Henry Fonda Biography

Actor, Film Actor, Theater Actor, Television Actor (1905–1982)
Henry Fonda was an award-winning American actor best known for him film roles in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and On Golden Pond (1981).


Henry Fonda was an American actor born on May 16, 1905 in Grand Island, Nebraska. In the 1920s and '30s, Fonda appeared on stage and film, best known for his role in the movie The Grapes of Wrath (1940), which earned him a Best Actor Academy Award nomination. During World War II, Fonda served in the navy and was honored with a Bronze Star and Presidential Citation Award. Fonda starred with his daughter, Jane, in On Golden Pond (1981) which garnered him a Best Actor award. Fonda died on August 12, 1982.

Early Years

One of Hollywood's most beloved actors, Henry Jaynes Fonda was born May 16, 1905, in Grand Island, Nebraska. After graduating from Omaha Central High School, Fonda enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he intended to study journalism but eventually flunked out.

Back home in Nebraska, Fonda took a stab at acting, filling his time at the Omaha Community Playhouse, where he frequently shared the stage with Marlon Brando's mother. By the late 1920s, Fonda had made acting his full-time vocation. He traveled to New England, where he hooked up with the University Players Guild, which cast him alongside other young actors, including James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.

Film Stardom

Fonda's first big break came in the 1934 Broadway production New Faces. A year later, Fonda was out west in Hollywood, beginning what would become a nearly 50-year career in the movies.

The same year he relocated to California, Fonda made his screen debut in The Farmer Takes a Wife, which he had also starred in on Broadway. Over the next several years, Fonda's star status brightened with roles in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), The Moon's Our Own (1936), Wings of the Morning (1937), You Only Live Once (1937) and Jezebel (1938).

Critical praise came Fonda's way for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in the John Ford–directed biopic Young Mr. Lincoln (1939). A year later, Fonda teamed up with Ford again in the 1940 film adaption of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The film, which cast Fonda as itinerant farm worker Tom Joad, earned the actor his first Oscar nomination.

Unflappable and adaptable, Fonda became one of Hollywood's biggest stars, flexing his talent in a range of roles in movies such as The Lady Eve (1941), My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), Twelve Angry Men (1957) and Fail Safe (1964). In all, Fonda appeared in more than 80 films during his celebrated career.

His final on-screen performance came in 1981, when he was cast opposite his daughter Jane Fonda, and Katharine Hepburn, in the family tale On Golden Pond. The film was a critical and commercial success and finally gave the ailing actor his first Best Actor Oscar. He was 76 at the time the award was bestowed upon him, making him the oldest actor ever to receive the award.

Final Years

In all, Fonda was married five times. He had three children: actors Jane and Peter Fonda, and a second daughter, Amy Fonda. He is also the grandfather of actress Bridget Fonda.

At the time of his Oscar win, Fonda was too ill to attend the award ceremony. Instead, his daughter Jane accepted the honor for him. "My father is so happy….Me and all the grandchildren are coming over with [the award] right away!" she told the audience.

Fonda died at his Los Angeles home on August 12, 1982.

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