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Henry Fonda Overview:

Legendary actor, Henry Fonda, was born Henry Jaynes Fonda on May 16, 1905 in Grand Island, NE. Fonda appeared in over 110 film and TV roles. His best known films include Jezebel, Jesse James, Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Grapes of Wrath, The Lady Eve, The Male Animal, My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache, Mister Roberts, 12 Angry Men, How the West Was Won, Once Upon a Time in the West and On Golden Pond. Fonda died at the age of 77 on Aug 12, 1982 in Los Angeles, CA and was cremated and his ashes scattered in unknown location.


Patriarch of the Fonda family acting dynasty, Henry Fonda is one of America's most accomplished actors with a career spanning five decades. Fonda was born on May 16th, 1905 in Grand Island, Nebraska. Despite his short stature and gentle nature, Fonda proved to have a talent for athletics, participating in skating, swimming and running. He blossomed in high school, growing past six feet tall, but remained as shy as he had in childhood. When Fonda was 14, his father took him to observe the lynching of a black man accused of rape. This experience would affect him for the rest of his life, creating a strong awareness of prejudice, and shaping his political views from that day on. He briefly attended the University of Minnesota where he studied to become a journalist but he would not graduate.


Upon returning home, Fonda decided to take up acting. His first amateur gig was for the Omaha Community Playhouse, often acting along Dodie Brando (mother of Marlon Brando). He grew to appreciate acting as an escape from his own shy, awkward personality, favoring the idea of creating a new character for the world to behold instead of his own. In 1928, he headed east to further pursue his dream. His first professional acting job came from the Cape Playhouse. Soon he was introduced to the University Players, an intercollegiate summer stock company. While there, he met his future wife Margaret Sullivan and began a life-long friendship with James Stewart. In 1929 Fonda moved to New York City, soon followed by Stewart where the two became roommates, aiding each other in bettering their craft. Fonda's first Broadway appearance was 1929's The Game of Death. However, with the Great Depression in full swing, Fonda found himself out of a job more than he was with one. When not acting, Fonda would also work as set designer to make ends meet. In 1933, following a divorce from his first wife, Margaret Sullivan, he starred in the play The Farmer Takes a Wife. 20th Century Fox was quick to buy the rights and soon, Fonda was off to Hollywood.


The film adaption of Farmer Takes a Wife hit theaters across America in 1935 and with it came Hollywood's newest leading man. Fonda was then loaned out for RKO's I Dream Too Much. Critics praised him as the one of the most likable romantic leads to be newly recruited to tinsel town. In 1936 he starred opposite Fred MacMurray in The Trail of the Lonesome, the first Technicolor production filmed in the great outdoors. He re-teamed with Sullivan for The Moon's Our Home and briefly rekindled their old relationship. Fonda's shining star got brighter as he starred in the 1937 Fritz Lang film You Only Live Once. The next year Fonda would star opposite Bette Davis in the massively popular Jezebel. The film was popular with both critics and audiences alike, becoming one of biggest hits of the year and receiving seven academy award nominations. His next film, 1939's Young Mr. Lincoln, marked Fonda's first of many collaborations with director John Ford. That same year the two released Drums Along the Mohawk, a much larger commercial triumph than their first collaboration. However, a much larger triumph was just around the corner.


In1940, Fonda once again re-teamed with John Ford for the film adaption of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Although the part of Tom Joad has since become his signature role, and Steinbeck himself supported Fonda as the films lead, Producer Darryl Zanuck originally saw Tyrone Power as the wistful migrant farm worker. It was when Fonda signed a seven-year contract that Zanuck agreed to the casting. The film was a hit and Fonda received the best reviews of his life, ultimately being nominated for his first Academy Award. Fonda's adaptability and professionalism allowed him to star in a plethora of projects during the 1940's. He showed his softer, more comical side opposite Barbara Stanwyck in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve and in 1942's Rings on Her fingers. In 1943, he starred in the western-physiological drama, The Ox-Bow Incident.

