Chairpotato Presents : Henry Jaynes Fonda

Biography of Henry Jaynes Fonda (1905-82), American Actor

The most complete and comprehensive biography of Henry Fonda on the internet.


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"Chairpotato Presents : Henry Jaynes Fonda"
by Will Johnson, professional genealogist
copyright 2007-2009, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License"

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There are three primary autobiographies which detail the life of Henry Fonda to some extent.  One of him, one of his daughter Jane Fonda, and one of his son Peter Fonda.  In addition Joshua Logan, wrote an auto-biography in which he mentions Henry Fonda several times.  You can buy them at Amazon:
''Fonda: My Life: as told to Howard Teichmann'', by Henry Fonda with Howard Teichman. New American Library. 1981 ''Jane Fonda : My Life So Far'', by Jane Fonda.  Random House, New York. 2006. ISBN 0812975766 or at Kindle ''Don't Tell Dad : A Memoir'', by Peter Fonda. Hyperion, New York. 1998. ISBN 0786861118 ''Josh, My Up and Down, In and Out Life'', by Joshua Logan. Published by Delacorte Press, 1976 ISBN 0440042356, 9780440042358 408 pages

A quick note about the dates in this article.  Neither Henry, Jane nor Peter Fonda are very precise in their autobiographies about exact dates, using loose terms like "when I was six" or "much later" or "before that".  A large percentage, if not most of the chronology presented in my article below is based on my own research in newspaper accounts and other primary documents, and in laying out the three autobiographies side-by-side and merging them into a consistent chronology.

A very young Henry Fonda (Credit

Henry Jaynes Fonda

Early life (1905-1924)

William Brace Fonda (b. 1879), Henry's father, was enumerated in the U.S. 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 relocated in 1966 after Henry paid to have it moved from downtown, ten miles to it's location at the Stuhr Museum (''Seguin Gazette Enterprise'' (Seguin, Texas), 13 Aug 1982, page 3).

William and Herberta had two more children: Harriet (later Mrs Jack Peacock) in 1907/8 and Jayne in 1909/10, both born in Nebraska, and probably in Omaha.  Between 1905 and 1910 the family had moved back to Omaha, where they are that year enumerated in the U.S. Federal Census.  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 on the 1900 census was "Salesman", and in 1910 it was "Salesman, Advertising Jobber".  In addition, this 1910 census enumeration states specifically that he was an employee, not working on his own account. When William registered for the WWI Draft on Sep 1918, he then lists his occupation as "self-employed Printer". And on the 1920 census, 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.

Google Map
Map showing where Grand Island is, near Omaha
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].  It goes on to say that, he then went to the University of Minnesota and got a degree, his thesis being on communication systems. Another source states that he studied journalism for two years. ("Oakland Tribune" (Oakland, Cal), 20 Sep 1935, pg 20)  A newspaper article dated 1935 states that he "...trained two troops of boy scouts as a hobby while he was a freshman at the University of Michigan." ("Charleston Gazette" (Charleston, WV), 4 Aug 1935, pg 26) Also in an article dated 1935 ("Tyrone Daily Herald" (Tyrone, PA), 19 Aug 1935, pg 4) 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."  Henry in his ghost-written autobiography told Margaret Sullavan that he had "flunked out of the University of Minnesota". ("My Life", p52 wj) So the sources are conflicting as to whether he got a degree or didn't, unless perhaps we assume he got a 2-year degree.  The University of Minnesota may have records that could clarify that.


Dorothy Brando (born about 1895), was an amateur actress and the co-founder of the Omaha Community Playhouse.  She was also the mother of Marlon Brando (born 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 for 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.  I'd be interested in any more details about this man, in case any reader can supply them.

