The event: The American Film Institute’s 42nd Life Achievement Award gala on Thursday brought out a who’s who of Hollywood to praise Jane Fonda for her expansive career, kindness to young actors, portrayal of female characters, abundant energy, political activism, and, as presenter Michael Douglas stated, “her body,” quickly adding “of work.” That work was seen throughout the evening in clips from Fonda’s many films, spanning genres and showcasing her versatility.
The scene: Guests rose as Fonda entered the ballroom at the Dolby Theatre, tears welling in her eyes as she made her way to her table, en route greeting Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, family members and friends, many of whom soon ascended the stage to tell their stories about the two-time Academy Award-winning actress. First up: Last year’s honoree, Mel Brooks, who said, addressing AFI, “You finally got it right,” of this year’s honoree.
The speakers: “Are we ready to work out?” said Meryl Streep, reciting the introduction to Fonda’s “advanced workout,” her weight-loss regimen after having children, before telling a tale of Fonda’s helpfulness on her first film. Wanda Sykes arrived onstage as a space-age Fonda in “Barbarella,” carried by a gentleman wearing angel wings. Jeff Daniels, her co-star in TV’s “The Newsroom” sang of Fonda’s talents, his refrain referencing her “abs, buns and thighs.”
Also taking turns at the podium were Cameron Diaz; Lily Tomlin; Sally Field; Eva Longoria; AFI board chair Sir Howard Stringer; AFI President Bob Gazzale; Fonda’s son Troy Garity; Fonda’s brother Peter Fonda; Ron Kovic, who inspired Fonda's 1978 film “Coming Home”; and Sandra Bullock, who said she came to express the overall sentiment in the room, “that we are all pretty much finding Jane annoying… because everything she does, she does just a little better than any of us do it, and that does not sit well in a room of narcissists.”
The crowd: The star-studded turnout also included Morgan Freeman, Melanie Griffith, Rosanna Arquette, Dylan McDermott, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, Diane Lane, Eve Ensler, Diego Boneta, Chelsea Handler, Clive Davis, Alison Pill, Sam Waterston and Marcia Gay Harden.
Quotes of note: “If my mother thinks it was difficult being the daughter of Henry Fonda, she should try being the son of Hanoi Jane,” said Garity, Fonda's son with ex-husband Tom Hayden. He got perhaps the night’s biggest laughs as he described that experience. “My first 13 birthday parties were fundraisers,” he said. “My mother never hired a nanny to watch out for me -- that’s what the FBI was for.”
Said Fonda in accepting her award: “I’m so happy to add another woman’s name to the list.” She then thanked Vera Wang for designing her dress and ended her remarks by dispensing this advice: “Ask questions. Stay curious. Stay interested. It’s much more important to be interested than interesting.”
The broadcast: The “AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda” will air on TNT on June 14, with encores on TCM, the Turner Classic Movies network.
Ellen Olivier is the founder of SocietyNewsLA.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun