Hollywood royalty, Oscar winner, anti-war activist. Jane Fonda fit all of these descriptions in the late 1970s and 1980s, when she emerged in her final incarnation: The Exercise Guru. On April 24, 1982, Fonda extended its reach into the home video market with the release of Training, the first of its many best-selling aerobics bands.
Daughter of famous actor Henry Fonda (1940s star Grapes of Wrath), Jane worked as a model before joining the famous Actors Studio of Lee Strasberg. She broke in 1960 with a Tony nominated performance on Broadway’s There was a little girl and a leading role in the big screen comedy Sleeping story. She quickly established a reputation both as a sexpot (1968’s Barbarella) and serious actress, winning her first Oscar nomination for 1969 They shoot horses, don’t they? and winning the best actress statuette two years later for Klute. As an outspoken member of the opposition to the American war in Vietnam, Fonda was photographed behind enemy lines next to an anti-aircraft gun during a visit to North Vietnam in 1972. (She subsequently voiced regrets posing for the photo.)
Fonda won her second Oscar for Best Actress in 1979 for Go home. That same year, she opened her first training studio, entering a gym industry previously dominated by male boxers and bodybuilders. A former ballet enthusiast, Fonda had started practicing aerobics with her future business partner, Leni Cazden, to stay in shape. In 1981, Fonda published Jane Fonda’s Workout Book, which remained No. 1 on the non-fiction bestseller list for over six months and in the top five for over 16 months. The cover showed a smiling Fonda striking a pose in black tights and leggings.
With the phenomenal success of her exercise studios, books and videos, Fonda not only sparked the aerobics trend of the late 1970s and 1980s, but she also popularized the concept of training for women by general. Other instructors soon capitalized on the workout movement, including Richard Simmons and Judi Missett, creator of the aerobics spin-off known as Jazzercise. For the first time, millions of women (and a few men) were exercising together in groups, doing leg lifts, lateral curls and lifting dumbbells to the beat of energetic music. Aerobics also started a fashion craze, with neon spandex, leggings and leotards becoming ubiquitous among health conscious women. Fonda’s videos remained top-selling through the latter half of the 1980s, including Jane Fonda’s new workout (1986) and Jane Fonda’s Low Impact Aerobic Training (1987).
Proceeds from Fonda’s operating empire funded the Campaign for Economic Democracy, a left-wing political organization founded by her then-husband, the leading radical of the 1960s, Tom Hayden. After divorcing Hayden in 1989, Fonda largely retired from the limelight. She announced her retirement from acting in 1992, explaining her desire to spend more time with her third husband, media mogul Ted Turner. The couple divorced in 2001. Fonda returned to the big screen in several films, including Monster in law (2005), Georgia rule (2007), This is where I leave you (2014), Our souls at night (2017) and Reading Club (2018).