The first newspaper mention of Henry Fonda I find is in 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.  The role of Lincoln being played by George Billings.  I here correct which is probably citing Kevin Sweeney who incorrectly reports that this occurred only in the Summer of 1927. 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 So Far'', 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 So Far'', 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 years old.  The first mention of these particular "University Players" (the name was rather generic) is in a ''New York Times'' article on 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. ("My Life", p47 wj)

Joshua Logan describes his first meeting with Fonda.  Joshua was performing the role of Huxley Hossefrosse in George Kelly's "The Torch Bearers". "At the second performance, the moment I spoke my first line a high, strangulated sob came from the darkness.  I thought someone was having an asthmatic attack.  I said my second line and the wail came out again, higher and flatter this time.  Some odd human animal out there found me funny.  And, to my delight, it was infecting the audience.  When he screeched, they began to scream.  That night I had my first triumph, but whose mad laughter had helped it along?  Bernard Hanighen, from Harvard, who did our music, came to our dressing room after the performance with a friend of his from Omaha who had been acting at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis.  'This is my friend, Hank Fonda.'" ("Josh", p27 wj)

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 took a ten-dollar-a-week room with a family on the Upper West Side. ("My Life", p49 wj) He and his friend Kent Smith together finally found work in December 1928 with the National Junior Theater in Washington, D.C. for five dollars a week plus room and board.  Henry played the role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night".


In April 1929, Bernie Hanighan, organized a musical ''Close Up'' at Harvard.  The Junior season was ending and so Fonda came to Boston to do this one scene with Margaret Sullavan (cf. "Margaret Sullavan", Wikipedia).  That's when he fell in love with her.  At the time Margaret was the girlfriend of Charles Leatherbee.  Jane Fonda seems to confuse how and where Henry 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).

Charles Leatherbee borrowed some money from Cape Cod bankers to finance the building of a new theater building in West Falmouth on Old Silver Beach, and there, their first production would be "The Devil in the Cheese", a play by Tom Cushing.  About Margaret, Josh states, "...she had a pulsing and husky voice.... Her beauty was not obvious or even standard.  It showed as she tilted her head, as she walked, as she laughed....We were all in love with her." ("Josh", p32-3 wj)  Josh and Henry did some comedic bits in the adjacent teahouse and became quick buddies that Summer, but there were constant requests for Fonda and Sullavan.  Charles Leatherbee was still in love with Margaret and decided to do the play "The Constant Nymph".  This pushed Henry and Margaret even closer together and they were soon off, working out scenes together and having sandwiches together on the beach.  Josh and Charlie were pushed slightly out of this now-romantic twosome. ("Josh", p35 wj)  Josh returning to college for his sophomore year, now met, for the first time Jimmy Stewart, then an architectural student, who played the accordion in one show.  Josh put on a play called "The Tiger Smiles" opening at the McCarter Theater, having written the juvenile lead for Jimmy Stewart. ("Josh", p43 wj)

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 replaced 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")

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.


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.

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 the Federal Census dated Apr 1930, he is enumerated, living in the household of his parents back in Omaha as an unemployed actor, and single.  Kevin Sweeney says here that April 1930 he was back in Omaha in the play ''A Kiss for Cinderella''.  That Summer he reprized the role, this time opposite Margaret Sullavan for the University Players in West Falmouth, Massachusetts

Henry Fonda loved the part of "The Prince" evidently, playing it yet again in ''A Kiss for Cinderella'', Nov 1930 in Washington, D.C., 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.  Joshua Logan addresses this section of Margaret's career : "Margaret Sullavan had caused a sensation on Broadway in a third-rate play entitled "A Modern Virgin", but she had still arranged to take the two months off for our summer season." ("Josh", p60 wj)  On 29 Oct it was announced that in the week of 9 Nov Margaret 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?)  Joshua Logan states that in "Coquette", Margaret played Norma Besant, while Fonda played Michael, her lover, Sweeney does not seem to notice this appearance.  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.

