In 1971, the year they met onstage at an anti-war meeting, few could imagine as unlikely a pair as Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda. He was nationally known as a radical activist, a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society , and one of the most vocal critics of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. She was a newcomer to the anti--war movement, the wife of French director Roger Vadim, and a Hollywood actress known for, among other roles, her portrayal of a sci--fi sex kitten in the film "Barbarella." on screen as "Barbarella."
Nothing really clicked at that first meeting. But a year later, when Fonda was making an anti-war speech and slide presentation at the Embassy Theater in Los Angeles , Hayden went backstage to offer a few pointers. There, they met for keeps; according to Hayden, Fonda sysa she knew then that they were destined to fall in love. What follows is the story of how this came about, excerpted from Hayden's book, "Reunion : A Memoir, " to be published later this month.
I WENT TO JANE'S Laurel Canyon house to show her my educational materials about Indochina. We sat on her living-room floor in front of the fireplace, and I flashed slide after slide on the opposite wall. Reflecting my emphasis on culture and people, the slides went through the little-known history of Vietnam, the villages, the importance of land, the people's cultural modesty. Then it switched to the "Honda culture" of Saigon, the impoverished refugees, the brothels and bars full of teen-age prostitutes.
Jane was starting to cry. I kept flipping slides of grotesque young Saigon women, talking about the breast and eye operations performed to turn them into round-eyed, round-bodied, Westernized women, transforming them body and soul into creatures of our culture. Suddenly I understood why she was weeping: I was talking about the image of superficial sexiness she once promoted and was now trying to shake. I looked at her in a new way. Maybe I could love someone like this.
Jane was right. We did fall in love soon after. I was 32, she 34; both of us were starting over.
The passion of our common involvement no doubt caused our involvement in passion for each other. Being able to fight the same hazardous battles daily, and to do so together rather than in loneliness, was a powerful basis for this love. Work now took on a sheer enjoyment for the first time in years. Inner sources of love between two people cannot be fully analyzed; they are private and full of mystery. But it was important that Jane was a woman who could not be eclipsed or diminished in my shadow, and I was a man who was not threatened by her greater fame and power. She was fatigued by men who either pursued her as a notch on their belt or were rattled by being in her shadow. In addition, each of us reassured the other in fundamental ways: She wondered if she could be taken seriously, genuinely, as a committed person or whether she was a shallow latecomer to a decade-long movement; I wondered if there was any way to assert a public leadership role without damaging my personal relationships. We helped each other overcome these doubts.
Of course, there were other differences. She had missed the early years of the '60s, which were so important to my vision, patience and organizing approach. She had entered the movement at its most overheated state, when everyone and everything had hardened. In a very deep way I was still participating in the experience of youth, an outsider with no possessions or responsibilities, living by wits and ideals on the economic margin. She had dropped out of Vassar, gone straight into a successful career, become a mother, and amassed significant income, which was spent on her material desires. I could keep my clothes in one large drawer; she needed extensive closets and domestic help. I was a famous radical who was morally and politically skeptical about fame; she was an actress whose career itself depended on public acclaim. We must have appeared like a remake of "Beauty and the Beast," but these differences were more amusing than stressful as we happily came to know each other that summer.