The Kennedy Center

Henry Fonda


Henry Fonda
(actor; born May 16, 1905, Grand Island, Nebraska; died August 12, 1982)

Throughout his career, Henry Fonda succeeded in moving easily between the theater and film worlds. He will always shine as one of America's best-loved actors.

Fonda was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, on May 16, 1905. After graduating from Omaha Central High School, he attended the University of Minnesota, majoring in journalism because he said he had wanted "a behind-the-scenes kind of job." He flunked out, however, after trying to hold down two jobs to support his studies. Fonda once said that he ended up in acting because he didn't have anything else to do.

He started as a stage actor at the Community Playhouse in Omaha in 1925, after being asked by a friend of the family, Dorothy Brando, Marlon Brando's mother, to "help out" there. Fonda, thinking that he would be building sets, agreed. Instead, he ended up playing the lead in Philip Barry's play, You and I. In 1926, he landed a lead part in Merton of the Movies. His big break came in 1934, when he was given a role in New Faces on Broadway.

In 1935, Fonda moved to Hollywood, where he would go on to make more than 80 films. Some of his most memorable performances include, Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln, a cowboy in The Ox-Bow Incident, Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine, and an idealistic Navy officer in Mister Roberts.

Although his success in the movie business kept him busy, Fonda proved again and again that he would always be committed to the stage. He managed to find the time to involve himself in such productions as: Our Town, The Front Page, Clarence Darrow, Two for the Road, and First Monday in October.

One of Fonda's last roles was Clarence Earl Gideon in a television movie called Gideon's Trumpet. Fonda made his last movie, On Golden Pond, for which he won an Oscar, in 1981. Fonda died the next year of heart disease. He was 77.

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