Joshua Logan addresses this portion of time as well : "It was the sister of our costume designer, our true witch, Joy Higgins...who told us she heard voices calling us to Baltimore....Through her, we were visited by the manager of the Maryland Theatre, who saw us perform and then offered the theatre to us." ("Josh", p61 wj)  The players at first, decided on a repertory venue, a different play each night.  By this time, Sullavan had returned to Broadway, and so her parts were divided between two new actresses, Merna Pace and Barbara O'Neil.  The players opened their first night there on 10 Nov 1931 with the play "The Devil in the Cheese" ("Josh", p62 wj)  The next night they appeared in "The Silent House", and then the following night in "Hell-Bent For Heaven."  Josh explains that the Baltimore audiences were not used to this sort-of changing the play every night and began to stay away.  Just then, Margaret's play on Broadway ended and she returned to the Players.  The theater manager insisted they begin to do one play for an entire week at-a-time, so they then produced "The Constant Nymph".

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"  Josh states that the marriage was performed by "...Horace Donegan, an Episcopal rector of Christ Church and an old classmate of Charlie's." ("Josh", p63 wj)  That same day, Henry was on the stage playing a bridegroom in "The Ghost Train" by Arnold Ridley.  Still in Baltimore, Henry and Margaret again played opposite each other in James M Barrie's "Mary Rose".  Josh states that, "I have seldom seen anything better.  Peggy and Hank were unsurpassable and again there were standees the entire week.  Baltimore loved us more than ever." ("Josh", p66 wj)  But before the Winter was over, the Baltimore audiences cooled to the Players and they decided to return again to Falmouth, long before the Summer audiences would appear.

Henry's daughter Jane Fonda 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." Brooke Hayward states that Leland Hayward was already Margaret's agent and it was at this time that he reluctantly agreed to also take on Henry. ("Haywire", p84)  If so he did a bad job of finding Henry work.  Sweeney says "as lovers they fought 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".
Henry Fonda in an undated picture

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


Josh also states that the split between the Players and Henry Fonda was Henry's own decision.  He was discontent at the way that the University Players was being run. "He was a tremendous loss.  He was the heart of the company.  But I had been thinking of a possible replacement: lanky, drawling Jimmy Stewart, who was just now graduating from Princeton." ("Josh", p69 wj)

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 New York Times 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."

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 the wealthy George Tuttle Brokaw on 10 Jan 1931 as her first husband (''New York Times'', 11 Jan 1931) was " in splendor as Mrs Brokaw, in a mansion with a moat on Fifth Avenue..." (''My Life So Far'', 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 rooming 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.  Josh mentions this play in his autobiography calling it the "ax blow" to the Players.  It seems that Arthur J Beckhard, who was a successful Broadway producer, was interested in trying out some plays using the Players and their theater.  Beckhard felt that "Carry Nation" by Frank McGrath, would be a perfect vehicle for his wife Esther Dale. "The play was a groaning bore", Josh states.  But Beckhard insisted on taking it to Broadway, with the majority of the University Players, and "...we could all come with him, or stay in the sticks forever.  It was checkmate.  We were financially and emotionally busted." ("Josh", p70 wj)

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, 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. (The same Arline Francis who later appeared so often on the game show "What's My Line")

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 Theater and ended in November after 30 performances.  However Jimmy Stewart was in ''I Love You Wednesday'', evidently his Broadway debut, so he must have been living in New York City at that time.  Josh states that "Carry Nation" was Stewart's broadway debut, however, unless Jimmy replaced someone else mid-way through "I Love You Wednesday", then that play, opening three weeks earlier, must have been.  The exact sequence still needs work.

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 So Far'', 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".  Josh also mentions this "With Jimmy now making thirty-five dollars and Myron thirty dollars, we took a small, smelly apartment on West Sixty-third Street just off Central Park West.  It consisted of a soot-colored bedroom with twin beds, a living room with two sprung studio couches, a bathroom with a mildewed shower, and a huge kitchen stove out in the hall.  Although we needed additional money from a fourth person, we invited unemployed and totally broke Fonda to move in.  He and Sullavan had agreed to part without bitterness.  It was inevitable.  Her career was streaking across the sky.  Fonda had been living on a box of rice for the past three weeks." ("Josh", p71-2 wj)

So what I think is that Henry 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 took the part, being offered ten percent of the gross, which sounded swell.  But that ended up being only seven or eight dollars a week.  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 called ''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 from 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 So Far'', p 37).  On 14 Aug 1934, newspaper columnist 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 the cast list at IMDb).  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).  This, as you can guess, was actually the well-known Walter Wanger (not Wagner).

