Jane Fonda’s Workout, Part 2: Hanoi Jane’s VHS Revolution

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: Six, seven, eight is pulled out, one, two, so there’s something about the Jane Fonda workout that’s never quite made sense to me. I know I’m inclined to see mysteries everywhere, but I saw one here between the legwarmers and the leotards, six, seven, eight, and pulled down right stretch. Here’s me trying to explain myself during an interview.

S3: It is like mysterious to me, thinking about all the facets of Jane Fonda and being like this woman at the height of her acting career. Truly and fairly controversial political activist got into everyone’s homes like this mastermind aerobics instructor. It’s such a weird thing.


S2: She wanted to do that. And then she did it. Like what? Straight?

S3: Feel the stretch and thanks to. In the moment, right before the workout became a phenomenon, Jane Fonda had a lot going on. First there was actress Jane.

S4: And if I want to have have an affair or play sex games or do Eminem’s, you can’t stop me. And then Ms. As a matter of fact, I smoke pot.

S3: That’s her nine to five, which came out in 1980, one in a string of critical and commercial hits that were produced by Fonda’s own production company. Her career was going fantastically and she was making movies that had ideas and politics, movies that fit in snugly with another aspect of her persona activist Jane.


S5: Culturally, psychologically, economically, politically, gays and lesbians are discriminated against.

S2: That’s Fonda at a fundraiser in San Francisco talking about the importance of gay rights in 1979, decades ahead of most Cisco.

S5: They don’t need me, but.

S3: They like me and they like our organization, the campaign, but of course not everybody liked Jane Fonda. Also in 1979, a number of conservative California state senators had just banded together to keep Fonda from sitting on the state’s arts advisory board because of her activism during Vietnam, because she was also to them, Hanoi Jane. Jane, why don’t you just leave America, Hanoi Jane is the extremely controversial figure that some people still passionately hate for what she did or supposedly did during the Vietnam War. And what I couldn’t quite understand or was puzzling to me is how this back to what your leaving was the best thing that ever happened to me.


S5: And this they are a very powerful movement, especially in San Francisco.

S6: They don’t need and this thing called a P.O. W. Hoover Dam, I could possibly have led to this.

S2: Are you ready to do the workout?

S3: How on earth did Jane Fonda become exercise, Jane?

S7: This is Decoder Ring, a show about cracking cultural mysteries, I will pass him. This is the second episode of our two parter about the 1982 Jane Fonda workout tape. In the first, we looked at the complex relationship between Jane Fonda and Leni Kazdin that birthed the workout in the first place. And you haven’t listened to that one yet. Please go do so. It will give you important context for this one. As for this episode, this episode is about the other complicated relationship embedded in the workout, the relationship between Jane Fonda and the American public. It’s one that started way before the workout and continues to this very day, but that with the workout reached a fascinating inflection point. The Jane Fonda workout changed how we see video gyms, exercise, celebrity and lifestyle branding. But most of all, it changed how we see Jane Fonda. So today undercoating the same question two ways. How did Jane Fonda make the workout? How did Jane Fonda, of all people, make the workout?


S3: As discussed in the last episode in 1979, Fonda had opened an immediately successful workout studio in Los Angeles. It led to two other studios and in 1981, Jane Fonda’s workout record and the best selling Jane Fonda workout book. And then in April of 1982, the workout video. At the time, these all seemed like pieces in one big multimedia onslaught, but the reason Jane Fonda became so closely associated with exercise for such an extended period is not because of the class or the book or the record. It’s because of the video and the 20 plus ones that came after it. So I’m going to start today with that first video, the one that kicked it all off much even to the surprise of Jane Fonda, who you’ll recall I actually got to speak with.


S2: It was really something I never expected.

S8: In early 1982, making an exercise video was an out their idea, and that’s because pretty much everything having to do with video was an out their idea. Only two million homes in America had a VCR at the time and those homes almost exclusively rented. No one was making video content for consumers to buy except for a young man from Southern California named Stuart Carl. He was kind of very much the innovative entrepreneur. You know, he’d started like the first waterbeds magazine. Stuart Carl died in 1991 at 38 of cancer, but caught. Shannon, you just heard, was a longtime colleague of his after dropping out of college in the early 1970s. Stewart had spent a few years as a waterbed salesman. Thus the successful Waterbed magazine. But once he was in publishing, he noticed another nascent industry that could use a trade paper, video stores. He started a video store magazine, which gave him enough insight into the business to think both that video was going to be a big deal and that it was way too focused on renting movies and also pornography, which is a big part of the rental market.


