Back in her adoptive hometown Saturday night and standing in front of a packed ballroom at a benefit for the nonprofit she founded, Jane Fonda inimitably distilled one of the benefits of turning 80: “People don’t want to grope you!” Coming from a two time Oscar-winning feminist trailblazer, the timely punch line brought down the house in front of friends, family, and fans attending the icon’s $10,000 per-couple 80th birthday party raising money for Fonda’s Georgia Campaign For Adolescent Power and Potential (G-CAPP) at the Whitley hotel in Buckhead.
While she doesn’t technically become an octogenarian until December 21, Fonda (who recently settled into a house tucked inside a gated community in Hollywood—“It was my son Troy’s idea,” she says, “At first, I didn’t want to live with a bunch of old farts. Then I realized, I was an old fart.”) said returning to Atlanta to celebrate the milestone was important. “It’s really about the people in this room and the long-term support they’ve given G-CAPP,” Fonda told Atlanta magazine. “I just hope they stick with us because things are very challenging right now. Funds are being cut for teen pregnancy. We had a big uptake of success during the Obama administration. Teen pregnancy rates in Georgia have dropped 66 percent in the 22 years we’ve been doing this work, but things are going to get hard now. The private sector is really going to need to step in to make up the difference.”
Thanks to the generosity of G-CAPP supporters, Fonda is off to a rousing start. The evening raised $1.3 million.
Guests, including CNN founder (and Fonda’s ex-husband) Ted Turner, Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler, actresses Rosanna Arquette and Catherine Keener, former CNN president Tom Johnson and his wife Edwina, and Fonda’s children Vanessa Vadim, Troy Garity, and granddaughter Viva Vadim enjoyed an eight-course dinner (one for each of Fonda’s decades) created by legendary Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters. A towering, ornate red velvet birthday cake, created by Highland Bakery cake artist and Food Network favorite Karen Portaleo was the final course.
Also spotted in the crowd was Fonda friend and former Watershed chef Scott Peacock, who drove in from Alabama for the occasion. “Jane and I share a birthday,” Peacock said. “I wasn’t about to miss this. This ranks right up there with the Christmas I spent with her and her family here in Atlanta and Jane cooked collard greens for all of us. She used my recipe and they were amazing. The woman can do anything.”
Friends Carole King and James Taylor emerged to sing “Happy Birthday to You” and perform songs from their iconic catalogs, including “So Far Away,” “Carolina in My Mind,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Up on the Roof” (a song written by King and husband Gerry Goffin), and “You’ve Got a Friend” (a song King wrote but graciously allowed Taylor to record first, resulting in one of his biggest hits of the 1970s). Seated next to her “favorite ex-husband” Turner (who chipped in $40,000 for one of the live auction items, an opportunity to have dinner with the actress at her new Hollywood digs), Fonda and her family sang along with the Grammy-winning duo.
9 to 5 co-star Dolly Parton sent along a video birthday greeting (she stayed home to care for her ailing husband Carl Dean) and inspired a sing-a-long in the Atlanta ballroom as she belted out a chorus of the film’s theme song. Oprah Winfrey also paid tribute via video and announced she was sending along a birthday gift to Fonda for G-CAPP: a check for $100,000.
Three set visits for the upcoming fifth season of Grace & Frankie, Fonda’s hit comedy Netflix series with Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston fetched $84,000 and two Sundance Film Festival VIP experiences donated by Fonda’s three-time film co-star Robert Redford netted $64,000.
The evening also spotlighted some potential future stars like singer-songwriter and Savannah State University business major Nicholas Cousar, who spoke about his experiences as a G-CAPP PEER UP peer educator.
“Young men are often left out of teen pregnancy conversations and they need to be informed,” Cousar told the crowd. Inspired by his peer counseling work in the community, he wrote a song addressing the topic of teen pregnancy titled Risky Business. Recalling his experience performing it for Fonda, Cousar said, “She loved it. I remember thinking if this iconic Hollywood mega star, if she, with everything else she has going on, is devoted to making young peoples’ lives better, then I have to do my part as well. As a college student and peer educator, this program has taught me how to be an effective leader and how to take responsibility for my actions. G-CAPP taught me to never give up on my dreams and that I have the potential to be whatever I want to be. Ms. Fonda, because of you and G-CAPP, I am a better man.”
While the star-studded birthday celebration was filled with lighter moments, Fonda and G-CAPP President and CEO Kim Nolte are acutely aware of the challenges their work faces in a Donald Trump presidential administration and a GOP-led Congress.
“The donors here tonight are supporting Jane’s vision and this work,” Nolte told Atlanta. “We all need to step up. We can’t rely on federal funding. This has to come from individuals who realize this work is incredibly important for our young people and our future. If our economy is going to continue to kick forward, you can’t have a generation having babies as teenagers. They aren’t able to go on and contribute to the economy. But if we can get young people to delay parenthood until they’re in their 20s or 30s, we all benefit. I’ve worked in public health for 30 years and administrations come and go, but this particular administration is taking stronger hits to our institutions. It’s really incumbent upon all of us to talk to our political representatives, get involved, and support the work in the communities we believe in.”
In her birthday remarks, Rosanna Arquette praised Fonda as one of Hollywood’s original silence breakers and a #MeToo movement icon. Indeed, Fonda chronicled her battles with a male-dominated Hollywood in her 2005 autobiography, My Life So Far. But in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Fonda says she sees an opportunity for lasting change in Hollywood.
“I absolutely do,” Fonda told Atlanta. “It’s a historic time. We’re all aware of it, and I’m working with dozens of my fellow actors to help initiate that change. I’m astounded by this new generation of women. They’re fierce and so brave and smart across the board. But we also need to address intersectionality. We have to be aware that what resulted with Weinstein happened because the women were white and famous. We now have to stand up for our sisters of color and our LGBTQ sisters. We’re in this together. And we need to advance the cause to women workers in other sectors. Women farm workers, 7,000 of them wrote a letter to Hollywood women saying, ‘We stand with you, and it’s us too. We understand what you’re going through.’ It’s about building solidarity.”