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 from which she died that 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.

The 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 earlier, "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.  In this year, or early in 1936, Fonda moved to California and lived in Brentwood.  Shortly afterward he was joined by his best friend Jimmy Stewart.

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 a 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. (The same Fred MacMurray later made famous in the "My Three Sons" TV series).

Buy "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" at Amazon
Ron Oliver at the IMDb entry "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" 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."

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 1935, 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.

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.

"Behind the Scenes in Hollywood", 17 Jul 1936, by Harrison Carroll "James Stewart is a lone householder again .... Henry Fonda, Joshua Logan and John Swope are all away on vacations."

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.  George's 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 So Far'', 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.  Her sister Bridget Hayward, on whom Peter Fonda had a crush, also committed suicide.

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.  Henry's autobiography states that this was because "she had great faith in the obstetrician who had delivered Pan" ("My Life", pg 122).  So Jane was born in New York City by cesarean section at Doctor's Hospital (''My Life So Far'', p40) while Henry was filming ''Jezebel'' with Bette DavisWilliam Wyler, the director of Jezebel, was none other than the next husband of Henry's ex-wife Margaret Sullavan.  William and Margaret had married in Nov 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 So Far'', p42).  (Did it change names from Doctor's Hospital to Le Roy Sanitarium?) 
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The birth was announced in the ''New York Times'' and again repeats that the birth occurred at the "Le Roy Sanitarium".  Curiously the birth announcement states that the Fondas are "of this city and of Hollywood"("New York Times", 25 Feb 1940, p38).  Neither Jane nor Peter state that their mother or parents were living in New York City in 1940, but apparently 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.
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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.  This movie tells the story of a family of Okies who fleeing the poverty of the Dust Bowl, went to California where they joined migrant worker camps and encountered the cruelties inflicted by farm owners and authorities.


To get the role of Tom Joad, Henry had agreed to a seven-year contract which compelled him to play not only in some more decent films like the romantic-comedy ''The Lady Eve'' in 1941 with Barbara Stanwyck, and 1942's ''The Male Animal'', but also in many honkers which he wished to forget.

Henry Fonda in ''The Big Street''
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One of Fonda's more memorable appearances in 1942 was when he co-starred opposite Lucille Ball in ''The Big Street''. Lucille Ball plays a tough, gold-digging, nightclub singer.  Henry Fonda plays a busboy, deeply but shyly in love with her.  When Lucy tries to leave the man she's been dating, that man pushes her down some stairs, which causes her to be 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, Los Angeles.  Peter Fonda states that they "moved in increments from 1942 to 1944" (''Don't Tell Dad'', p8).


Henry Fonda even though exempt, enlisted in Nov 1942 in the Navy.  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 his service, receive a Bronze Star.

In Jul 1943, while he was stationed at the Naval base in Bremerton, Washington (Source), a woman named Barbara Thompson sued Henry Fonda, stating that he was the father of her three-week old daughter, and calling him a "motion picture actor earning at least $200,000 a year."  Frances is quoted in that article stating, "It isn't true, I know it isn't true." [Frances] had recently returned from a month's visit with her husband, near Seattle.  Barbara claims that she had met Henry in Imperial, California in 1942 where he was shooting a movie. (Source)  But she had problems of her own: "Accuser of Fonda In Paternity Case Held on Old Charge", AP as printed in the Syracuse Herald Journal, 26 Jul 1943. "...Barbara Jean Thompson... failure to appear... disorderly conduct and vagrancy.... 24-year-old divorcee.... three-week-old child Sharon.... mother of three other children.... [alias] Barbara Jean Taylor...."  A Domestic Relations court in Los Angeles, asked for $5,000 plus $2,000 per month for her support, stating that she was living in Long Beach, California.  Also stating that Sharon was born June 21st. "Mrs Thompson is the former wife of Lieut. J.D. Taylor" (Source)  "Fonda Denies Paternity" : "...branded the action as an attempted extortion.... He says he does not know Mrs Thompson."   There were only eight Sharon's born on that date in California, one of them was "Sharon Ellen Thompson", born in Los Angeles county.  Neither Henry, Jane nor Peter in their biographies mention this incident.

