(Bloomberg News) To celebrate her 60th birthday, Jane Fonda wanted to make a video about her life.
"Why don't you just get a chameleon and let it crawl across the screen?" her daughter, Vanessa, sarcastically suggested.
That anecdote in Patricia Bosworth's no-holds-barred biography, "Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman," aptly sums up the mercurial movie star, sex symbol, social activist, exercise guru and trophy wife.
The daughter of Hollywood legend Henry Fonda has had more reincarnations than Shirley MacLaine. Her three husbands -- filmmaker Roger Vadim, political firebrand Tom Hayden and media tycoon Ted Turner -- reflect the scope of her interests, not to mention her lifelong search to fill the emotional void left by her prickly relationship with her distant father.
Bosworth writes about all aspects of Fonda's life, from her struggles with bulimia and guilt over her mother's suicide to death threats resulting from her trip to Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
Fonda's antiwar activities in the 1970s, along with her support of the Black Panthers, Native Americans and other left- wing causes, gets extensive coverage in the book.
Her 1972 visit to Hanoi, where she denounced U.S. President Richard Nixon as a war criminal and was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, led to accusations of treason (she was tagged "Hanoi Jane") and a congressman's call for her tongue to be cut off.
Fonda apologized for the picture years later, telling ABC's Barbara Walters that it "was a thoughtless, careless thing to do knowing the power of images."
The actress wasn't as strong-willed in her personal life as she was with her politics. She tolerated years of womanizing by all three of her husbands -- who knew that homely Hayden was a Lothario? -- before the marriages crumbled.