The 1981 film “On Golden Pond” brought together three cinema heavyweights in the form of Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Henry’s daughter, Jane Fonda. The family drama found critical and box-office success, becoming the second-highest-grossing film in the U.S. in 1981. It also garnered 10 Oscar nominations and won three, including a Best Actor award for Henry and Best Actress for Hepburn.
While the stars were a hit with audiences, not everyone on set got along. Years after the movie’s release, Fonda revealed that she and Hepburn butted heads, with the latter making it explicitly clear her dislike for Fonda, something that affectedly her greatly coming from such a legend of cinema.
Across her record-breaking, award-winning career, Hepburn acted in more than 40 films and in dozens of stage and television productions between the late 1920s to the mid-1990s. She was immortalized in Hollywood hits such as “Little Women,” “The African Queen” and “The Lion in Winter,” and she also made an indelible mark on Broadway as a stage actress.
Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907. She went to college at Bryn Mawr, where she studied acting alongside history. After graduating, Hepburn traveled to New York City, where she spent her early 1920s acting on- and off-Broadway. But it wasn’t until her appearance in “The Warrior Husband” in 1932 that the young actress began to gain some recognition. It also caught the eye of Leland Hayward, a Hollywood talent scout and agent. Hayward had the up-and-coming actress audition for “A Bill of Divorcement,” which would become Hepburn’s big break into Hollywood acting.
Known for her uncompromising, no-nonsense demeanor, Hepburn embodied the rise of the modern woman, wearing trousers long before it was fashionable. Read on to find out what she and Fonda clashed over on set.
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Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn (1981), (John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis/Getty Images)
Much like Hepburn but of a different era, Fonda was a popular and decorated actress in her own right. Born on Dec. 21, 1937, the actress, author, fitness expert, feminist, and activist is a true multi-hyphenate. Known for being one of the most beautiful women in the world, Fonda is not only gorgeous but extremely talented and intelligent to boot.
Fonda first lit up the big screens in the 1960s. Her fans were thrilled by her performances in movies like “Fun With Dick And Jane,” “A Doll’s House,” “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” and, of course, the classics “Barbarella” and “Klute.” Fonda left Hollywood a few times over the years, but she always returned to thrill fans once more. In the 1980s, Fonda also gained immense popularity with women for her aerobics workout videos.
The icon boasts seven Oscar nominations and two wins for “Coming Home” and “Klute,” as well as five Emmy nominations and one win for “The Dollmaker.” In recent years, she has appeared in films such as “Monster-In-Law,” “Georgia Rule” and “This Is Where I Leave You,” and TV shows including “Grace and Frankie
However, her extensive body of work and industry recognition did nothing to endear Fonda to Hepburn when they first worked together. Fonda recalled the first thing the icon of classic cinema said to her when they met, and it wasn’t particularly uplifting.
“It all happened the first time I met her. … I came to where she lived in New York and the first thing she said to me was ‘I don’t like you,’” Fonda told fellow actress Marlo Thomas in an interview.
That set the tone for their interactions throughout filming, although Fonda admitted that despite Hepburn’s frosty attitude, she learned a lot about herself because of it.
Katharine Hepburn (1930), (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)
Fonda recalled that Hepburn had taken issue with her personal style, telling SiriusXM:
“I remember Katharine Hepburn saying to me on the set of ‘On Golden Pond’ ‘you never could have made it back then. … She was a prickly one. I just wasn’t glamorous enough. She hated the fact that I didn’t put enough attention to how I presented myself.”
However, Fonda said Hepburn’s blunt remarks were still helpful.
“She taught me that self-consciousness isn’t necessarily bad, that it’s important to be aware of how you present, not just what you have on and how you look, but your presentation as a human being on all levels,” she said, adding “I’m thinking I give her more credit than she deserves but at least how you look and what you dress, she felt, was very important and she hated the fact that at the time I didn’t put any attention to it.”
Fonda also told Harper’s Bazaar Hepburn was intensely competitive.
“What an interesting woman. I mean, we were not friends. She was really competitive. She really thought that I was out to win more Academy Awards than she was, and when she won for ‘On Golden Pond,’ I called to congratulate her, and she said, ‘You’ll never catch me now,’” Fonda recalled.
Even then, Fonda still admired the star and respected her greatly, adding in the same interview:
“What I loved about her was that she took the job of being an elder very seriously. She was intentional about teaching me and talking to me, including giving me line readings, and I found that just wonderful.”
However, at the end of the day, Fonda said the hostility remained.
“She did not like me. … She once told (gossip writer) Dominick Dunne that I didn’t have a soul.”
What do you think of Katharine Hepburn’s “prickly” attitude toward Jane Fonda? Have you watched “On Golden Pond?” What did you think of their onscreen performances? Let us know, and don’t forget to pass this on to all the fans of the two cinema legends you know.