Jane and Peter saw little of their father between Peter's birth and Henry's 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 So Far'', 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.  Laura had met Frances, just after Frances 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 So Far'', p21-23)

In 1946 Henry Fonda played Wyatt Earp in ''My Darling Clementine''.  You can buy it now from Amazon on  VHS or DVD, or watch several minutes here on YouTube.

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?"

For some reason, Peter was privately tutored for a year, but in Jan 1948 he went back to school at Brentwood. ("Don't Tell Dad", p30).  That wouldn't last long, as the family moved in the Spring of 1948 to Greenwich, Connecticut where they first stayed in the "Count Palenclar House". ("Don't Tell Dad", p35)  Peter entered the fourth grade at Brunswick School in Greenwich. ("Don't Tell Dad", p37)

The reason for this move, was that Henry had returned to Broadway to star in 1948's ''Mister Roberts'' for it's multi-year run, ending sometime in 1950.  He would reprise this role for the 1955 film version.  The producer for "Mister Roberts" was none other than Leland Hayward, Margaret Sullavan's husband.  He would later produce the 1949 movie "South Pacific".  By this time Maggie and Leland had separated and she would next marry Kenneth Wagg. ("Don't Tell Dad", p40)  "Mister Roberts" was based on a book written by Thomas O "Tom" Heggen.  For the play, the script was co-written by Tom and also Henry's old buddy Joshua Logan.  Joshua relates at some length his interactions with Tom and the details surrounding Tom's apparent suicide in May 1949.  Tom who had become addicted to barbiturates, was found drowned in nine inches of water in his own bathtub.  Leland had to identify the body.

After a short time, the Fondas next moved to the "Boomer House", and at this point, Frances' mother Sophie Seymour moved in with them. ("Don't Tell Dad", p41)


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 So Far'', 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 mother's 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 So Far'', 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 So Far'', p30)  Neither Jane nor Peter were allowed to attend their mother's funeral. (''Don't Tell Dad'', p 46)  Henry states that there was a brief service which only he and Sophie attended and then Frances was cremated.

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.  Susan's step-father was Oscar Hammerstein II.
Henry Fonda and Susan Blanchard

Three months after Frances' suicide, Henry married in Dec 1950, the much-younger Susan Blanchard.  They honeymooned at St John in the Caribbean, returning hurriedly Jan 1951 when Peter had had a shotgun accident that he states almost killed him, causing him to stay in the hospital in Ossining for three-and-a-half weeks. ("Don't Tell Dad", p53)

That Summer, Susan, Jane and Peter spent at "Ocean House" in L.A. (built by Hearst) while Henry was completing his road trip for "Mister Roberts".  Buz, Peter's dog, who had been left back in Connecticut, was murdered by Peter's grandmother Sophie, with the knowing support of Henry, because she didn't want to take care of him.  Peter never forgave his grandmother.  ("Don't Tell Dad", p56)

The family now returned to Connecticut where Peter went to the Fay Boarding School and Jane to the Emma Willard School.  Before her death, Frances had designed a house.  It was built and the grandmother Sophie lived there.  Peter and Jane also lived there when they weren't at their boarding schools.  The house was on Martendale Drive in Greenwich.  Henry and Susan didn't live there, but evidently stayed in New York City.  Living at the Greenwich house with Sophie was also "...her live-in daughter and alcoholic son-in-law" ("Don't Tell Dad", p62).  I'm not sure why Peter doesn't call her his aunt, unless perhaps she was a half-aunt.

