The Selfish Secret Henry Fonda Kept From His Kids

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The Selfish Secret Henry Fonda Kept From His Kids

Throughout a career that spanned over five decades, actor Henry Fonda played the roles of charming, funny and principled men, including Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and Davis a.k.a Juror #8 in 12 Angry Men. However, these portrayals were a far cry from his off-screen persona.  


Fonda's life was riddled with drama resulting from his many tumultuous relationships. The actor was married five times, but it was his marriage to his second wife, Frances Seymour Brokaw, that led to an unfathomable tragedy.

The actor and Brokaw tied the knot after meeting meeting on the set of their movie, Wings of the Morning in 1936. During their marriage, they welcomed two children, Jane and Peter. However, a few years later, the couple were forced to spend some time apart after Fonda enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He fought in the Second World War and even received the Bronze Star Medal according to the Times.

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Soon after Fonda returned home, things between him and Brokaw started to get sour. He was allegedly involved in an affair with a 20-year-old woman, which prompted him to ask Brokaw for a divorce.

"Jane Fonda's father was cold and a bully, not to mention a shameless womaniser, but"”too young to understand mental illness"”his daughter always blamed the alarming behavior of her manic depressive mother for the break-up of her parents' marriage," read a profile on Daily Mail.

Unfortunately, his decision to end his marriage with Brokaw bore tragic consequences.

Borkaw, who was said to have been battling a mental illness, was so devastated from Fonda leaving her that she became depressed. She checked into a psychiatric hospital for treatment, but things did not look up.

Mere months after her marriage fell apart, 42-year-old Brokaw committed suicide with a stolen razor on her birthday.


Despite the tragic outcome, Fonda continued his womanizing ways. He married Susan Blanchard the following year, but their nuptials only lasted for five years.

The actor refused to discuss the death of his second wife, and hid the truth from Jane and Peter. It took about a year for Jane to finally learn how her mother died.

"A year after my mother died, I was in study hall and a girlfriend passed me a movie magazine, in which it said that my mother had cut her throat," Jane said during an episode of Oprah's Master Class.

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For a while, the Barberella actress blamed herself for her mother's death. "I thought, if I had gone downstairs and seen her that day that she came to the house, then she wouldn't have killed herself," Jane said. "It was my fault."

It wasn't until she got older that she uncovered the real reason why Brakow struggled. "One of the most important things that I learned is that [my mother] had been sexually abused," Jane said tearfully. "Everything fell into place."

I was able to forgive myself," Jane added. "It had nothing to do with me."

As for Fonda, he eventually settled down with his fifth wife, Shirlee Adams, a former flight attendant. She remained by his side until his death in 1982 at the age of 77.

"The extent to which my father has become more open to affection and less angry has to do with Shirlee," Jane explained in an interview People Magazine. "This is the relationship I wish he'd had earlier on. One day I saw Shirlee standing behind his chair, and it suddenly struck me why they love each other."

Despite the rocky relationship she had with her iconic father, Jane said there is so much she wish she had told him while he was still alive.

"I miss him so much," she said in a recent interview with TODAY. "I think I'd be able to talk to him now, which was something I had a hard time doing when he was alive; I was too intimidated by him. There's so much that I wasn't able to say."

Since she can't go back and change anything, she vowed to learn from her father's mistakes and establish the best relationship possible with her own children.

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.