then had a role in the Broadway play Forsaking All Others which opened 1 Mar 1933, but closed quickly even with star Tallulah Bankhead. Desperate for work he took a job as a florist's assistant. "His mood wasn't helped by the news that his ex-wife had just been cast in a Hollywood film Just Yesterday (1933) (Sweeney, page 9)

Sweeney reports that during this year, Fonda worked on the sets of many productions for the Westchester Playhouse in Mount Kisco, where his ex-wife Margaret Sullavan was the "leading lady". At the end of this Summer is when Fonda, returning to New York, rented two rooms at the Madison Square Hotal, with his now best-friend Jimmy Stewart.

A 5 Dec 1933 article in the New York Times mentions that Henry Fonda is rehearsing in the play Love Story. Sweeney states that this play had Jane Wyatt, but closed after only four shows, and before reaching Broadway. Also on 5 Dec 1933, the play All Good Americans with Hope Williams and Fred Keating, opened on Broadway. Although Fonda's name is not listed in the extensive cast list given both here in the New York Times and here at the Internet Broadway Database, Fonda mentions it in his autobiography. It's just possible, that after Love Story closed prematurely, that Fonda was then given a part in All Good Americans.


Henry Fonda co-starred with Imogene Coca in director Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1934 which opened March 1934.(Dunkirk Evening Observer (Dunkirk, New York), 19 Apr 1934, page 5). This was the first of director Sillman's annual revues, each called New Faces. Note the interesting tidbit, that one of the potential backers who came to watch the auditions was none other than Libby Holmon later to be well-known in regards to her relationship with Montgomery Clift. Libby you will recall was the actress and torch-singer who married tobacco heir Zachery Smith Reynolds and his death of a gun-shot wound July 1932, caused her to be charged with his murder.

Henry had evidently pulled himself together enough by 1934 that he was able to be in a play with Margaret. The New York Times reporting that Henry Fonda "will appear" opposite Margaret Sullavan in the play Coquette at the Westchester Playhouse in Mount Kisco, New York for the week 2 Jul 1934. (New York Times, 15 Jun 1934). Because of this, his multiple roles in New Faces, still then running, were distributed among four other actors. (New York Times, 22 Jun 1934). You will notice that Margaret's role here was a reprisal of her role back in 1931 for the University Players.

Now Henry Fonda was going to enter the movies. At this time "Leland Hayward, who was on the brink of becoming the top talent agent in the country, signed him up and convinced a reluctant Fonda to go to Hollywood for $1,000 a week." (My Life, p 37). On 14 Aug 1934, Louella Parsons is reporting that Henry was then on the Universal lot and had "signed with Walter Wagner [sic], to play an important part in The President Vanishes" (The Fresno Bee Republican, 14 Aug 1934, page 4). However, if Fonda was in the film, he wasn't credited (see IMDb, cast list). And a later column by Louella Parsons, states that he had signed with Walter Wagner [sic] to "make two pictures a year starting with the summer months of 1935." (Charleston Gazette, 2 Sep 1934, page 24)

Fonda returned to New York, where he played opposite Geoffrey Kerr in The Swan the same play Fonda was in, back in 1926. Kerr's wife June Walker had been cast in a new Broadway play, but they still needed a leading man. The playwright and producer attended a production of The Swan and invited Fonda to read for the part, and then gave it to him at $200 a week. "Henry Fonda, Broadway actor who will be seen this season [the Winter of 1934] in 'Rome Haul'" (erroneously called Rome "Hall"). Evidently this title was the title of the book by Walter Edmonds, and the Broadway play was re-named The Farmer Takes a Wife (see here). At this time, Henry's mother fell, broke her leg and developed a blood clot which killed her in October. "I felt so bad that she didn't live to see me move ahead", he said in his biography. "...his father died two years later", states Sweeney.