Peter Fonda refers to Susan Blanchard, in his autobiography as "Mom2".  Susan was instrumental in bringing the family back together, insisting, according to Peter, that the children should spend their school breaks with her and Henry, at their apartment at 223 East 48th Street. ("Don't Tell Dad", p63)

On Broadway, Henry played businessman Charles Gray in ''Point of No Return'' which his Wikipedia entry states began it's Broadway run Dec 1951 and ended Nov 1952.  Peter's auto-biography makes it more clear that it was at this point that Henry bought a five-story brownstone at 151 E. 74th St, and that fall Henry and Susan adopted an eight-week old infant girl named Amy. ("Don't Tell Dad", p70).  Henry's biography states that Susan could not have any children.  Next, Henry played prosecuting attorney Lt. Greenwald in the stage version of ''The Caine Mutiny Court‐Martial'' for which he went on the road, but the family was all together again for Christmas, which they spent in Detroit. ("Don't Tell Dad", p68) 

In 1953, Henry took the entire family to Hawaii, but he then had to go to Midway to begin filming 1955's "Mister Roberts", with Jack Lemmon.  Next, Henry played in the 1954's film version of ''The Caine Mutiny Court‐Martial''.  At this same time, Peter left for a prep school named Westminster in Simsbury, Connecticut.


In the Summer of 1955, the family went to Rome where Henry was to film "War and Peace".  They flew on the same flight as Marlon Brando and Dean Martin then on their way to Europe to make "The Young Lions" (which also starred Montgomery Clift).  In 1956 Henry starred as "Manny Balestrero" in Hitchcock's ''The Wrong Man''. (You can rent ''The Wrong Man'' here on Amazon.)

"Brando -- Bud -- was almost like family; his mother, Dorothy had been the first person to suggest acting to my father, decades earlier in Omaha...." ("Don't Tell Dad", p81).  That Summary of 1955 in Rome, Susan told Peter that she was leaving Henry.  Their divorce was finalized in 1956.

Although Jane had already known that their mother had committed suicide, Peter only learned it that Summer when Jane blurted it out without realizing that he didn't know. ("Don't Tell Dad", p84).

The family went to Hyannis Port for the Summer of 1956, renting a house next to the Kennedy compound.  Peter then met Jack, Robert and Ted.  Henry at this time was both producing and acting in "12 Angry Men" in New York, so Peter and Jane's Aunt Harriet Peacock came out from Omaha to be their temporary guardian. ("Don't Tell Dad", p87)  Jane decided she would like to work as an apprentice at the Dennis Playhouse as she had a crush on "...a young man from Yale who was working there as a stage manager and apprentice actor.  James Franciscus, her secret love..." ("Don't Tell Dad", p88)  Later that Summer, Jane played the ingenue in "The Male Animal" with Henry as lead.  Henry meanwhile had met "Countess" Afdera Franchetti and they started seeing each other.  Around Thanksgiving 1956, Henry was in Florida shooting "The Wrong Man".

In 1957 Henry appeared in the film version of ''12 Angry Men''.  You can buy it here on Amazon.  The entire movie had been uploaded to YouTube, but has since been purged.

Henry Fonda in 1957's ''12 Angry Men''
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.  Afdera's father had been "the preeminent archaeologist for Italy in the North African colonies." ("Don't Tell Dad", p94)

Peter states that he was being constantly harassed at his school and so he decided to leave early.  He went to live with his aunt Harriet Peacock and uncle Jack in Omaha where he completely high school and enrolled in college in Omaha.  Jane meanwhile was in college at Vasser. ("Don't Tell Dad", p104)  Peter relates how his father had to be convinced to let him enroll in college and part of the convincing came from "Dean Thompson", whom Peter later states was his personal advisor.  I'll have to check again, but I didn't catch Peter stating clearly that this same Dean [William] Thompson was Warren Buffet's father-in-law since in Apr 1952 his daughter Susan Thompson married Warren.

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.

Continue to next chapter Henry Jaynes Fonda : 1966

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