Thursday, February 22,

Henry Fonda - His Italian Connection



I often wondered why Henry Fonda, and his progeny Peter and Jane seemed so "Americanized", and never made any references to their Italian heritage.


I supposed that it was because Henry was born and raised in Nebraska, where you are not apt to find too many Italians, and he was raised in the Christian Science faith, where again you might not find too many Italians.  


But Henry was interested enough that he apparently researched his genealogy and in his autobiography he wrote:


That the Fondas can trace their ancestry to Genoa, Italy and that sometime after 1520 when writings of the German Reformation with certain radical tendencies in opposition to Rome are first known to have crossed the Alps, they joined this Reformation.  


The deliberate and systematic reaction instigated from Rome; the bull of Paul III., Licet ab initio , by the terms of which the Inquisition was organized after the Spanish model, and extended over all Italy.This tribunal, personally directed by the popes, utilizing the entire political influence of the Curia, accomplished its work by driving a number of the chief advocates of reform to flight, by dungeon and fire and water, and smothered the movement.


The Reformation while starting in Germany became particularly strong in the Netherlands, where the Fondas fled/ escaped  to.


The Fondas intermarried with Dutch burghers' daughters, picked up the first names of the Low Countries, but retained the Italianate Fonda.


In the 1600's the Fondas followed Pieter Stuyvesant to America, where he founded New Amsterdam, but instead of settling in Manhattan, canoed up the Hudson River to the Indian village of Caughawaga. Within a few generations, the Mohawks and the Iroquois were killed or fled, and the town became known to mapmakers as Fonda, New York.


Of course, in time Stuyvesant surrendered Nieuw Amsterdam to the English which they renamed New York.


The Fonda family emigrated westward from New York in the 1800s, and Henry was born in Grand Island, Nebraska to William Brace Fonda and Herberta Krueger Jaynes.


Henry was a Broadway roomate of Jimmy Stewart, and life long friend. Fonda's relationship with Jimmy Stewart survived their disagreements over politicsFonda was a liberal Democrat, and Stewart a conservative Republican. After a heated argument, they avoided talking politics with each other. In 1970, Fonda and Stewart costarred in the western The Cheyenne Social Club, a minor film in which the two humorously argued politics.


In looking for recent bits of "Italian" connection; they are hard to find:

Henry Fonda was married five times. His marriage to Margaret Brooke Sullavan in 1931 soon ended in separation. In 1936, he married Frances Ford Seymour. They had two children: Peter and Jane. In 1950, Seymour committed suicide. In 1950, Fonda married Susan Blanchard, the stepdaughter of Oscar Hammerstein II. Together, they adopted a daughter, Amy (born 1953), but divorced three years later, and in 1957 Fonda married Italian Countess Afdera Franchetti. They divorced in 1961. Soon after, Fonda married Shirlee Mae Adams and remained with her for seventeen years, until his death in 1982.

He appeared against type as the villain "Frank" in 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West. . After turning down the role, he was talked into it by director Sergio Leone, who flew from Italy to the United States to persuade him to play the part.

The 1970s were the time of " disaster" movies. The first of these came in 1977 with the Italian killer octopus thriller Tentacoli (Tentacles)   [RAA: I think I'm glad I missed that one:)]


Henry Jaynes Fonda


Henry Jaynes Fonda (May 16, 1905  August 12, 1982) was a highly acclaimed American film, stage and television actor, best known for his roles as plain-speaking idealists. Fonda's subtle, naturalistic acting style preceded by many years the popularization of Method acting. He was the patriarch of a family of famous actors, including son Peter Fonda, daughter Jane Fonda, granddaughter Bridget Fonda and grandson Troy Garity.

Fonda was born to William Brace Fonda and Herberta Jaynes. From his humble upbringing in a Nebraskan Christian Scientist family, Fonda made his mark early as a Broadway actor, and made his Hollywood debut in 1935. Fonda's career gained momentum after his Academy Award-nominated performance in 1940's The Grapes of Wrath, an adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel about an Oklahoma family who moved west during the 1930's Dust Bowl. Throughout six decades in Hollywood, Fonda cultivated a versatile career and a concrete screen image in such classics as The Ox-Bow Incident, Mister Roberts and 12 Angry Men.

Later in his life, Fonda moved both toward more challenging and lighter roles in such epics as Once Upon a Time in the West  and family comedies like Yours, Mine and Ours. He earned a Tony nomination for his role in 1974's Clarence Darrow (having previously won a Tony in Mister Roberts  in 1948), and finished his career with a critically-acclaimed performance in On Golden Pond  in 1981, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Fonda was also honored with "Lifetime Achievement" Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Tony Awards. He died in 1982, leaving behind a legacy of classic performances, many of which are considered the finest examples of the "Golden Age of Hollywood."


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