You can tell how respected folks are by who shows up to eat sea bass and get up to say something profound about them when they receive awards. Everyone from Catherine Keener to Morgan Freeman to Chelsea Handler to military vet Ron Kovic gussied up to fete Jane Fonda at the 42nd AFI Life Achievement Award. A ceremony, by the way, that she first attended in 1963—when she picketed outside the party about the lack of women in the org. This year there were a handful of people picketing the actress on Hollywood Blvd.
Tables were set up on top of the seats at the Dolby Theater, and Fonda sat at the Last Supper table with her son Troy Garity on one side and her brother Peter Fonda on the other. Mel Brooks (who received the award last year and swore he wouldn’t show up this year) started the evening out saying, “Jane, I’m sorry you have to go through this—let the charade begin!”
Meryl Streep hit the stage first. She went into how she picked Fonda’s brain when Streep (in one of her first roles) found herself acting opposite her. The best advice Fonda gave her? “That green tape is your mark. If you stand on it you are in the light and you are in the movie.” It seems to have worked out for her. It was interesting how many of the other actresses referenced Streep. Sally Field said, “Everyone is going to be so much better than me—especially Meryl.” Fonda even referenced her when she accepted her big award, thanking Vera Wang for her dress (as she noted Streep did). Fashion nerd alert—even I remember when Streep thanked Isaac Mizrahi for her fabu dress at her AFI Tribute in 2004. Fonda also took credit for Streep's career following the advice she gave her.
But it was Wanda Sykes who was carried out—Barbarella style—who gave the speech that may not make it all the way to TNT. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones happened to be sitting in her eyeline and, well…You remember how Douglas said he got throat cancer? Sykes begged to differ. I almost felt bad for the guy…almost. I felt more sorry for Zeta-Jones sitting next to him. I will be so curious to see what stays in the show and what they cut. It’s always interesting to go to one of these speech-fests and see what/who rates and what’s still too blue…even for cable.
Jeff Daniels came onstage with a guitar and I think the whole audience groaned inwardly, but ya know—he wrote a funny song about the actress. I guess the title would be – “Abs, Buns and Thighs.” Her son Garity gave a terrific tribute to his mother that was funny and touching all at once, starting out, “If my mother thinks it was hard to be the daughter of Henry Fonda you should trying having Hanoi Jane for a mother…we holidayed in conflict zones.”
I have to admit I have been to more of these tributes than I can count, and this one made me tear up. Fonda’s final remarks of “Be curious, ask questions” and how she only regretted the questions she didn’t ask is something I will remember for a long time. See what makes the final cut on TNT at 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (ET/PT) with an encore on TCM slated for Friday, August 1st.
Photographs courtesy Wireimage