While many Americans know her as an Oscar-winning actress and onetime queen of aerobics videos, some Republicans hope voters will also remember Jane Fonda for a more controversial association: “Hanoi Jane.”
A 1970 photograph showing Fonda and Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry has surfaced on the Internet and TV news programs, fueling speculation that the GOP may try to make Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War record an election issue by linking him with a former antiwar activist still reviled by many veterans.
The photo, taken at an antiwar rally in Pennsylvania where Kerry and Fonda gave speeches critical of America’s military escalation in Vietnam, was published Wednesday in the Washington Times newspaper and later shown on television. The snapshot, which shows Kerry and Fonda sitting in a large crowd several feet apart, is among several being circulated among Vietnam veterans.
Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, received numerous medals for his service as a Navy patrol boat commander in Vietnam. But he returned home a disgruntled 27-year-old serviceman, and became a leading voice in the protest group Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Fonda’s visit to Hanoi in 1972 to meet with North Vietnamese officials -- during which she criticized the U.S. government over Hanoi radio -- earned her the lasting scorn of many Vietnam veterans, who dubbed her “Hanoi Jane.”
The daughter of venerable actor Henry Fonda starred in such films as “Klute,” “Coming Home” and “The China Syndrome.” She married Tom Hayden, an antiwar leader and later a California lawmaker, and made millions as a pioneer in the personal fitness craze of the 1980s. She divorced Hayden, then married billionaire Ted Turner. She and Turner were later divorced.
Many Vietnam veterans remember her for only one searing image: Dressed in Viet Cong combat fatigues and mugging for cameras while thousands of U.S. soldiers were fighting in Vietnam.
The photo of Fonda and Kerry was taken two years before Fonda’s Hanoi trip.
The actress, who has apologized for her actions, told CNN on Wednesday that the effort to discredit Kerry by an association with her was part of “the big lie.”
“Any attempt to link Kerry to me and make him look bad with that connection is completely false. We were at a rally for veterans at the same time. I don’t even think we shook hands,” Fonda said of the 1970 photograph.
“This was an organization of men who risked their lives in Vietnam, who considered themselves totally patriotic,” she said, referring to Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
“So anyone who slams that organization and slams Kerry for being part of it is doing an injustice to veterans. How can you impugn, how can you even suggest, that anyone like Kerry or any of these veterans were not patriotic? He was a hero there.”
John Hurley, national director of veterans affairs for the Kerry campaign, said he had not seen the photo but downplayed its significance.
“John Kerry’s war record speaks for itself,” Hurley said. “His war service earned him the right to speak out against what he thought was an immoral war. A lot of very considerable people opposed that war. John Kerry was one of them.”
Douglas Brinkley, author of “Tour of Duty,” a chronicle of Kerry’s Vietnam experiences, said Wednesday that several photos circulating on the Internet were taken before Fonda visited North Vietnam, and that the two were not even acquaintances.
Still, he said, the photos are being used by conservatives to politically wound Kerry and suggest that he might be soft on communism.
“It’s guilt by association,” Brinkley said. “ ‘Hanoi Jane’ is a lightning rod among many veterans. Even today, many remain angry about her trip to Vietnam. But John Kerry has always spoken out that he thought that trip was the wrong thing to do.”
For years, Fonda endured a negative public image because of her days as a political activist in the 1970s.
In 1982, protesters bearing “Hanoi Jane” placards gathered outside an exercise class she led in Tampa, Fla. Six years later, 1,000 people took part in a rally in Waterbury, Conn., where Fonda was filming a movie.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a media studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Journalism, said many voters were not old enough to recall “Hanoi Jane.”
Does that “audience even recognize her?” she said of Fonda. “And if they do, do they associate her with anything other than with her movies or her exercise videos?”
But some Vietnam veterans say Fonda’s actions went beyond political dissent and became traitorous. One website shows a photo of Fonda being cheered by North Vietnamese gunners while wearing a steel helmet during her 1972 visit.
The caption says the actress peeped through the sight of an antiaircraft gun “looking for one of those blue-eyed murderers.”
Paul Galanti, a former Navy pilot who spent more than six years in North Vietnamese captivity, said that the image of Fonda still makes many veterans angry.
He described a U.S. Marine friend at the U.S. Naval Academy who several years ago encountered a group of female midshipmen working out to a Jane Fonda exercise video.
“He took the video out of the machine, threw it on the floor and smashed it with his foot,” Galanti said. “They were too young to even know who Jane Fonda was. But he was a Vietnam veteran. He’ll never forget her.”
Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg dismissed any connection between Wednesday’s debate over the Kerry-Fonda photo with Democratic criticism of President Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the Air National Guard.
“I don’t think they’re related,” he said. “But now that Kerry seems likely to become the Democratic nominee for president, the Republicans are going to try and define him in the eyes of the American public.”
And, Steinberg added, “just the visual association with someone as infamous as Jane Fonda in the eyes of many suggests a level of irresponsibility not normally associated with a candidate for president.”
Democrats scoffed at a maneuver one advisor called “goofy in the extreme.”
“This isn’t your father’s Democratic Party. If they think the line of attack that worked for Joe McCarthy or George Bush Sr. is going to work on John Kerry, they’re sadly mistaken,” said Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist who in 1992 helped Bill Clinton fight charges that he ducked the draft.
Citing Kerry’s decorated war service, he said “on three different occasions John Kerry so annoyed the communists that they shot him. It would be difficult to paint him as a communist.”
Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak and researcher Susannah Rosenblatt contributed to this report.