Happy Birthday Henry Fonda
Henry Jaynes Fonda was born on May 16, 1905, in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Fonda’s ancestors had moved from Genoa, Italy, to the Netherlands before becoming some of the first Dutch settlers in upstate New York (known as New Netherland at the time). They also established the town of Fonda, New York, which still bears their name today. These ancestors later moved to Nebraska in the late 1800s.
Fonda was a shy child, but had a talent for skating, swimming, and running. He worked part-time at his father’s print plant and considered working as a journalist. Fonda was also a boy scout and enjoyed drawing. After high school he studied journalism at the University of Minnesota, but didn’t graduate.
Fonda first got into acting when he was 20 years old. His mother’s friend, Dodie Brando (mother of Marlon Brando), suggested he try out for a part in the Omaham Community Playhouse production of You and I. He got the part and was quickly enamored with the entire process, learning about every aspect of the theater. In 1928 he quit his job to move East in hopes of finding work as an actor.
Fonda moved to Massachusetts where he found a small role and then joined the University Players. He then moved to New York City where he befriended and lived with James Stewart. During this time Fonda appeared in several Broadway productions.
Fonda’s big break came in 1935 when he was offered a part in The Farmer Takes a Wife, reprising his role from the Broadway play that had gained him significant attention. Soon Stewart moved out to Hollywood to join him and they lived next door to Greta Garbo. That same year, Fonda appeared in I Dream Too Much with Lily Pons. The New York Times called him “the most likable of the new crop of romantic juveniles.” Fonda then appeared in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the first Technicolor movie to be filmed outdoors.
In the coming years, Fonda worked with Hollywood’s elite, including Bette Davis and John Ford. He had several big hits, including You Only Live Once, Jezebel, Young Mr. Lincoln, Jesse James, and Drums Along the Mohawk. Then in 1940 he appeared in The Grapes of Wrath, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Many consider this to be the best performance of his career.