122_bio_homepage_main.jpgThe play The Farmer Takes A Wife, tells the story of Molly Harkins, a pretty girl who works as a cook on a boat, moving from town to town. She meets Dan Harrow, a rough, simple man who wants to settle down as a farmer. He has to convince her to marry him and farm. Henry Fonda plays the man, and June Walker the woman (see The Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York), 8 Nov 1934, page 24). The entry at the Internet Broadway database states that this play ran on Broadway from Oct 1934 to Jan 1935. It had however premiered in Washington.
When the play ended it was, in 1935, made into a movie, co-starring Fonda opposite Janet Gaynor, making Noel Thornton a bit psychic when he stated,
"Indeed young Fonda is so good in the early part of the show that he undoubtedly will be transferred to the movie colony in jig time to become the newest of the leading men for Norma Shearer, Constance Bennett or Miriam Hopkins."
Margaret Sullavan evidently caused a bit of a stir in some corners. Henry received one fan letter with a courteously enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope but with a presumptuous request:
Dear Mr Fonda: I am one of Miss Sullivan's [sic] most ardent worshippers, in fact, I'm in love with her. I see by the papers that you are her former husband. Will you introduce me when you arrive to Hollywood? Or, better still, write me a letter of introduction to her?" (Mansfield News Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), 5 Nov 1934, pg 6)

Margaret Sullavan and Jed Harris didn't marry, even though the gossip was they might, her next marriage was to director William Wyler. Wyler was directing her in a film they were making at the time. Since there was no gossip that they were even romantically linked, the marriage was a complete surprise. They "eloped" to Yuma, Arizona to get married by a Justice of the Peace with only a few witnesses. In the Nov 1934 article mentioning that Margaret had just re-married, they state that Fonda and she had divorced "two years ago".


In January 1935, Fonda's name is attached to a group calling itself the "Stage Associates", and claiming to be the current incarnation of the old University Players. The article in the New York Times also mentions that they "came to New York as the Theatre Unit" and were associated with Arthur Beckhard in the production of Carry Nation. "Offices have been opened in the St James Theatre" (New York Times, 8 Jan 1935, pg 27). In this article, we finally see Fonda and Stewart linked. It is however unclear whether the "Stage Associates" actually produced anything.

Lucille Ball's biographer Warren G. Harris in his book Lucy & Desi relates a story of how Lucy dated Henry Fonda for one date, double-dating with Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart. He states that Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart were then sharing a house in Brentwood and that the double-date was in-part to dispel any potential gossip that they might be gay lovers. Rumours had already been swirling around Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. However Warren seems to place this reported double-date in 1937/8 which is not possible. It can only have taken place in 1935 or the early part of 1936, as my detailed chronology makes clear. Henry Fonda himself mentions this episode at Dean Martin's Roast of Lucille Ball, which you can watch here on YouTube (scroll to time 6:25).

At this time, the film version of The Farmer Takes A Wife was being shown across the country, and it was apparently for this that Henry Fonda won Screen Actor's Guild award in August 1935 for "the best film performance that month" (see here). Mentioning this movie, which was playing across the country from at least July through November, a newspaper article dated 2 Nov 1935 describes Fonda in this fashion: "Over six feet in height with wavy black hair and commanding blue eyes, Fonda embodies all the charming contradictions of which a man is capable. He is shy, yet magnetic and compelling; he is tender with a feeling of sternness underneath; he can be, at one and the same time, a woman's ideal of a lover and a man's ideal of a friend "(see here).

In Jul 1935, the New York Times is reporting that Henry Fonda is under contact with "Walter Wanger, Paramount producer" and working at the Fox studios in a new version of Way Down East. This film had been done as a 1920 silent, starring Lillian Gish. That August, "Two hours late on the Way Down East set, Henry Fonda amazed everybody by confessing he had airplaned it to Omaha to visit his father who is critically ill" (see here) Way Down East appears to have opened in Oct 1935 starring Henry Fonda opposite Rochelle Hudson (see here). Among others, this film included, in a supporting role, the character actress Margaret Hamilton, best known today as the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. Fonda was by then already working on his next film portraying "Dave Tolliver" in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine starring Sylvia Sidney and Fred MacMurray, but the film didn't open until Feb 1936.

Ron Oliver at the IMDb entry for this movie gives the synopsis: "In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia...a young woman discovers love, but no respite from the violent feud which has torn apart two families.

"Full of good performances & boasting excellent production values courtesy of Paramount Studios, this fine drama brings to its viewers a not-so-subtle message of peace & tolerance. The vividly depicted consequences of mindless, violent behavior give the film a real punch.

