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Thread: Saint Frances of Asylum - Frances Fonda

  1. #1
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    Saint Frances of Asylum - Frances Fonda

    Frances Seymour Fonda (4/4/08 – 4/14/50) is best remembered as the second wife of actor Henry Fonda and mother of actors Jane and Peter Fonda. A descendent of a Colonial family, she came to New York as a young woman to work as a secretary and nab a rich husband. At age 22 she talked 51 year old George Tuttle Brokaw, a millionaire lawyer and sportsman, into marrying her. They had one daughter and then Brokaw died in 1935 of a heart attack.
    The wealthy widow Frances met 30 year old actor Henry Fonda on a movie set when she was touring England with a friend in early 1936. She even had her Buick touring car shipped from the U.S. for their travels. After a short courtship they married in September 1936. She moved out of the famous Brokaw Mansion in New York City and relocated to Hollywood with Fonda. Daughter Jane was born in 1937 and son Peter in 1940. Henry Fonda’s career in Hollywood flourished with an interruption for World War 2 service in the Navy starting in 1942. Frances managed their home and raised the children.

    In August 1949, Fonda announced to Frances that he wanted a divorce so he could remarry; their 13 years of marriage had not been happy ones for him. 43 year old Fonda wanted to marry Susan Blanchard, with whom he had been having an affair since sometime in 1948. She was 21 years old, the daughter of Australian-born interior designer Dorothy Hammerstein, and the step-daughter of Oscar Hammerstein II.

    Devastated by Fonda's confession, and plagued by emotional problems for many years, Frances went into the Austen Riggs Psychiatric Hospital in January 1950 for treatment. Her final stay at a mental health care facility was at the Craig House Sanitarium in Beacon, New York. On a visit home to spend time with her family, she dashed upstairs to her bedroom and then came back down. It wasn’t known until after her death that she had retrieved a small Battersea enamel gift box that she kept a safety razor in for underarm shaving. She committed suicide at Craig House on April 14, 1950, ten days after her 42nd birthday. Before her death, she had written six notes to various individuals, but left no final message for her husband. She left a note on the bathroom door for the nurse not to come in but to call her doctor. He found Frances dead on the floor in a pool of blood. She had cut her throat from ear to ear with the blade from her safety razor. Frances was cremated and Henry Fonda quickly arranged a private funeral with only himself and his mother-in-law, Sophie Seymour, in attendance. Years later, Dr. Margaret Gibson, the psychiatrist who had treated Frances at Austen Riggs, described Henry Fonda as "a cold, self-absorbed person, a complete narcissist."

    In recent years daughter Jane Fonda obtained Frances’s old medical records. It revealed that she had been sexually molested as a child. Frances later became a sexually promiscuous young woman, enduring nine abortions. Sexual abuse and abortion does indeed have an effect on a woman’s psyche. The first picture is at her 1936 wedding to Henry Fonda. The second picture is at a 1949 family picnic.


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  2. #2
    Excellent detailed narrative and photos. What a sad end for this lovely lady. She was quite wealthy from her investments and left an estate worth around
    $600,000 in 1950 dollars. She could have lived a very comfortable life but like many of the women of her day, her world and identity centered around
    her husband . When he left her for a younger woman it was too much to bear for an emotionally disturbed woman.

  3. #3
    A bittersweet picture of one of the last Fonda family picnics in 1949. Frances de Villers Brokaw (1931–2008) , nicknamed Pan, was Henry's stepdaughter. Frances Jr. was the daughter of George Tuttle Brokaw, the 51 year old millionaire that Frances Sr. talked into marrying her when she was 22 in 1931. He
    died of a heart attack in 1935, leaving plenty of money for his young widow and toddler daughter. At age 14 Pan inherited a large chunk of the Brokaw fortune. She married at age 18 and lived a life of quiet wealth out of the public eye.

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