S1: At the time, the video store would pay 80, 90, 100 dollars for one copy of the feature film, and then they would rent that out for X number of dollars per night. No one was actually transacting sales. They didn’t have something that people necessarily wanted to buy or own, especially at those price points. I think Stewart’s vision was in looking at the television overall in the home is, hey, there’s a whole nother category, but no one’s ever touch, which is how to how to cook, how to exercise.

S3: The company. Stewart founded was called Carl Video. It specialized in what Stewart described as Medved, everything between, quote, Jaws and Deep Throat prior to the Jane Fonda workout. Its offerings included the art of speed reading video, first aid kit, a series of cooking how tos with titles like Making Bread and Soups, Salads and Exercise Now, which sold for 1995 and was their first, if not the first exercise video in mid 1981. It was the best selling How-To cassette in the industry which caught Shannon guesses means it sold a few thousand copies one day. Stewart’s wife, Debbie Carl, who had seen the Jane Fonda workout book, suggested he make a video with her. He thought it was a great idea, but he needed a way to get in touch with Fonda.


S1: OK, what’s going to be the vehicle? How are we going to get there? Let’s find a way to who referred him in and said you should become involved in CBB. And that’s how he connected with Jane initially.

S3: For Father, the exercise business had always been tied up with the seed, the Campaign for Economic Democracy, the political organization she founded with her then husband, the activist and politician Tom Hayden. The push for progressive legislation all over California, often by funding local political races. And it was the reason the workout business existed in the first place. Fonda had started her initial workout studio to fund the seed. Her book made money for the seed. In fact, the KDDI owned Workout Inc, the entity that encompassed all facets of the workout business. By 1982, even before the workout video proceeds from Workout Inc or providing seed with at least 30000 dollars a month and well over half of its yearly 400000 dollar operating budget up to this point. Fonda hadn’t been particularly concerned that her exercise based fundraising would interfere with her acting career. When Stuart Carle got in touch with her about doing a video, she wasn’t so sure.

S9: And he called me and I said, no, you know, because I thought, well, that really will affect my career as an actor. I mean, I can do both.

S3: Fonda also did not have a VCR or know anyone who had ever bought a videotape.

S9: But then he kept asking. And I think that the organization said, no, do it. And so I did. Her first move was to hire a director producer. So I went to the guy who happened to be a friend of mine, said Galanti was his name and he was making the political campaigns for Tom. And I said, well, you know, you’re doing these commercials for Tom. Would you film the workout?


S3: So Sidney Galanti, the man who oversaw the first workout tape and many of the ones to follow was a political campaign strategist for progressive candidates and causes would in making political ads for years.

S4: Here’s an ad he made in 1964, wholly breaking and entering its fat girl, fat girl until years before it’s too late. I’ve worked for you a long time and I paid less than Robert. Same job, same employer means equal pay for men and women. No time for jokes about girls with the workout.

S3: Fonda, Galanti, Stewart, Carl and everyone else involved were starting almost from scratch. There are a few exercise shows on TV, but none of them felt like an exercise class. There weren’t other people doing the workout on screen to. And that’s what Fonda wanted the video to feel like, a class she already had quite a bit of experience as an instructor. She regularly taught at the Beverly Hills studio while filming nine to five. She’d actually led a four 30 a.m. class there, and it was a full class at four thirty in the morning. So with a budget of around 50000 dollars and just a few days to film, they recreated a class. The set looks like a dance studio with a wood floor and folding chairs no one’s using set up around the edge of the room. There’s a ballet bar and a payphone and a bulletin board with flyers tacked to it and a bunch of other exercisers, dancers who pipe up all routine long, giving Jane encouragement.


S2: So, yes, Jane herself is wearing a lilac and fuchsia striped leotard, lilac tights, dark purple leg warmers and no shoes. As an aside, Reebok only released the first athletic shoe for women, the Reebok freestyle, the same year, 1982. By 1984, boosted by the craze, Fanda kicked off.

S3: It would account for half of Reebok sales anyway, though the workout is pretty taxing and fast. Fada does the whole thing effortlessly. She doesn’t even appear to sweat. Still, she says the kind of thing, the whole thing.

S9: I mean, it was spent in prayer.

