Katharine Hepburn Resented Jane Fonda’s Success

Jane Fonda remains one of Hollywood’s most respected actors today, both for her work on screen as well as her work as an activist and advocate. When she worked with fellow Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn, however, things were less than smooth between the two.

Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn | Ernest Bachrach/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda worked together in ‘On Golden Pond’

At the turn of the 1980s, Fonda and Hepburn worked together in the film On Golden Pond. The 1981 movie starred Hepburn, Fonda, and Fonda’s father Henry in what would be his last film before his death the following year.

The movie follows married couple Ethel and Norman (played by Hepburn and the elder Fonda) at their cottage in northern New England; Jane Fonda played Norman’s daughter Chelsea. 

The movie went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards and became the second-highest-grossing movie of 1981. Henry Fonda and Hepburn won the Oscars for Best Actor and Actress, respectively, and the movie also took home the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Actors (L-R) Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda
Actors (L-R) Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda in scene from themovie On Golden Pond | John Bryson/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

RELATED: Katharine Hepburn Once Said This Hollywood Icon Doesn’t Have a Soul

Katharine Hepburn didn’t think Jane Fonda had a soul

Fonda was already an Oscar-winning actor when she met Hepburn, having won a decade earlier for her role in Klute. But that didn’t stop Hepburn from looking down on and even feeling threatened by the younger actor. Hepburn believed that Fonda would never reach her level of stardom because she didn’t work in Hollywood during its Golden Age as she had.

Fonda didn’t mince words about Hepburn in a March 2021 interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “She was really competitive,” Fonda said honestly. “She really thought that I was out to win more Academy Awards than she was, and when she won for On Golden Pond I called to congratulate her, and she said, ‘You’ll never catch me now.’”

Hepburn’s regard for Fonda went beyond friendly competition. “She did not like me,” Fonda said bluntly. “She once told [writer] Dominick Dunne that I didn’t have a soul.” 

Jane Fonda attends ‘Grace and Frankie’ season 6 screening
Jane Fonda at the premiere of Grace and Frankie | Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix

Katharine Hepburn resented Jane Fonda for not being ‘glamorous enough’

Hepburn was already a revered Hollywood icon by the time she worked on On Golden Pond, so it’s curious why she would feel threatened by the younger Fonda. According to Fonda, it was because she didn’t think Fonda carried herself as a star should — especially after years of outspoken activism in the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Fonda described her experience with the late actor in a 2016 interview with Sandra Bernhard on her Sandyland radio show. “I remember Katharine Hepburn saying to me, ‘You never could’ve made it back then,’” Fonda recalled. 

“She was a prickly one,” Fonda added of the late actor. “I just wasn’t glamorous enough. She hated the fact that I didn’t put enough attention to how I presented myself.”