It was a starry, starry night, to paraphrase Vincent van Gogh via Don McLean.
Jane Fonda — two-time Academy Award winner, political activist, controversial figure, and all-time sex symbol — got the five star treatment last night from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
This prestigious lifetime achievement tribute is handed out once a year to only the biggest names in moviemaking.
The stars I mentioned? How about Oscar winner Sally Field, Lily Tomlin, Vanessa Redgrave, director Sydney Pollack and Debbie Reynolds? And that's not counting Jane's brother, Peter Fonda, her kids Vanessa and Troy, her adopted daughter Mary, stepmother and friend Shirlee Fonda, or Oscar-winning director of Rain Man, Barry Levinson.
Robert Redford, a longtime friend of Fonda and thrice her acting partner, sent a videotaped greeting. It was maybe better than Redford in person — relaxed and heart-felt.
Alas, two of Fonda's great film collaborators over the years, Jason Robards and Alan Pakula, have more recently passed away. They were recalled nevertheless.
But still, the tributes on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall were disarmingly warm. You never know what to expect in these tribute situations — they can be quite stiff. But this one, which competed against half a dozen other star-driven charity events in Manhattan on Monday night — was a winner.
One reason may be that the presenters do not use a TelePrompTer to read speeches. Each of them must be articulate, and come with prepared remarks either memorized or on index cards. The result is … spontaneity!
That was certainly apparent when Debbie Reynolds took the stage. She conceded that she had never met Fonda, but was there as a substitute for daughter Carrie Fisher, actress/writer/self-confessed manic-depressive.
Reynolds, delivering a speech crafted by the witty Fisher, has impressive comic timing. To wit: "If only I'd married Avery Fisher and not the other one" — one of many references to the lamented singer Eddie Fisher versus the dead philanthropist who gave his name to Philharmonic Hall.
Reynolds also got off one of the many lines about Fonda's ex, Ted Turner:
"If you're tired of living with a manic-depressive," Fisher advised, "I can always be a bi-polar pen pal."
Other highlights included Pollack recalling that Jane labeled him "The King of Foreplay" and that she studied how long it took before couples kissed in his films when she was preparing to make his They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. … Sally Field recalling how after Norma Rae hit big, Fonda brought her to 20th Century-Fox and helped her set up a production company. …An emotional Peter Fonda, recalling his father's advice that "A Fonda can cry at a good steak," and then proceeding to well up. … Vanessa Redgrave, observing that Fonda named her daughter Vanessa after the British actress, and that Redgrave had given her own daughter Natasha Richardson (whom she now resembles more than ever) the middle name Jane. …
Redgrave insured herself against a spot on the Friars Club dais this fall by reading a maudlin poem about death called Coal Fire in Winter by blacklisted labor poet Thomas McGrath (1910-90). The upbeat McGrath's other works include This Coffin Has No Handles and The Dead Soldier. Someone call Freddie Roman. …
This all culminated in two tremendous performances, the first by Lily Tomlin, who was brilliant as ever. Tomlin remembered initially turning down 9 to 5 after Jane sought her out and had the part written especially for her.
"Here I was with a comic's career and no hit comedies," Tomlin said, "until 9 to 5.” She called Fonda "a citizen of the world."
"I said to her back then, you've been famous for 20 years and I've been famous for ten. Now she's been famous for 40 years and I've been famous for thirty. You're still more famous than me!"
Fonda, who was stunning in a red off-the-shoulder gown with a matching jacket and white gloves, took the stage as the ultimate speaker. After volleying back to Reynolds about their bad marriages — "sometimes you need to be repotted," she laughed — Fonda acknowledged her debt to Pakula and to the other speakers.
She said that Pollack brought her the script of Horses and the book it was based on and asked her what was missing from the script. "No one had ever asked my opinion before," she said. She earned her first Oscar nomination for the breakthrough performance in 1969.
She also told two stories, indicating perhaps that her self-imposed retirement from acting may not be permanent. What did she miss?
"The pivotal scene from a film, usually shot in one take … You have to calibrate a state of limbo before you shoot it." She said, referring to her own nervousness in like situations, "I'm told Meryl [Streep] throws up all the time [before a big scene]."
Fonda concluded with this thought about retirement of any kind: "There are still so many planets to save."
A beautiful night — and more tomorrow about the after party, guests, and Debbie Reynolds' take on Eddie Fisher…
Paul McCartney's Wingspan album is out today on Capitol Records. This column observed last week that McCartney purposely omitted hit duets he had with Michael Jackson because the gloved one bought the Beatles' catalog out from underneath him back in 1985.
This column also wrote about ten days ago that Jackson is cash-starved and had leveraged the same Beatles songbook to get his hands on some much-needed bucks. He also contacted the Wall Street expert who created the "Bowie Bonds"— in which song catalogues are securitized in exchange for up-front money — but never reached a deal.
Now come reports from London tabloids that Jackson is thinking of selling the songbook for $700 million — and that McCartney, a bona fide billionaire, and that's in British pounds sterling, is angling to get the rights back.
Well, hey: it sounds like both Fox411 items went across the pond separately and then returned, joined together like peanut butter and jelly. Or bubble and squeak. It's nice to know what goes around, comes around, like a freakin' boomerang...
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