S2: When the workout was finally released, expectations weren’t that high. It was clear from the book, which had spent six months at number one on the New York Times bestseller list on its way to selling two million copies. There was a mass audience for the Jane Fonda workout, but it was unclear if that size audience would exist in the completely unproven field of home video. Initially, it seemed like maybe not. It entered the Billboard video charts a month after its release and number 23. But the workout video had something going for it. Jane Fonda. She started going around the country on a tour called Exercise 82, teaching in-person exercise classes to hundreds of women. The events which you had to buy tickets or fundraisers for the kid, but you could also buy merch there, a Jane Fonda workout sweatshirt and sweatpants. The book, the video, the record.

S10: Now inhale. Open your arms to the side. Exhale and raise them over your head. Now reach with the right arm lift stretch. Now let’s stretch. Right, Carl.

S2: Video took note of the live events and offered to organize even more. They piggybacked on them with in-person events at local video stores and on local media, and they got the video into bookstores and big box retail outlets before that was common. By late 1982, the video was becoming a phenomenon in its own right.


S1: Stretched and stretched, it didn’t matter whether it was in the company or the distribution companies for the stores, they’re like. This is unbelievable court Shannon, who is now a media and advertising consultant and who worked at video at the time, again, how could this grow so fast so, so much and do it week in, week out, month after month. It seemed like it was an out-of-control rocket ship.

S3: By 1984, Fonda’s tape had sold 275 thousand copies at sixty dollars a pop, one hundred and sixty dollars in 2020. Money breaking all records for VHS up to that point and becoming the best selling video of all time. But this doesn’t capture the scope of its success. It wasn’t just a hit. It was a category creator at the time. No non theatrical video had ever sold more than 100000 copies, Fondas video more than double that and kept going all the way to 17 million. It not only pushed VCR sales through the roof and created the exercise video category, it created the for sale video category, meaning every tape you could buy and bring home. It was a breakout hit that led directly to every weird and not so weird video of the 1980s VHS boom. And all of this was thanks to Jane Fonda. Which brings me back to the mystery I was mulling over at the top of the show because didn’t people hate her? So I just want to say here that my curiosity about the Jane Fonda workout is deeply generational. I was born in 1981 when exercise, Jane was about to become fully ascendant. And the whole thing is a curious artifact of my childhood. She’s one of the first celebrities I can remember knowing about because my mom had the Jane Fonda workout record and I learned who she was from the cover. I learned a lot more about Jane Fonda since then, but I’ve come to see that there’s another way that my age informed my curiosity about the workout by informing my understanding of the Vietnam War. One of the things that most puzzled me about the workout was totally tied up in Vietnam, and it was this. If Jane Fonda’s Vietnam activism had been so controversial, how did the workout become so successful? If so many people despised her, why did others let her into their house to teach them how to do pelvic tilts? How had she gone from someone so political to someone so not? How had Hanoi Jane become exercise, Jane? And the answer to that is actually that a lot of Americans, not just me, misremember Hanoi Jane and understand how I have to go back to her origins. I have to go back and look at Jane Fonda and Vietnam. In 1970, Fonda, back in America after years in France and newly politicized, throws herself into activism, she becomes involved in the fight for Native American rights marches. Women seeking welfare reform does fundraisers for the Black Panthers and most especially dives into the already robust anti-war effort from the start. She is especially focused on the GI movement, the growing cohort of enlisted and former members of the armed forces who opposed the war in Vietnam.


S11: It was a pretty head spinning transformation for much of the American film going and celebrity attuned public, the blond sex kitten in Barbarella had seemingly overnight become a political radical with a dark shag haircut in 1971.

S3: Her film career on hold, she toured the country and then South Asia alongside a number of other celebrities in a popular variety show for the troops, an anti-war version of Bob Hope’s USO tours called FTA, which stood for free the Army, but only if you were being polite.

S2: Here’s Jane playing the first lady, Pat Nixon, in one of the sketches.

S4: Mr. President, there’s a terrible demonstration going on outside. Oh, there’s always a demonstration going on outside. Richard, this one is completely out of control and they’re storming the White House. And I guess I better call out the third Marine. You can’t, Richard. Why not the third Marine?

S3: By this point, Nixon was already paying attention to her starting in 1970. His FBI had begun spying on her, going through her mail illegally, accessing her bank information, trailing her five year old daughter to school and actively attempting to discredit her. In one instance, by trying to plant fake gossip items and another by arresting her at an airport on trumped up drug charges, Nixon was recorded speaking about her on the White House tapes in 1971.

S12: And what in the world is the matter with you? But I feel I feel so sorry for Henry Fonda, a nice man. He really is. He’s a great actor. He looks pretty, but largely off on the wrong track.