"The film's romantic triangle consists of barefoot mountain lass Sylvia Sidney, her decent, uncomplicated cousin Henry Fonda, and mining executive Fred MacMurray, who, as a newcomer to the backwoods, rebels against the traditions of violence & revenge he finds there. All three deliver compelling performances, with a slight advantage going to the gentlemen, as their roles do not require as much shrill, fickle behavior as does Miss Sidney's."
Buy it at Amazon

In Oct 1935 it was announced that Henry Fonda had been engaged for two months to 21-year-old singer and star of Anything Goes Shirley Ross and "wedding plans are being made" (Middlesboro Daily News (Middlesboro, Kentucky), 31 Oct 1931, page 4)


Margaret Sullavan's "... marriage headed to the divorce court today" (see here where "today" is 27 Feb 1936). By Mar 1936 it's reported that she had obtained a "mail-order divorce" from Chihuahua, Mexico (see here). A newspaper report at that time, stated that speculation that she and Henry Fonda might re-marry led her, when asked, only to say "maybe". A follow-up piece stated that this report was very upsetting to her, that she had never said any such thing (see here).

Louella Parsons was reporting on 24 May 1936 here that "Chatter in Hollywood" was that Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan would remarry as soon as her divorce from William Wyler was finalized. (So evidently that Chihuahua divorce wasn't true.) She there states that 'Henry has said again and again that any time she wants to say "Yes" will suit him.' So if Louella is accurate, it certainly would appear that Henry was carrying a torch for Margaret.

"Henry Fonda sailed for England last night on the Normandie to appear with Annabella, the French actress, in Wings of the Morning, which New World will make in Technicolor for release by Twentieth Century-Fox." (New York Times, 18 Jun 1936). On 15 Jul 1936 an article in the New York Times is stating that Henry is then on the set in Denham, England (near London), Alexander Korda's London Film Company, Korda being one of the directors with United Artists.

In an article dated 7 Jul 1936 Walter Wanger was announcing that "next June" he hoped to start production on his first Italian picture, probably with Henry Fonda (NYT, 7 Jul 1936). It is not clear whether this "probably with Henry Fonda" is a direct quote from Wanger, or the opinion of the columnist.
(Credit NNDB.com)

Henry met his next wife Frances Seymour in London in Jun/Jul 1936 where she was vacationing from New York, and while she was visiting the set of Wings of the Morning, in which he was starring. On 24 Aug 1936 the New York Times is reporting the engagement of "Mrs Frances Seymour Brokaw of 646 Park Avenue... to Henry Fonda noted screen star. Mrs Brokaw is now in Paris. She has been traveling with Miss Fay Devereux Keith, of this city, who is engaged to Mrs. Brokaw's brother Ford de Villers Seymour. Mrs Brokaw and Mr Fonda met for the first time in London this June. They became engaged in Germany...." A glamourous picture of Frances appears on the next day here.

On his return from London in Sep 1936 to New York, he lists his address as "233 North Carmetina, West Los Angeles", he also on this slip lists his birthplace as "Grand Island, Nebraska". Soon after their return to New York, they were married. Frances was a wealthy widow with a young daughter Frances "Pan" Brokaw (b 10 Oct 1931) from her prior marriage to George Tuttle Brokaw (1879-1935) (see here), a retired lawyer and sportsman "and on one occasion producer of musical comedy" (New York Times, 29 Mar 1929). George, many years her senior, had died of a heart attack on 28 May 1935, at the Hartford Retreat in Hartford, Connecticut where he had been a patient for a year. His obituary mentions that his father had left a "net estate of $12,318,569 of which Mr Brokaw's share was $1,947,302" (see here). George Brokaw had previously been married to Ann Clare Booth in Aug 1923, they divorced and Clare later married Henry Robinson Luce, and as "Clare Booth Luce" became quite famous, as an editor, playwright, journalist, and congresswoman. George and Ann had one daughter Ann born 21 Apr 1926. George's second wife Frances was the executrix and residuary heir of his estate. At the time of his death in 1935, she is stated to be living at "60 East 67th Street". Frances Seymour Brokaw was allowed to spend $1,000 per month for the maintenance of their daughter Frances. The child at the time of her father's death inherited an annual income of $31,000 plus interest in property worth five million (see here). "Frances immediately moved her mother, sister Marjory, and brother Rogers from Fairhaven to New York City to live with her and help look after Pan." (My Life, p29).

