Henry Fonda – who died 30 years ago on August 12, 1982 – was one of Hollywood's great actors, with a career that stayed strong for almost half a century.
Henry Fonda, shown in this Oct. 14, 1978 photo,could get his face on a postage stamp if 'Friends of Fonda' have their way. We are just crossing our fingers and waiting, hoping for the best, said Karen Anderson, Friends of Fonda president. (AP Photo/Marty Reichenthal)
After several years on the stage and a gradual entrance to the movie biz, Fonda first hit it big with what has become an iconic role: Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. For the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning John Steinbeck novel, Fonda almost didn't get the role – producers wanted heartthrob Tyrone Power to play the Depression-era farmer’s son who migrates with his family from Oklahoma to California in search of work. But thankfully for Fonda – and for us – he was given the opportunity, and his strong performance earned him an Oscar nomination – and helped make the highly-acclaimed film a classic.
After The Grapes of Wrath, Fonda rarely wanted for work. Even a three-year stint in the Navy during World War II ("I don't want to be in a fake war in a studio," he said before joining up) didn't hurt his career – shortly after returning home, he was back in action with movies like War and Peace, co-starring Audrey Hepburn.
But with all his cinematic success, through a long career that rarely slowed down, Fonda never won an Oscar… until his very last film. On Golden Pond premiered less than a year before Fonda's death and it was a triumph, a major hit that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor (his costar, Katharine Hepburn, won Best Actress, too, and Fonda’s real-life daughter Jane was nominated for her supporting role). At age 76, he was the oldest Best Actor winner, and the performance was widely considered his greatest role – a fitting way to cap an acting career that stands among the all-time best.
Written by Linnea Crowther