Saint Fonda in the Backyard

The Iconic Jane Works It Out

by Matt Mazur

20 January 2011


Fitness Videos and Feeling Great in Your 70s

Right…ok. Well, I apologize, that’s not exactly what I had prepared for. I was going to be doing more of a career overview and I wasn’t exclusively going to be writing about the videos. Though I am interested in what you have to say about them…
(unclear as to whether this is directed towards Mazur or the publicist) Well, what do we do then?

I’m sorry?
But, I mean, what advice to feminist men? That’s too far a field…My brain’s too foggy.

Hmm. Ok… Let’s then maybe talk about why you wanted to revisit physical fitness in your 70s…
I spent the last three and a half years writing a book for Random House and its called Prime Time: Creating a Great Third Act. I spent a lot of time researching aging bodies and exercise, and I realized that whereas when you’re young, we don’t always get physically fit. It’s not good, but it’s ok. Your body is forgiving and you’ll get by. When you get older, if you don’t stay physically active, it’s one of the worst things you could do for yourself as you’re going through age. One of the best ways to be successful and maximize everything that you’ve got in this long life, now much longer than we used to have, is to stay physically active. It’s mandatory. It doesn’t have to be, you know, gung-ho, I’m-gonna-get-ripped, but just move. Walk. Lift weights. Stand up and sit down using your quads. These are kind of the things that I thought ‘well, I’m old, and I have a replaced knee, so I’m the perfect person and have the credibility in the fitness arena to make some DVD programs geared for older people. Nobody’s doing it. So that’s why.

When did physical fitness first become an integral part of your own life?
Well, I suffered from eating disorders for about 20 years and during that time like a lot of people who suffer from anorexia and bulimia, it was ballet. I studied ballet for 20 years. I broke my foot and I had to do something different and a friend of mine had developed what was, essentially, the Workout, and I started doing this and it just blew my mind. It changed my whole body. That was in 1976, I think. I mean, I just couldn’t believe it. I had never seen anything like it. You know, there was no fitness video industry then. There was Richard Simmons. There weren’t too many people doing work-outs besides him, and then I started the video and it was the beginning of the video industry, putting out for people what I had discovered, that did so much for me, and that was in the late 1970s. First, I opened a studio. The videos didn’t come until the early 1980s.

What kind of advice can you offer to people who maybe have indulged a little bit too much during the holidays?
Well, first of all, try not to indulge too much, because you’ll have to pay for it later and it’s harder. So pick your pigging out! Maybe once or twice. But you know, try to eat healthily because you’ll be so proud of yourself and so much better. Go out and walk, before you sit down for dinner, unless you’re the one who is cooking it. Take a long walk, it will make you feel good. Get your blood flowing, your lungs working, you won’t quite feel like pigging out as much. Also, try drinking a glass of water before you sit down to eat, it’ll fill you up a little bit.

Are the new videos only for older people? Can younger people use them too?
I would say that they would be for younger people if the younger people had just given birth, or had just recovered from an operation, or had never worked out in their life. It’s geared for people who have to be more careful with their joints and tendons and ligaments. You know, our bodies get less forgiving, so its especially for Boomers and seniors. But young people can do it with them, yeah.

Jane Fonda by Andy Warhol

“Jane Fonda” by Andy Warhol

In your fitness career what have you learned about exercise that’s bad for the body?
(long pause) Any exercise that you’re doing with the wrong posture is bad. Again, you can get away with it when you’re young, cause your body is forgiving, but boy, when you’re older…having the right posture, being in the right position when you’re doing the exercises is so important, because you can hurt yourself. And in fact, bad posture, when you’re young, it doesn’t look good, but it causes physical damage when you get older, so learning about good posture is very, very important when you’re older.

What kinds of stories do people tell you about their experiences with your fitness videos?
Oh, it’s just unbelievable. Where to begin? I get hundreds of letters. ‘This saved my life.’ ‘This helped me recover after my mastectomy.’ You know, I did twenty three videos, so some of them appeal to somebody on some level, and I would hear about it. Now that my original Jane Fonda brand—and I’m re-launching it with new fitness leaders and will talk about that in a minute – but you know, I’m trying to buy them back so I can put them on DVDs. They’re still on videos and people have worn out their videos! So, you know, I’m trying to bring those back. I’ve lost track of what the question was…

I was just curious about the stories people would tell you in relation to the fitness videos…
I remember a letter from a woman who was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, listening to my cassette in a mud hut. Or the group in South Africa, who, they sent me a photograph, there were twelve women, and they would meet three times a week to do Jane, but it was a social event, you know? There was a statue called ‘Saint Fonda’ in the back of Art Buchwald’s house, up in Martha’s Vineyard or wherever it was, and his wife would get together with a bunch of friends and do me on their lawn. Art sent me a picture of himself dressed as the Pope, walking downstairs, carrying the Jane Fonda Workout book. The number of people, women, who I’ve crossed paths with, say “I loved doing Jane with my mother.” And that’s great, because it never occurred to me that it would give rise to a new generation of women who thought of fitness because they did it with their mothers. That makes me feel very proud.

What are the difficulties in obtaining the rights to your videos?
They’re owned by the company, who doesn’t do anything with them. You know, they’re asking for a lot of money if I buy them back and we’re negotiating.

You mentioned teaming up with some new partners, physical fitness leaders, for a new project?
Yes, well, you know, while I’m aiming at an older demographic, I’ve decided to re-launch my Workout brand to give a platform to a new generation of fitness leaders. Jeanette Jenkins, Tara Stiles, and Karena Dawn and Katrina Hodgson. These are young, new fitness leaders who are doing their own thing, aerobics, stretching, toning and yoga, under the Jane Fonda Workout label, to help give them visibility. In December, their first videos will be at Target.

That’s all I’ve got actually…Thanks again—sorry if the questions weren’t…
It’s just a misunderstanding! (comically, with mock exasperation) I mean,  Fassbinder?! Godard?!


Fonda will next be found reprising her Tony-nominated stage role in Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations in Los Angeles, beginning in February (ticket information can be found here). The actress will be blogging about her experiences—as she did during the play’s successful New York City run—at her official website. Jane Fonda’s Prime Time and Fitness are in stores now.

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