Frances' family on both sides came from some sort of high-society as her engagement announcement makes clear. Henry was to spend a few days in New York, and on 9 Sep 1936 the New York Times is reporting that Walter P. Chrysler Jr (the founder of Chrysler Corporation) gave a reception for the engaged-couple at the Waldorf-Astoria. The article mentions the names of about 40 people who were present. The next day, the New York Times is reporting that they obtained a marriage license at the Municipal Building (New York City) and that they would be married within a few days. A long article about his travel in Europe is here. They were to be married, per a New York Times article, on the 16 Sep 1936 in Christ Church, at Park Avenue and Sixtieth, New York City. Then the marriage took place and was announced yet again! (See here). Her sister Miss Marjory Capell Seymour was her maid-of-honor, and Joshua Logan was the best man. The ushers were Leland Hayward and H. Roger Seymour, another brother of the bride. "They will make their home in Beverly Hills." This article is where we learn that her first husband George Brokaw died in May 1935. Unlike a few other cases such as Elizabeth Montgomery and her father Robert Montgomery, the marriage of "the former Mrs Frances Ford Seymour Brokaw to Henry Fonda, the movie actor" did not cause her to be expelled from the Social Register. She still appeared in the relevant issue, with the marriage recorded under her name. (See here).


In late 1936, or early 1937, Margaret Sullavan married her last husband, Fonda's agent Leland Hayward and "lived just down the street" in California, this according to the autobiographies of both daughter Jane Fonda, and son Peter Fonda. Jane goes on to state, that at a later time, after the Fonda's had moved to Connecticut, the Haywards also moved to that same area and the children were all friends with each other, and went to the same school. This would have been perhaps in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Jane includes a photograph in her book showing her, Brooke Hayward and another girl on bunkbeds at a summer camp. Margaret Sullavan eventually committed suicide in the 1960's. Her daughter Brooke Hayward (b 1937) wrote a book Haywire about her parents Margaret and Leland Hayward.

Henry in 1937 returned again to Broadway for a brief run in Blow Ye Winds. He would not again return to Broadway for eleven years.

Henry Fonda and Frances Seymour were the parents of actors Jane Fonda (b. 21 Dec 1937) and Peter Fonda (b. 23 Feb 1940). Even though the family was living in California, Frances decided to go to New York to have each of her children Jane and later Peter. So Jane was born in New York City by cesarean section at Doctor's Hospital (My Life, p40) while Henry was filming Jezebel with Bette Davis. William Wyler, the director of Jezebel, was none other than the next husband of Henry's ex-wife Margaret Sullavan. William and Margaret had married at the end of 1934, but by the time of this film, were already divorced. Watch two minutes of Jezebel here on YouTube.

Henry had had it written into his contract that if his wife gave birth while they were shooting Jezebel, he could fly back to New York to be with them. They named the child "Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda". Jane comments in her biography, how her father stated that he took dozens of pictures while there at the hospital, and that she has them. She wistfully comments that in none of these pictures is there one of her mother holding her.


The year 1938, saw Henry's appearence in Spawn of the North starring George Raft and Dorothy Lamour. You will of course remember George Raft because of the role he played in the relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. In 1939 Henry "had a leading role" in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell also starring Don Ameche and Loretta Young. In newspaper articles, at this time, is where we find the appropos mention that Henry had written a thesis on communication systems while he was in college. Also that same year, Henry Fonda played the title role in 1939's Young Mr. Lincoln. You can buy it here or watch two minutes here on YouTube.

Pregnant with Peter, Frances again flew to New York City and gave birth to him on 23 Feb 1940 at the Le Roy Sanitarium, according to Peter. Jane however states that Frances gave birth "in the same hospital she'd delivered me in"(My Life, p42). (Did it change names from Doctor's Hospital to Le Roy Sanitarium?) The birth was announced in the New York Times. Curiously the birth announcement states that the Fondas are "of this city and of Hollywood"(25 Feb 1940, p38). Neither Jane nor Peter state that their mother or parents were living in New York City in 1940, but obviously they were. Peter in his autobiography states that "as soon as she was able" his mother moved to the Pierre Hotel, but that he stayed at Le Roy for seven weeks "the only baby in the hospital." Jane speculates that her mother had post-partum depression. Henry, at the time making The Return of Frank James flew to New York City and brought Peter home with him to Brentwood, California. In 1940 Henry received his first Oscar nomination playing in arguably his best-known role, as Tom Joad in the 1940 20th-Century Fox film The Grapes of Wrath based on the novel by Steinbeck.514GNJP58EL._SL500_AA240_.jpg Buy The Grapes of Wrath
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To get the role of Tom Joad, he had agreed to a seven-year contract which compelled him to play in the romantic-comedy The Lady Eve in 1941 with Barbara Stanwyck. In 1942 he was in The Male Animal.