S3: An aide reportedly said of Nixon around this time, the word Brezhnev, the then head of the Soviet Union and Jane Fonda said, got about the same treatment. And this was all before her famous trip to Hanoi. In 1972, in advance of the upcoming election and in response to the war’s widespread unpopularity, Nixon was pursuing a strategy called Vietnamization, pulling back American troops so the war could be carried out by South Vietnamese forces and an unprecedented amount of American bombs as American soldiers left Southeast Asia. For many people, the war was becoming less urgent, but not for Fonda.


S13: If he reduces the number of white American deaths and reduces the cost of the war, that our cautions can be pacified, that the American people don’t care whether millions of people in Asia are killed in our names.

S3: News reports corroborated by the Swedish ambassador to Hanoi suggested that the Nixon administration was intentionally bombing river levees in North Vietnam that should they give way, would destroy the rice fields, potentially starving a million people. The administration denied this at the time, though. Later, the Nixon tapes would reveal Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, talking about this very possibility with little concern. But Fonda was very concerned in July of 1972 at the invitation of the North Vietnamese government. She traveled to Hanoi specifically to gather evidence of the bombings.

S14: Nixon is aiming at the one most vulnerable point since it is an agrarian society, and that is their crops, their land, their agriculture.

S3: At the time that she went, 300 Americans had already visited or would soon visit North Vietnam, including famous ones like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Susan Sontag and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Many of them had or would do exactly what Fonda did bring letters to and visit with American POWs being held by the North Vietnamese and broadcast over Radio Hanoi, though only Fonda would be photographed laughing and smiling, sitting atop a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, aiming at the sky, ready to shoot down an American plane the moment. And those photos haunt her reputation to this very day.

S15: But that didn’t start right away.

S3: So though some State Department officials were trotting out the word traitor while Fonda was still in North Vietnam in the days after she came back to the U.S. in July of 1972, her trip wasn’t that big of a story. Her return was mentioned in a gossip column in The Washington Post and on page nine of The New York Times. On her way back to the States, though, Fonda had stopped in Paris to show the footage she’d taken of the levees to the media. And this got attention not so much as a story about Fonda, but as a story about the American military, the media, except that her testimony is as accurate. Mary Hershberger is a historian and the author of Jane Fonda’s War A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon.


S16: This really took what had been sort of a low level concern into an international version that President Nixon could not ignore. I think this book that Nixon administration officials felt somewhat humiliated by this actress who they scorn really led to a lot of the initial outrage at Jane Fonda in Vietnam.

S3: Nixon had been heaping scorn on the student activists and anti-war protesters. He’d famously called bums for years. But Rick Perlstein, writing in his popular history of this time, Nixonland says, isn’t making herself such a problem for the administration. Fonda inspired a more pointed Nixon strategy, one that would outlast Nixon’s own presidency. He writes, Fonda’s trip marked the emergence of a new narrative about Vietnam that people like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon weren’t responsible for the disaster. But people like Fonda stabbing American soldiers and South Vietnamese allies in the back war over the next couple of weeks and months, attacks on Fonda increased, led by right wing political figures calling her traitorous, communistic and shrill. Jesse Helms, who is running for his first term as senator at the time, was then the executive vice president and chairman at a North Carolina based TV station, and he regularly denounced Fonda on TV. In August, First Lady Pat Nixon criticized the visit. That same month, Representative Fletcher Thompson sought to subpoena Fonda to speak before a congressional committee holding hearings on travel to hostile areas, i.e., North Vietnam. Another congressman would later introduce legislation that would restrict such travel because of Fonda. The Veterans of Foreign Wars called her a traitorous meddler and said she should be prosecuted and to be chastised and censured by a couple of state and city legislatures and excoriated in a handful of newspapers. But all of this didn’t come to very much at the time in 1972.


S16: Yes, you can say there was a lot of venom directed against her, a lot of criticism. She was called a traitor, but Bush did not get much traction because at this time, fewer than 50 percent of Americans supported the war.

S3: This may also explain why the anti-aircraft gun photo, which has since become the iconic image of Fonda supposed treachery, wasn’t yet central to the attacks on her.

S16: That photograph, nobody paid much attention to it at the time. I suspect the primary reason is that at the time in 1972, a lot of Americans were horrified by what that picture showed is not just Jane Fonda or an entire placement, but what you don’t see is that there are planes up in the sky that are dropping bombs on people instead of the photos.

S3: The focus was on Fonda’s radio Hanoi broadcasts in which he addressed American soldiers in South Vietnam.