As the U.S committed itself to the allied powers during World War II, Fonda enlisted in the Navy, stating, ?I don't want to be in a fake war in a studio.? He served for three years, first on a destroyer ship before being commissioned as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in Air Combat Intelligence. For his duty, he was awarded the Navy Presidential Unit Citation and the Bronze Star. Upon his return to Hollywood, Fonda teamed with John Ford once more to star as Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine. The film is still hailed as one of the best filmic interpretations of the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral. In 1948, he played his first truly unsympathetic character in Fort Apache opposite John Wayne and Shirley Temple (in her role as an adult). His final film under contact for 20th Century Fox was Otto Preminger's Daisy Kenyon.


After being released from his contract, Fonda found work scarce in Hollywood and opted to return to Broadway. In 1955, he returned to Hollywood for the screen adaption of Mister Roberts, reprising his Tony Award Winning Broadway role. The film was a huge success and Hollywood was once again inundating Fonda with offers. In 1956 he starred opposite Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in the big screen adaption of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. In 1957, he starred in the Alfred Hitchcock semi-documentary narrative The Wrong Man. In 1957, Fonda wore the hats of both actor and producer for the courtroom drama 12 Angry Men. He was nominated for his second Oscar, but this time as producer rather than actor.

During the late 1950's and early 1960's, Fonda trekked between coasts, alternating between Broadway and Hollywood. On the Hollywood side of the equation, Fonda starred mostly in war and western epics. In 1962, both The Longest Day and How The West Was Won were released to critical and commercial success. In 1964, Fonda starred as the President of the United Stated in Fail Safe, a cold war drama about the dangers nuclear war. In 1968, Fonda played Frank in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. At first Fonda turned down the role as the cold-blooded killer, feeling that the part was too against type, but he was convinced into accepting it by Leone who flew from Italy to Hollywood to personally persuade him.


In 1970, he teamed with old friend James Stewart to star in The Cheyenne Social Club. The next year, he returned to television for the police drama, Smith. In 1973, he earned an Emmy nomination for his work in the television movie, The Red Pony. He returned to Broadway in 1974 for the biographical drama, Clarence Darrow, and in turn was nominated for a Tony Award. After a health scare, he retired from the exhausting world of the stage but remained active in film and television, including appearing in the mini-series Roots: The Next Generation. Fonda's final project was 1981's On Golden Pond opposite Katharine Hepburn and his daughter, Jane Fonda. In the film, Fonda played an aged college professor coming to terms with both his age and dying while trying to reconnect with his daughter. For his final performance, Fonda received a long-over-do Academy Award for Best Actor. Just a few months later, on August 12th, 1982, Henry Fonda died in his Los Angeles home of heart disease. He was 77 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



Henry Fonda was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Actor for On Golden Pond in 1981. He also won one Honorary Award in 1980 , the consummate actor, in recognition of his brilliant accomplishments and enduring contribution to the art of motion pictures .

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1940Best ActorThe Grapes of Wrath (1940)Tom JoadNominated
1957Best Picture12 Angry Men (1957)N/ANominated
1981Best ActorOn Golden Pond (1981)N/AWon

Academy Awards (Honorary Oscars)

1980Honorary Award, the consummate actor, in recognition of his brilliant accomplishments and enduring contribution to the art of motion pictures


He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. Henry Fonda's handprints and footprints were 'set in stone' at Grauman's Chinese Theater during imprint ceremony #66 on Jul 24, 1942. In addition, Fonda was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and was immortalized on a US postal stamp in 2005.

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Henry Fonda Quotes:

Pierre Bezukhov: I have sinned, Lord, but I have several excellent excuses.

Julie: Pres, why did you do it? Why, Pres?
Preston Dillard: Because I love her.
Julie: But you had my love.
Preston Dillard: And lost it.
Julie: Wasn't that memory more real than anything she had to give to you? Oh, don't be cross with me, Pres, just tell me. You must.
Preston Dillard: Please don't, Julie.
Julie: Shall I cry for ya? Nobody ever made me cry but you. And that was only twice. Do you remember?
Preston Dillard: Yes.
Julie: How much do you remember?
Preston Dillard: Everything you ever said or did. But that's passed now, Julie. Done, finished.

Clementine Carter: I love your town in the morning, Marshal. The air is so clean and clear... the scent of the desert flower.
Wyatt Earp: That's me... barber.

read more quotes from Henry Fonda...

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Henry Fonda Facts
Earned the rank of Life Scout and became a scout master as an adult.

Was a first-hand witness to the Omaha race riots of 1919 and lynching of Will Brown.

Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 284-287. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.

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