Henry Fonda in The Big Street
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Also that same year Henry Fonda co-starred opposite Lucille Ball in The Big Street. Lucille Ball plays a tough, gold-digging, nightclub singer. Henry Fonda plays a busboy deeply in love with her. When Lucy tries to leave the man she's been dating, he pushes her down the stairs and she is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of the picture. Now destitute, she must rely on Fonda who takes care of her. The singing of "Who Knows" is not Lucy's voice, it was dubbed in by Martha Mears. As one of the supporting cast in this movie notice Agnes Moorehead. You can watch the entire movie, in nine parts, on Youtube. You can also read my detailed synopsis of the movie here. Henry first appears at time 2:52. Watch Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9.

Also in 1942, the movie Tales of Manhattan was released (you can buy it here).

Meanwhile, Henry Fonda and Frances, had been building a house at 600 Tigertail. Peter Fonda states they they "moved in increments from 1942 to 1944" (Don't Tell Dad, p8).


Henry Fonda even though exempt, left in 1943 for the war. After boot camp he went to officer candidate school (OCS) in Quonset, Rhode Island and trained as a Naval Air Combat Intelligence officer. (Don't Tell Dad, p9) He would later for this, receive a Bronze Star. The children saw little of their father between Peter's birth and his departure for the war, as he made ten films during this time. For a while, an artist in need of a place to stay, bunked out in the playhouse. "I think my mother had an affair with him. I hope she did" (Don't Tell Dad, p10) In Jane's book she states that his name was Joe Wade. Quoting Laura (Clark) Pyzel about Joe Wade "He was divinely attractive, a real party boy! She was crazy about him. All the girls were."(My Life, p23)

Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart were best friends according to Peter Fonda. And it must be just after Henry returned from the war, that Peter relates a story of how Henry and Jimmy built a glider for hours together, exchanging only a few words. Both were men of few words.

In the school year 1945-6, Peter Fonda states that three of Frances' children — himself, Jane and Pan — attended the private Brentwood Town and County School, as he says did Brooke, Bridget and Bill Hayward, children of Leland Hayward and Margaret Sullavan. But the following year, Peter was sent, at least part of that year to the Barton School for Boys, along with his friend Danny Pyzel. He details several pages of horrible experiences there before his aunt Harriet Peacock rescued him (Don't Tell Dad, p22). Danny Pyzel, was the son of Laura (Clark) Pyzel who had met Frances, just after she was widowed from her first husband, before she married Henry Fonda. Laura and her son Danny had moved to Los Angeles around WWII and Frances helped her find an apartment.(My Life, p21-23) In 1946 Henry Fonda played Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine. You can buy it here or watch several minutes here on YouTube.Henry-Fonda-The-Signature-Collection.jpg
(Credit HotMovieSale.com)

Around this time, when Peter was "six or seven", he and his mother Frances went to visit Pan who was in the Garrison Forest boarding school on the East Coast. Peter relates a bizarre and terrifying experience, not explained to him at the time, of being "checked for a tapeworm" at Johns Hopkins. (Don't Tell Dad, p27-9)

At this point in his book, Peter Fonda, in discussing his father, mentions Henry's role as "Colonel Thursday" in the 1947 movie Fort Apache. Peter says, that when he is asked what it was like to grow up as Henry Fonda's son, he says, "Have you ever seen Fort Apache?"

In 1948 Henry returned to Broadway starring in Mister Roberts for it's multi-year run, ending sometime in 1950. He would reprise this role for the 1955 film version.