S17: Jane Fonda, the place in the United States prior to 1968. Many of the soldiers on the ground, on the ground, troops, associate moms with their offices and their generals to tell them.

S3: In focusing on the broadcasts, her critics were hoping to establish a lineage between Fonda and Axis. Sally and Tokyo rose to American women who have been charged with treason for broadcasting on German and Japanese radio during World War Two. There was also a Vietnamese woman who had broadcast in English on Radio Hanoi who was known as Hanoi Hannah sometime in late 72 or early 73. Fonda got the nickname Hanoi Jane at first to connect her to these women, but the name took on a life of its own in 1973, when Fonda called returning, who said the North Vietnamese had a blanket torture policy? Liers It’s a comment for what she would later apologized. But that spurred a lot of immediate and intense hostility, like people burning her in effigy and death threats, as well as much of the long lasting anger that she doesn’t like it here.


S18: I believe that you could go inside with all of those people over there and go have a.

S3: It also prompted this song, which you heard earlier, a country western track performed by Leon Rousch.

S6: And Jane, why don’t you just leave America? Coming up, your big mouth and leave appeal to abuse by this point, her acting career was in a precarious position.

S3: Talking to The New York Times in 1982, she said Nixon was president and I couldn’t get a job. I can’t say I was blacklisted, but I was gray listed. So clearly, many people were very angry with Jane Fonda. What’s important to keep in mind as a for all of the people who are angry with Fonda, there were even more who were not angry with her, who shared her views on this deeply unpopular war and admired her for expressing them.

S16: The American public at the time was living with the reality of the war. They knew what the bombing was doing to Vietnam. There were a lot of Americans who were really distressed about it, and her popularity actually increased.

S3: In 1973, the Gallup poll listed Fonda as one of the most admired women in America for the first time on a list topped by Pat Nixon. Articles written now about this period tend to say this is when Fonda became controversial. And that’s just been the case ever since. But it’s not. By 1974, the level of ire towards her was already abating. With the Watergate scandal as a backdrop, Fonda seemed right and righteous, a personal survivor of Tricky Dick’s dirty tricks. But in 1975, with the war over and Nixon out of office, she returned to acting no longer on any gray list on the occasion of one of her first significant films in years, 1977. Julia, she went on The Tonight Show.


S14: Johnny Carson introduced her like this. My first guest tonight is a gal that I admire highly, not because she is such a fine actress, which she is, and I admire not only as a professional, but because as a person who has taken a stand on issues that at times were unpopular and was willing to stand up and be counted and be called a radical. And it’s a funny thing how people who are called radicals at the time now are considered people who a lot of them who were right on and a lot of people wish that they had taken those stands previously.

S3: Anyway, in 1978, Fonda’s IPC films, her production company, which takes its name from her political organization, The Indo-China Peace Campaign released Coming Home Coming Home, is about a paraplegic Vietnam vet played by Jon Voight and the married woman whose mind and sexuality he opens, played by Fonda.

S19: It’s going to be very hard for him. It’s not going to like the fact that I have changed. You know, I’ve never been on my own before.

S3: The movie, a critical text about Vietnam that focuses on the experience of a wounded and disillusioned veteran was very much in conversation with Fonda’s anti-war work and the accusations of betrayal that she had faced after her trip to Hanoi. Basically, it’s her Vietnam movie. She won her second Oscar for it. Well, you see happening in the late 1970s is that well, almost everything that Fonda does is still in a conversation with her Vietnam activism. That conversation is generally admiring a People magazine cover from 1977, says Jane Fonda. America loves her again. Of course, not everyone loved her, particularly on the right. She remained a reliable bogeyman. And there were a smattering of protests of her exercise to just as our protests of her now. But in the late 1970s, to most people, she wasn’t Hanoi Jane anymore. If she ever had been, though, losing her, it was a familiar position. It had also become a fringe one. It wouldn’t stay that way. But by the time it returned, Fonda would be less associated with politics than she’d been in years because by then she would have become exercise Jane. Almost immediately, the workout in all its iterations starts to change people’s relationship to Jane Fonda. Here’s President Ronald Reagan in 1983 mentioning Fonda not to critique her, but to joke about her workout.


S20: I was worried that I’d get out of shape in this job to the best of my favorite diet and workout. Just great.

S2: You wouldn’t believe the muscle.

