On August 13, 1982, the day after Henry Fonda passed away, an upstate New York local newspaper, the Leader-Herald, reported that the village of Fonda, New York would lower the flag in honor of Henry Fonda. Not many people outside of the Albany, New York area are aware of the fact that the Fonda acting family traces their Dutch-American roots back to the little village of Fonda in upstate New York. The earliest known Fonda ancestor arrived in Beverwyck, what is now Albany, New York, in 1654, from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His name was Jellis Douwe Fonda, and his offspring to this day live in the greater Hudson-Mohawk region of upstate New York. The village of Fonda was the original residence of the Fonda families.
Henry Fonda, the legendary actor, however, was not born or ever lived in or near Fonda New York. He did have some genealogical research done, however, when he applied for membership in the prestigious Holland Society, where proof of one’s historical Dutch roots tracing back to the early New Netherland years is required. He passed the test and became a member of the Holland Society.
Henry Fonda was born in Grand Island, Nebraska on May 16, 1905. His parents were William Brace Fonda and Herberta Jaynes. Fonda majored in journalism at the University of Minnesota but left before graduating. He became an office clerk in Omaha, Nebraska and became active there in the Omaha Community Playhouse, which was directed by Dorothy Brando, Marlon Brando’s mother. He apparently showed promise as an actor because Dorothy Brando encouraged him to get more training in acting. In 1928 he was able to join the Provincetown Players, a semi-professional acting company in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter he joined the professional acting company, The University Players Guild, where he was able to work with such future luminaries as James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and Joshua Logan.
Apparently, Dorothy Brando had been correct. Henry Fonda had acting talent and in 1929 he got a part in a Broadway Play, “The Game of Life and Death”. For the next several years he remained a Broadway actor appearing in such plays as, “I Loved You Wednesday”, “New Faces”, and “The Farmer Takes a Wife”. In 1935 Henry Fonda made his screen debut in the film version of “The Farmer Takes a Wife” playing opposite Janet Gaynor.
During his entire acting career Henry Fonda appeared in 16 Boadway Stage Plays and 106 films, television programs and shorts. For the important ones Fonda received specific recognition through award nominations and actual wins. The most elusive awards for Fonda, as probably for all actors, are the Academy Awards and Nominations. Fonda was nominated for his first Best Actor Academy Award in 1941 for his performance in “Grapes of Wrath”. He lost to his friend and contemporary actor, Jimmie Stewart. He did not get any Academy Nominations until 1958 when he was the producer of “Twelve Angry Men” and the film was nominated as Best Picture. Again Fonda’s film did not win. However, in 1981, the Academy awarded him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. And a year later he won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance on “Golden Pond”.
Henry Fonda was nominated for numerous other awards and won quite a few of them. Among others, he was nominated by Golden Globes in 1958 for Best Actor in “Twelve Angry Men”, in 1973 he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance as the lead actor in “Red Pony”, in 1980 the Emmy Awards again nominated him for best lead actor in “Gideon’s Trumpet”, and in 1975 Fonda was nominated for Best Actor by the Tony Awards Committee.
In addition to the above nominations Fonda won his share of other nominations. In 1948 Fonda won the Tony Awards Best Actor Award for “Mister Roberts”. In 1958 he won the Best Actor Award from BAFTA for his performance in “Twelve Angry Men”. The Tony Awards also awarded Fonda their Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979. Fonda received another achievement award in the following year. The Golden Globes awarded Fonda the Cecil B. DeMille Achievement Award in 1980. And in 1982, Fonda received the Best Actor Award from Golden Globes for his performance in “On Golden Pond”.
Fonda’s personal life had its up and downs. In 1931 he married Margaret Sullavan with whom he acted while with the the University Players Guild. The marriage did not last long. The couple separated soon after their marriage and officially divorced in 1933. In 1936, Henry Fonda married Francis Seymour with whom he had two children, Jane and Peter Fonda. Unfortunately, Francis Seymour along the way became an alcoholic, and committed suicide in April 1950 when Henry’s children were still quite young. The oldest, Jane, was only fourteen years old. Later in December of the same year of his wife’s suicide, Fonda married Susan Blanchard. He had one child with her, and the marriage dissolved in 1956. The following year, in 1957, Fonda married Afdera Franchetti. As with the other marriages this one also failed and the couple divorced in 1961. Fonda apparently decided to take a breather from being married and did not remarry until 1965 when he married Shirley Fonda, with whom he remained married until he passed away in
Henry Fonda’s two children, Jane and Peter Fonda, both became successful actors, the profession of their father. In terms of receiving Academy Awards Jane Fonda actually outperformed her father significantly. Through his son Peter and daughter Jane Henry had four grandchildren, Bridget Fonda, Justin Fonda, Troy Garrity Fonda and Vanessa Vadim.
Henry Fonda passed away on August 12, 1982 at the age of 77 after suffering from both heart disease and prostate cancer. Although he only won one Best Actor Academy Award during his lengthy acting career, he was and still is recognized as a legendary actor. On May 16, 2005, Fonda’s 100th birthday, Turner Classic Movies honored him with a marathon of his films. Also in that same year the U.S. Post Office recognized Fonda with the issuance of a postage stamp with Fonda’s picture on it. One of the reasons he may be more appreciated now then during his lifetime was his moving performance at the end of his career “On Golden Pond”. It was and still is a classic picture.
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