Jane Fonda states that Henry was a man of dark moods and that they "...lived in constant awareness of the minefield we had to tread so as not to trigger his rage." (My Life, p 35). In late Fall of 1949, Henry told Frances that he wanted a divorce, just four months after she had had an operation related to her kidneys. Frances stated in a letter to Watson Webb that, "...he has told me he hasn't been happy during our thirteen years of marriage....I wish him great happiness in this new marriage." (Don't Tell Dad, p 43).

On 14 Oct 1950 his then-wife Frances Seymour killed herself by slitting her throat while in a mental hospital. Decades later Jane Fonda enlisted lawyers and finally pried her medical records from the Austen Riggs Center. These included eight typed pages that Frances had composed herself on her admission, with her own hand-written corrections. (My Life, p 25) Jane describes her mother Frances as a "beautiful but damaged butterfly, unable to give me what I needed...because she could not give it to herself." (My Life, p30) Neither Jane not Peter were allowed to attend their mother's funeral. (Don't Tell Dad, p 46)

Near the end of Summer 1950 was when Peter first met Susan Blanchard and shortly afterward discovered that his father was going to marry her. But apparently, per Frances' letter quoted above, Henry and Susan must have already met by Fall of 1949 or perhaps Henry had met someone else whom he didn't marry.

Three months after Frances' suicide, in Dec 1950, Henry married the much-younger Susan Blanchard. They honeymooned in the Caribbean, returning Jan 1951 when Peter had had a shotgun accident that he states almost killed him. Henry and Susan adopted a baby named Amy, possibly this occurred in 1951. Henry Fonda and Susan Blanchard divorced in 1956. Peter Fonda refers to Susan Blanchard, in his book as "Mom2".

On Broadway, Henry played businessman Charles Gray in 1951's Point of No Return, which ran into 1952. He was the prosecuting attorney Lt. Greenwald in 1954's The Caine Mutiny Court‐Martial.

Henry Fonda and Susan Blanchard
(Credit FreeRangePhotography.co.uk)


Henry Fonda in 1957's 12 Angry Men
(Credit Answers.com)
In 1955 Henry Fonda returned to film starring in that year's Mister Roberts with Jack Lemmon. In 1956 he starred as "Manny Balestrero" in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man. (You can rent The Wrong Man here.) In 1957 he was in 12 Angry Men. You can buy it here), or watch it on YouTube Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10.

Fonda married his fourth wife, "Countess" Afdera Franchetti, on 10 Mar 1957. They divorced in 1962. Peter states that he and Afdera disliked each other on-sight, and that although Afdera liked to style herself "Countess" because her father was a Count, that the title given to her father was given to him alone, for his life, and not an inheritable or family title.

Henry Fonda was again on-Broadway as lawyer Jerry Ryan in 1958's Two for the Seesaw. He played John, in 1959 in Silent Night, Lonely Night. And he was drama critic Parker Ballantine in 1960's Critic's Choice, which ran into 1961. In 1962 he was in the play A Gift of Time.

Henry Fonda returned to Hollywood for the 1964 movies Best Man (buy it here), and Sex and the Single Girl (buy it here), and the 1965 movies The Rounders (you can buy it here), Battle of the Bulge (buy it here). Fonda married for the fifth and final time to model and stewardess Shirlee Adams, in 1965, and that same year played on-stage the conservative executive Jim Bolton in Generation which ran into 1966.


Henry Fonda's film Once Upon a Time in the West was released in 1968. (You can rent this film here.)

Henry Fonda worked again with Lucille Ball in 1968's film Yours, Mine and Ours. Again he returned to Broadway for 1969's Our Town, then back to Hollywood for 1971's Sometimes a Great Nation (you can buy it here). And again back to Broadway for the 1974 one-man show Clarence Darrow, which ran into 1975. Shortly afterwards he played Adm. Chester Nimitz in the 1976 film Midway (you can buy it here). In 1978 he appeared again on Broadway, as liberal Supreme Court Justice Daniel Snow in First Monday in October.

His first Best Actor Oscar did not come until 1981 for On Golden Pond co-starring Katherine Hepburn as his wife, and his real-life daughter Jane Fonda playing his movie daughter. (Buy it here.)

Henry Fonda died of heart failure 12 Aug 1982 in Los Angeles County, California.
VHS cover sleeve
Yours, Mine and Ours
(Credit Amazon.com)

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