S3: In my lifetime, I think it’s fair to say that Reagan mentioning Fonda must have been something of a risque joke unto itself, but this captures the extent to which the workout had started to dominate the perception of her to, in her own words, supersede everything else about her through the workout video was still funding the city on its face. It wasn’t political at all. The book. It actually had its share of politics, a feminist framing a chapter on environmental dangers. Fonda calling herself an activist multiple times in the text. But you could buy the video because it was a great exercise routine and Fonda looked great doing it and not think about anything else. And this changed how Fonda resonated. The video refashioned her into a different kind of star, a relatable one.

S9: I was in a drug store buying something and I was at the counter and I said something to the pharmacist and somebody three rows back in the line said, Oh, my God, it’s Jane Fonda. And they knew it because of my voice. It recognized my voice because my workout had been coming into their house. And I realized when you’re on television and you’re coming into somebody’s home, then the relationship between you and the audience changes a lot.

S3: It becomes far more intimate when you’re doing, Jane, as people would say, Jane isn’t a movie star anymore, let alone Hanoi Jane. She’s the woman in your house encouraging you to make it burn. And Jane was doing encouraging people on multiple tapes. Over the next 12 years, she would release over 20 videos and inspire. This is a conservative estimate, 100 other celebrity exercise tapes. This was the most obvious knock on effect of the workout. All of the other celebrities who looked at Fanda success and thought I could do that. It begins in 1983.


S21: I wanted to produce it. Now we’re going to begin breathing. Especially my girls. Everybody, get up.

S2: Take your hands. Hello. Are you going to breathe? That’s from the legendary actress, singer and dancer Debbie Reynolds. Exercise tape, do it Debbie’s Way. Reynolds had also founded a fitness studio of her own in Los Angeles in the 1970s. But she implies right at the top that her video was inspired by Fonda.

S22: But you know what happened to me? I went out and I bought all these other tapes, which are excellent, but I found out I really couldn’t keep up with him. Well, maybe I didn’t want to keep up with them because I really fast I like to do do it Debbie’s way.

S3: It was targeted at an older crowd and it features celebrity appearances by Dionne Warwick and Florence Henderson and one knowingly sloppy backup dancer, the Oscar winning actress Shelley Winters.

S2: And I’m only doing this for Debbie Sweatshirt, who cracks wide throughout the entire class. Grab our next. Yeah, know it can be at times a little half hearted, do it Debbie’s way ultimately sold at least 130000 copies along with Every Day with Richard Simmons, which also came out in 1983, also made by Carl video.

S3: It was proof that this exercise video thing could work for people other than Jane Fonda. And then it was off to the races.

S23: I’m going to take you on a trip down the center of your body just right down to your foundation. You see out every extremity.

S3: That’s from the gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Fun, a workout for kids. That was just one of dozens of tapes from the 1980s. Another was NFL player Lyle Elizardo 1984 tape. No Sweat, the exercise program for everyone, which has a lot of crossover with Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron.


S24: When you approach weights, you don’t approach it with a sensitivity. You approach it with a warlike attitude and we’re going to do water. Wait until you’re ready. Begin one.

S3: To Marie Osmond, Caitlyn Jenner, Alyssa Milano, Shirley MacLaine with exercise for your mind, not your body, and Angela Lansbury all put out videos in the 1980s.

S25: I think femininity and sexuality go hand in hand. It used to be thought that women lose interest in sex after menopause, but now we know that just isn’t true.

S11: In 1998, former porn actor Traci Lords does her workout jazz warm up to Traci Lords in rhyming couplets.

S10: Stretch it hard to Saugus just to keep the pace. Has pushed hard to see the ground better, but you are bound to change.

S3: By 1992, fitness video sales across America totaled 415 million dollars and celebrity tapes had started to settle into a more set formula which strongly resembled Jane Fonda’s original workout, less talking and more straightforward routines. A good example is Cher Fitness, a routine very much in the no nonsense Fonda mode that future share in an indescribable raven black leotard with tutu accents that sold one point five million copies.

S2: What I’m really doing and in 40 minutes, you know, you burn off a lot of fat, it’s over. And you really had a good time. I mean, I must say, it’s difficult for me, but I never I never hate it. I always enjoy it.

S3: But even as Jane and Cher dominated the market, other celebrities were still doing their thing, like Estelle Getty with her young at heart.

S23: Raise your arms up high and say out loud, I feel lousy. I feel lousy.


S3: Raquel Welch’s a week with Raquel and it’s easy.

S10: Every morning we wake up. Just turn on your VCR, make sure that you’re on the right day and follow.

S2: Right.

S23: Here’s Mark Wahlberg’s Marky Mark workout service, the most decock in gym workout. We’re about to get busy with some fat weights and all that.

