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Following in Fonda's Footsteps

by Marian Christy
Boston Globe, November 15, 1981


This is an excerpt from an interview with Peter Fonda -- star of the classic film Easy Rider, son of Henry, brother of Jane, father of Bridget, uncle of Troy Garrity -- in which the actor discussed the importance that the book Call It Courage had for him, growing up in the shadow of his famous father.


"You used the word courage. God, I love that word. You know, I took Latin. Twelve years. Words are so important to me. When I was 10, 11 or 12, I read a book, "Call it Courage." Can't remember the author. It was about a boy in the South Pacific. One day he went beyond the breaking waves to fish. A storm came up and he blows out to sea. But, God, he fights, he keeps the little craft up and he works his way to a distant island.

"Now, yeah, he's got to survive. He never grasped survival. But he survives. He fashions a canoe, somehow, and sails back. He is a man. Not in true years, no. He is a man in the sense that he has passed from insecurity to security...

"I was like that, like the boy. It had to do with identity. Me, Henry Fonda's son. I knew he, Henry Fonda, was my father. But I didn't know who I was. Oh, I knew I was Peter. But they all thought of me as Henry Fonda's son. Unfortunately, for them, they never got to know me, Peter. I always seemed to disappoint them. They expected me to be different than Henry. Or to be exactly like Henry. I was neither.

"I was rebellious, fighting the waves. I lived in the shadow of this great legend and yet everybody was telling me to be my own man. A storm, and I came out of it smelling like a rose. I had to crawl out to be me. They found fault with me. They found fault with Henry Fonda's son. And I didn't understand why people would be jealous of me. But I was caught in a storm. An empty vortex. A lot of swirling, whirling and nothing to hold onto. I was caught by a powerful public surge to hold onto their chosen heroes. I was the son of a chosen hero. And I was still trying to find me. To find my way back. To the island." (Aside: "Am I making any sense? Goddamn, do you understand?")

Yes, courage!

"Yeah, courage. I think I have strength. I think I have the qualities necessary to continue in this business. Yet there is that backlog of talent: Henry and Jane. Considering that, considering them, this business requires incredible strength. I must not get tripped up by a comparative attitude. Like, how do I compare with Henry? How do I compare to Jane? And, yeah, I do get compared to them."


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