I'll never forget the day I learned that Tom Hayden had married Jane Fonda. I was in the mess hall of an Israeli army base in the middle of nowhere, reading a back issue of Time Magazine when I saw the story. Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda hitched.
In my student days I bumped into Tom Hayden a couple times in Ann Arbor. He was already a famous anti-Vietnam activist and leader of SDS.
I was a mere undergrad who happened to be at a couple parties he attended.
Tom Hayden may not have lived up to his early promise as a politician or a transformative thinker. But he got the Girl.
I made no impression on Hayden (which he confirmed when we met, years later at a Jerusalem dinner party). But made one on me, and it wasn’t good. He struck me as a windbag, a spouter of counter-culture clichés and slogans, not too different from the half-educated, fashionably disheveled teaching assistants we were subjected to in the classroom.
One thing about Hayden did stand out. He was physically unattractive. He had bad skin and a big nose (as do I). After marrying Fonda, he sometimes joked about their "beauty and the beast" relationship.
Jane Fonda was not just a beauty. She was one of the great Hollywood sex symbols of our generation. Of course she was in her radical phase at the time (as opposed, to say, her later exercise phase) and I figured politics was the attraction. Maybe she thought marrying a guy like Hayden would make her seem smarter or more virtuous. And maybe he knew it.
The marriage caused me to revise upward my opinion of Hayden. I figured that he must be more interesting or charismatic or something than the guy I had met in Ann Arbor. Maybe he really was going to become the leader of the baby boom pack.
He didn’t. Not even close. Like a lot of the radical icons of the sixties, Hayden didn’t travel well off the campus or into the future. In a decades- long political career he never got higher than the California State Senate. His most notable legislative achievement was the Hayden Act of 1998, which enhanced the rights of household pets.
Hayden, of course, had higher aspirations. In 1976, he ran in the California Democratic primary for US Senate and lost. Backed by his wife, he ran for the gubernatorial nomination and lost again. He then ran for mayor of LA and the LA City Council and lost twice more, at which point he called it quits.
By that time, the Hayden-Fonda marriage was over. Jane married Ted Turner. Hayden spent the rest of his life recycling his glory days in books and lectures, and advocating for mildly progressive causes. He became an oldies act, like Herman’s Hermits or David Cosby. He got old, like all of us do.
Still, Hayden occupies a special place in the imagination of baby boomers, especially the men. He may not have lived up to his early promise as a politician or a transformative thinker. But he got the Girl. And for a lot of us guys, that’s really what the Sixties were all about.