S3: Also making tapes in the 1990s, Rita Moreno, Sally Struthers, Heather Locklear, Florence Henderson, Latoya Jackson, Regis Philbin, O.J. Simpson, Cindy Crawford, Mary Tyler Moore, Dixie Carter, Suzanne Somers, Paula Abdul, Claudia Schiffer, Joan Rivers and Milton Berle, who did a segment in his low impact, high comedy workout in drag, as you know it, Jane Fonda.

S26: Hi, I’m Jane.

S14: I know just what you’re all thinking, she looks much better in person than she does on the screen.

S3: Are the late 90s, things started to peter out on the celebrity front, ceding ground trainer lead routines like Tibo and Buns of Steel, which were also influenced by Fonda. Compared to almost all of these videos, Fondas were the cream of the crop, not just because hers were the first and least ridiculous, because you might have noticed she’s a lot more A-list than most of these other celebrities. Exercise tape makers tended to be trying to up their profile or hold on to it. Fonda’s videos, in contrast, or part of a big, lucrative, relatively long running business, a significant enterprise that she’d gotten into at the height of her fame, and that made her distinct from these one off video makers, but not as distinct as when she was just a movie star. Father was not without ambivalence about the workout, she writes in her autobiography of the workout. I began to think, hey, wait a minute, what about me as an actor? What about the causes I’m fighting for? It made me uneasy. I didn’t want pelvic tilt to define me, but over the course of the 1980s, she becomes more involved in the exercise business anyway. It just interested her even as she stepped back from films which increasingly did not. Between 1982 and 1990, she made four movies and 13 workout tapes. In 1987, she separated the workout business from the CD, having made it seventeen million dollars. And ironically, it’s exactly this year, 1987. When exercised, Jane is fully ascendant and Fonda is widely seen as the least overtly political she’s been since the start of her career that Hanoi Jane comes roaring back into the foreground. It seems to start as Van is readying to film, Stanley and Iris will turn out to be her last movie until 2005 in Waterbury, Connecticut.


S11: Once announced that Fonda will be filming there, a Waterbury resident, World War Two veteran and member of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, writes an angry letter to the local paper urging the city not to give comfort and support to Jane Fonda. He also prints up 250 bumper stickers saying, I’m not Fonda. Hanoi Jane, as chronicled in Mary Hershberger book Jane Fonda’s War, this letter massively snowballs. It soon followed by more first from other local VFW members, not necessarily veterans of Vietnam, and then from ones all over the country. Even as most Waterbury residents defend Fada, protests begin and which are calls for Fonda to be executed and that eventually attract the support of the Ku Klux Klan. The ire towards Fonda that had always been in the background, it hadn’t been lessening. It had been festering.

S3: Starting earlier in the 1980s, the idea that Nixon had first floated that America could only have been defeated from within started to gain traction. Ronald Reagan wins an election, running on a platform of restoring America to itself. Movies like Rambo reframe Vietnam veterans, a skilled, brilliant fighting machines who could never possibly have invested in a fair fight. And all the while, the reality is the war itself begins to recede from memory.

S16: Mary Hershberger again 15 years later. What people really remembered was the fact that in the mid 1970s they had lost a war to a country that was much smaller, much poorer, barely even had an air force. They need an explanation for their.

S3: Jane Fonda, a one time pinup turned, outspoken anti-war feminist, turned exorcize entrepreneur who all the way back in 1972 had been very clear that America had lost this war, becomes one such explanation until the people in this country understand that it’s been an American defeat.


S7: Hard as it is for Americans to accept a third world underdeveloped country with no industry, 90 percent of those people are peasants has defeated the mightiest imperialist power in the world.

S3: And though Hanoi Jane had its roots in the 1970s, this is when it really explodes. When the people who agreed with Fonda about the war are thinking about other things and the people who didn’t are more aggrieved than ever. Fonda herself experienced this period as different from the one that came before telling me it was when Hanoi Jane was turned into an art form during the Reagan administration.

S9: That was when it really escalated. They thought, aha, we can scare people away from joining in the anti-war movement by turning Jane Fonda into a pariah. Well, you don’t want to be like Jane Fonda. You don’t want to join in and look what happened to Jane Fonda.

S3: It’s hard not to think that the workout enabled this spin because, of course, immediately after the war, nothing had happened to Jane Fonda’s career. It had rebounded and then some. And it’s only later of her own volition that she had moved into exercise. In June of 1988, in response to what happened in Waterbury, Fanda did a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters where she said she regretted criticizing the use and sitting on the anti-aircraft gun and apologized to the veterans that she’d hurt. This isn’t a clip from that original interview, but Fonda has since apologized many, many times, and this is one of them.

