Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Late Great Peter Fonda

Peter Fonda, son of legendary actor Henry Fonda and star of such films as Easy Rider (1969), The Hired Hand (1971), and Ulee's Gold (1997), died yesterday, August 16 2019, at the age of 79. The cause was lung cancer.

Peter Fonda was born on February 23 1940 in New York City. He attended college in his father's home state at the University of Nebraska Omaha. While there he joined the Omaha Community Playhouse. He made his only appearance on Broadway in Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole in 1961.

Peter Fonda made his film debut in Tammy and the Doctor in 1963, but his career would soon take him away from such mainstream films. After appearing in The Victors (1963), Lilith (1964), and The Young Lovers (1964), he appeared in the first of American International Pictures' outlaw biker films, The Wild Angels in 1966. He followed it with Roger Corman's psychedelic film The Trip (1967) and Histoires extraordinaires (1968), a portmanteau film directed by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini. He appeared in Roger Vadim's segment "Metzengerstein" alongside his sister Jane. Of course, his greatest claim to fame would come with Easy Rider (1969). Not only did Peter Fonda play Wyatt (AKA "Captain America") in the film, but he also co-wrote the screenplay Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern. Its screenplay was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Even as his film career was unfolding in the Sixties, Peter Fonda appeared on television. He made his television debut on the acclaimed series Naked City in the episode "The Night the Saints Lost Their Halos" in 1962. He also guest starred on such shows as The New Breed, Wagon Train, The Defenders, Channing, Arrest and Trial, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 12 O'Clock High, Insight, and The Red Skelton Show. He appeared in the TV movies High Noon: The Clock Strikes Noon Again and Certain Honorable Men.

Peter Fonda began the Seventies with what would become one of his most respected films, the Western The Hired Hand (1971). During the decade he appeared in such films as The Last Movie (1971), Two People (1973), Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), Open Season (1974), Race with the Devil (1975),  92 in the Shade (1975), Killer Force (1976), Fighting Mad (1976), Futureworld (1976), Outlaw Blues (1977), High Ballin' (1978), and Wanda Nevada (1979). His only appearance on television during the Seventies was the TV movie The Hostage Tower in 1980. In the Seventies Mr. Fonda also took to directing. He directed The Hired Hand, Idaho Transfer (1973), and Wanda Nevada.

In the Eighties Peter Fonda appeared in such films as The Cannonball Run (1981), Split Image (1982), Daijôbu, mai furendo (1983), Dance of the Dwarfs (1983), Peppermint-Frieden (1983), Spasms (1983), Certain Fury (1985), Mercenary Fighters (1988), Hawken's Breed (1988), The Rose Garden (1989), and Fatal Mission (1990). He also contributed to the script of the film Fatal Mission. On television he appeared in the TV movies A Reason to Live and Sound.

It was in the Nineties that Peter Fonda once more received critical recognition, this time for the movie Ulee's Gold (1997). For the lead role of Ulee Jackson in the film he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Lead Role and the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. He also appeared in such films as Family Express (1991), Bodies, Rest & Motion (1993), South Beach (1993), Deadfall (1993), Molly & Gina (1994), Love and a .45 (1994), Nadja (1994), Escape from LA (1996), Painted Hero (1997), Welcome to Hollywood (1998), The Limey (1999), South of Heaven, West of Hell (2000), Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000), and Second Skin (2000). On television he guest starred in a two part episode of the TV series In the Heat of the Night and appeared in the TV movies Don't Look Back, The Tempest, and The Passion of Ayn Rand.

In the Naughts Peter Fonda appeared in the films Wooly Boys (2001), The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004), Cobrador: In God We Trust (2006), Ghost Rider (2007), Ghost Rider (2007), Wild Hogs (2007), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Japan (2008), The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll (2009), and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (2009).  On television he appeared in such TV movies as The Laramie Project, The Maldonado Miracle, A Thief of Time, Supernova, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth. He appeared in the mini-series The Gathering. He guest starred on the show ER.

In the Teens Peter Fonda appeared in the films The Trouble with Bliss (2011), Smitty (2012), Harodim (2012), House of Bodies (2013), As Cool as I Am (2013), Copperhead (2013), The Ultimate Life (2013), The Harvest (2013), Jesse James: Lawman (2015), The Runner (2015), The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017), The Most Hated Woman in America (2017), You Can't Say No (2018), and Boundaries (2018). On television he guest starred on the shows CSI: NY, Hawaii Five-0, The Blacklist, HR, and Milo Murphy's Law.

Peter Fonda was not simply the son of an acting legend, but he was a legend himself. Easy Rider was not only one of the films that ushered in the New Hollywood era of the late Sixties and the Seventies, but the film that placed independent cinema on somewhat equal footing as Hollywood, both with regards to critical acclaim and the box office. It was the third highest grossing film of 1969. Throughout his career Peter Fonda would continue to appear in independent films, from Dirty Mary Crazy Larry to Ulee's Gold.

Peter Fonda was extremely prolific, and over the years he appeared in many films that did not necessarily receive a good deal of critical acclaim, but even when a particular movie wasn't very good, Mr. Fonda always was. Over the years he gave a number of impressive performances. He was Wyatt, the freewheeling biker in Easy Rider. He was the saddle tramp Harry Collings in The Hired Hand. Arguably his best role was in Ulee's Gold, playing a beekeeper who is trying to put his family back together. He was motorcycle dealer battling Satanists in Race with the Devil and a Pinkerton agent hunting a dangerous outlaw in 3:10 to Yuma (2007).

While as the son of Henry Fonda,  Peter Fonda was Hollywood royalty, he never behaved like royalty. I have never heard of anyone recount a bad encounter with him. Mr. Fonda was known for being friendly and down to earth. On Facebook Scott McGee of TCM told how he was writing and producing a remembrance of Henry Fonda on the cable channel and he made a pre-interview phone call to Peter Fonda, who along with his sister would narrate the remembrance. Mr. Fonda turned out to be warm and candid and easily talked for an hour. Whenever he attended the TCM Classic Film Festival he was known for being warm and cordial with fans. When his family announced his death, they described him as a "sweet and gracious man," something both those who worked with him in Hollywood and his many fans would agree. Peter Fonda always went his own way and in doing so he revolutionised Hollywood, all the while remaining a true gentleman throughout his career.

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