The Washington Post jumped on Ken Burns’ Viet-Nam remembrance band wagon yesterday with a front-page piece about “Hanoi Jane” Fonda.
For the forgetful (old) and very young, Fonda was an actress from a well-known acting family (viz. her father Henry Fonda and brother Peter Fonda) who became the face of radical opposition to the Viet-Nam War in the late 1960s and the early ’70s.
She traveled to North Viet-Nam in July 1972 and was photographed at the controls of an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down U.S. war planes. It did not make her popular with anyone, that I recall.
What you don’t know about the incident is that I was the first Western journalist to interview her after her trip. I was trying to earn a living as a journalist in Laos when her plane from Hanoi landed in Vientiane, the Laotian administrative capital. I met her on the tarmac, and my buddy, Don Ronk, snapped several pictures of me interviewing her on the run.
Here’s my recollection from my unpublished memoir of that time, HOTEL CONSTELLATION: Notes from America’s Secret War in Laos.
At the end of July, I experienced the high point of my journalistic career in Laos. Jane Fonda, the movie actress and anti-war activist, landed at Wattay Airport on the weekly flight from Hanoi. She had spent two weeks in North Viet-Nam posing for propaganda photos and was en route to Paris on her way back to the U.S. I met her on the tarmac as she stepped off the Soviet Aeroflot aircraft and dogged her steps into the terminal during the flight layover. She wore a three-quarter length sleeved Lao top and black peasant pajama bottoms and sandals. Even without makeup, she was Hollywood beautiful, her blonde hair blowing freely in the wind. While Ronk photographed us, I pestered her with question after question about her activities in the North, including a photo taken of her sitting at an anti-aircraft gun. She politely refused to answer every question. She said she was holding an international press conference in Paris; I understood that no AP stringer in Laos was going to scoop that.
I didn’t care. I had met someone famous, and I was going to write about it. My brief story probably served to alert AP that she had left the country and was bound for France. This is the text of my entire cable:
“haase 01945 vientiane 22/7
“jane fonda cma american actress etantiwar activist cma late saturday afternoon left hanoi etarrived vientianes wattay airport for thirty minute stopover on first leg of long trip back to united states via moscow et paris para miss fonda cma wearing black silk vietnamese trousers cma refused to comment on her trip to north vietnam saying she will hold press conference in paris para an outspoken opponent of vietnam war miss fonda has been accused of treason by american congessman for her activities in north vietnam during last two weeks endit
“David L. Haase
“carte de presse 274
That turned out to be one of the last cables I ever wrote from Laos.
Here is a screen grab from the photo section of the manuscript. Notes the pen and pad in my shirt pocket, and stop staring at the sideburns.