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The Religious Affiliation of
great American actor
Peter Fonda's father, Henry Fonda, was raised in a devout Christian Science home. From: Henry Fonda as told to Howard Teichmann, Fonda: My Life, New American Library/Times Mirror: New York (1981), page 21:
Following the birth of her son [Henry Fonda], Herberta Fonda bore her husband two daughters, Harriet and Jayne.
Henry Fonda's daughter -- Jane Fonda -- recalls the prayers they said for her brother Peter when he was seriously injured in a gun accident. From: Fonda: My Life, pages 214-215:
"No one could have nicer sisters," Fonda says. "No sibling problems there."
"As a matter of fact," Fonda says, "my whole damn family was nice. I don't think I've imagined it. It's true. Maybe it has to do with being brought up as Christian Scientists. Half of my relatives were Readers or Practitioners in the church.
"If you got sick, you sent for Granny or Aunt Bess or Aunt Ethelyn, and they'd come and read Mary Baker Eddy to you and you'd get well. We steered clear of doctors."
"Tony Abry, Pan's brother-in-law, and Reed Armstrong, her husband's nephew, had their grandfather's car and chauffeur," Peter disclosed, "and the chauffeur drove us over to the Abry estate near Katonah where there was a regular shooting range. One of the boys showed off an antique pistol that cocked when you broke it, just like a shotgun. The trigger laid up against the stem like a derringer. I put in the shell, and when I closed it, the whole fucking mechanism went around and discharged itself right into me.
Fonda: My Life, pages 220-221:
"It went right into my belly, hit my rib cage, blew off a piece of my liver, tumbled through my stomach, just missed my abdominal aorta, slammed right through the center of my kidney, and made just a lump on the skin of my back right next to my spine.
"That chauffeur saved my life. I stumbled to the car, yelling that I'd been shot. And he didn't waste a word on me. He just shoveled me up and put me into the car, and drove like hell for the hospital in Ossining.
"Dr. Charles dark Sweet, bless his name, was the prison physician at Sing Sing. He had puncture-wound and bullet-wound expertise, and he walked into the hospital from a hunting trip just as they brought me in. That's where the luck comes in. While they were propping me, he scrubbed, and by the time
he was ready, I was waiting on the table in the operating room, and he did some kind of job sewing and patching and stitching."
Despite the skill of the surgeon's knife, Death beckoned Peter Fonda. The surgeon emerged from the operating room to tell the waiting Sophie and Jane that the boy's heart had stopped beating. They'd managed to start it again, but he was dying, and unfortunately, there was not much else they could do for him.
"I remember when he was dying, I remember hearing the doctor say, 'I don't know if he's going to pull through,' and I remember praying," Jane Fonda admitted. "That was the first time in my life I remember praying. 'Dear God,' I whispered, 'if you let him live, I'll never be mean to him again.' "
Henry Fonda arrived in his son's hospital room, well beyond midnight. All he saw was the narrow figure under the white sheet and the small, drained face with tubes coming out of his mouth and nostrils. There was nothing for the father to do but sit in a chair and watch his immobile child.
At three in the morning a compassionate nurse called him outside the boy's room and promised to telephone if any change occurred. It seemed better, she believed, for Fonda to have strength to face tomorrow and whatever it might bring.
Back in New York Henry Fonda caught a restless hour of sleep, and then made the return trip to Ossining. This routine continued for five days. On the sixth the doctors pronounced Peter had passed the crisis. Within a week he was considered in stable condition. Within another week he was out of danger and on the road back to chicanery.
"My sister," Peter recounted, "was a mean little girl. She was always so mean to me. Years later she told me, 'You know, when you were dying, I prayed to God that if He let you live, I would never be mean to you again. And you know? I was mean to you again right away.' "
"I couldn't help it," Jane explained. "He was a rotten kid in those days. He was back to being a brat before we knew he was well. I loved him anyhow."
Jane returned to the Greenwich Academy for her last semester. Peter spent a month in the hospital and a month recuperating at home.
Before they left for New York, Susan [Henry Fonda's wife] readied Jane and Peter [Henry's children, Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda] for boarding schools in the East; Jane to Emma Willard, in Troy, New York, Peter to Fay School in upper Massachusetts...
Fonda: My Life, page 277:
Peter, packed off to the Fay School, forced to make up the sixth grade due to his shooting accident, was filled with resentment and resolved to return to his starring role as mischief maker when a sudden, unexpted emotion came over him.
"I needed to call somebody Mom, just like my grandmother had said," Peter remembered. "So I went to my math teacher at Fay and asked him the propriety of calling Susan [his step-mother] 'Mom.' He told me I could if I wanted to and if she had no objection. So I wrote her and she wrote back and said yes. I was happy as the devil must be when Sunday School lets out."
About Henry Fonda's and Peter Fonda's ancestors, from: Fonda: My Life, page 20:
At the film's conclusion [Peter Fonda's father Henry Fonda filming Advise and Consent in Washington, D.C.] Fonda returned to New York for his son's [Peter Fonda] debut as an actor on Broadway. Blood, Sweat, and Stanley Poole opened on October 5, 1961. Young Fonda's reviews were excellent.
"Now I can stand on my own two feet," Peter declared, "and ispense with anybody who comes up to me and says, 'You are here because of who you are are and not because of your talent.'"
Three days later Peter and Susan Brewer, stepdaughter of Howard Hughes's good right arm, Noah Dietrich, were married at St. Bartholomew's Church. [Saint Bartholomew's Church, on Park Avenue and 51st Street in New York City (http://www.stbarts.org/) is a New York City landmark. It is an Episcopal church. It is not clear whether or not either Peter Fonda or his bride were Episcopalians.]
Early records show the family [Peter Fonda's ancestors] ensconced in northern Italy in the sixteenth century where they fought on the side of the Reformation [presumably meaning the Protestant Reformation], fled to Holland, intermarried with Dutch burghers' daughters, picked up the first names of the Low Countries, but retained the Italiante Fonda. Before Pieter Stuyvesant surrendered Nieuw Amsterdam to the English the Fondas, instead of settling in Manhattan, canoed up the Hudson River to the Indian village of Caughawaga. Within a few generations, the Mohawks and the Iroquois were butchered or fled and the town became known to mapmakers as Fonda, New York.
Webpage created 7 July 2005. Last modified 7 July 2005.
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