S9: I will go to my grave regretting the fact that I was photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun, but it doesn’t matter.


S3: Instead of clearing the air, the apology just breathes further life into the scandal, which remains at a fever pitch for close to a decade. The VFW passes a resolution asking Congress to try her for treason. Legends about Hanoi Jane, which had spread through the armed forces, spread faster. Still, stickers of her face show up in army base urinals and stories about how she personally got killed become military law, eventually traveling farther and further with the advent of the Internet. No matter how many times the made up stories about Fonda’s behavior in Hanoi are debunked, people still believe them. Earlier in the show, when I wondered why the workout was so widely embraced, when Fonda was still so disliked, I was asking that question through the lens of all of this, the late 1980s and the early 1990s when Fonda was way more controversial than she had been when the workout actually came out. The success of the workout seemed mysterious to me because I was a kid when all of this was going down. And all I knew about Fonda was that she had an exercise record and somehow that some people really didn’t like her as ever.

S2: It wasn’t everyone as all this was going on. The workout tapes kept coming, kept selling time. They kept coming when she got divorced from Hayden, when she married Ted Turner, when she started to live a more private life, when she retired from acting in 1990, the last workout tape didn’t come until 1994. And like a flashbulb, left a long after image, even after she stopped releasing tapes. Their influence continued to shape the world of fitness and of course, how we see her.

S19: Do not do it.


S3: While we were working on this piece, a video of Jane Fonda from 1979 went viral on Twitter. We played a bit of it at the top of the show.

S5: Culturally, psychologically, economically, politically, gays and lesbians are discriminated against.

S3: It was really popular, 200000 likes, 55000 tweets. And it’s one of a number of videos featuring Fonda doing something impressive and political like, say, getting arrested for climate change that have gone viral in the last few years.

S2: The subtext around these tweets, often the explicit text isn’t just admiration, it’s surprise. Whoa, check out Jane Fonda. This is also generational. People of my generation and younger having the realization that a woman they thought was the queen of exercise or just on Grace and Frankie has been fighting the good fight since before they were born.

S3: I don’t want to diminish the Jane Fonda workout, which I only came to admire as a bigger and bigger deal the more I knew about it. It was one of the preeminent lifestyle phenomena of the 1980s and 90s, and it helped normalize strenuous physical exercise for women. And it still works. And people are doing it right now when they can’t go to the gym, which is actually how it started when gyms were much less welcoming to women. But it was only ever a piece of Fonda.

S2: And for a while there, its popularity obscured more substantial things about her in my life so far, which came out in 2005, she wrote. It isn’t easy for me to accept the fact that many young people, if they know me at all, know me as the woman in the exercise video that their mother used. Fonda is 83 now. She lived about as full of life as any celebrity as any woman has, and she’s still at it. I think it’s only in the years since she retired in 2005 that exercise, Jane, has started to take its proper place in the scheme of Jane Fonda, just a part of the 50 years she has spent throwing herself not without missteps into things that matter. She may do a mean pelvic tilt, but you should see her life.


S5: It’s better under using you. I hope they use me. What am I here for? If not to be used by good people, for good things.

S2: This is Decoder Ring, I’m Willa Paskin, you can find me on Twitter at Willa Paskin and you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode? You can email us at Decoder Ring at Slate dot com. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe and read our feed and our podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Even better, tell your friends.

S27: This podcast was written by Willa Paskin. It was edited by Benjamin. Fresh Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Fresh. C11 is our research assistant. Thanks to Mark Harris, Jeff Wexler, Merritt, Jacob, Carol Burnett, Jerry Lemcke, Joe Pickett, Nick PWR, Kaley Morgan, Kimberly Christmann, Amanda Cormier, Lenny Casden and June Thomas, who I mentioned Jane Fonda My Life So far, Mary Hershberger, Jane Fonda’s war and Rick Pearlstein’s Nixonland. In the episode itself, there are some other aspects that were essential to reporting.

S2: Episodes, thank you to Carol Bergkamp all-American Hanoi Jane and the high and tight Jerilyn, Becky’s Hanoi Jane War, Sex and Fantasies of Betrayal and James Michael Rafferty’s doctoral thesis, Politicizing Stardom, Jane Fonda, IPC Films and Hollywood, 1977 to 1982. Thanks for listening. See you next month.