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Henry Fonda Biography (1905-1982)

died August 12, 1982, Los Angeles, California), American stage and film actor who appeared in more than 90 films over six decades and created quintessential American heroes known for their integrity.

Early Life And Career

Fonda grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and the surrounding area. He studied journalism at the University of Minnesota but returned home during his sophomore year. He began acting at the Omaha Community Playhouse at the behest of Marlon Brando’s mother, Dorothy, a Playhouse cofounder. In 1928 Fonda moved to the East Coast to pursue his acting career. He soon joined the University Players Guild, a small summer-stock theatre troupe in Falmouth, Massachusetts, where he met, among others, Joshua LoganJimmy Stewart, and Margaret Sullavan, who became the first of his five wives.

Fonda made his Broadway debut in 1929, with a small part in The Game of Love and Death. Other stage appearances followed, and in 1934 he played his first leading role on Broadway in The Farmer Takes a Wife. He reprised the role in his movie debut the next year. In 1936 Fonda married socialite Frances Ford Seymour Brokaw, and the couple had two children, Jane and Peter, both of whom became noted actors. Frances later committed suicide.

Stardom: The Grapes Of WrathMister Roberts, And 12 Angry Men

Trained on the stage to project his voice, Fonda quickly adapted to film by underplaying his roles, which gave him a quietly intense screen persona. This reserved approach prevented him from becoming a romantic screen idol, although his good looks and adaptable presence made him a successful leading man in the period drama Jezebel (1938), with Bette Davis, and the romantic comedies The Lady Eve (1941), with Barbara Stanwyck, and The Big Street (1942), with Lucille Ball.

During this time, Fonda also began appearing in movies directed by John Ford, and their collaborations produced a number of classic films that established Fonda as a star. He portrayed a gallery of populist American icons, including the gentle, modest Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and the dispossessed farmer and ex-convict Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel. The latter role earned Fonda particular praise and his first Academy Award nomination. He also appeared in Ford’s classic westerns My Darling Clementine (1946), playing the legendary sheriff Wyatt Earp, and Fort Apache (1948), in which he starred as the inflexible Lieut. Col. Owen Thursday, a character modeled on George Armstrong Custer.

Although the typical Fonda character frequently moves in a world of men—the American West, the army, the navy—he is less a man of action than one of quiet thought. In films such as The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), his characters embody the voice of conscience and reason. Their integrity and decency, rather than physical strength or athletic grace and exuberance, provide the impetus for their heroism.

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