It’s day four at the TCM Classic Film Festival, and we’re spending this Sunday morning in Hollywood with eyes on another city—the Big Apple, with a screening of the romantic comedy SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963). The film stars a young Jane Fonda, as a woman unsure about the changing sexual mores of the time. We join her as she explores 1960s Manhattan and tests the rules of romance with reporter Rod Taylor, who she meets on a Fifth Avenue Bus. Cliff Robertson also co-stars as Fonda’s over-protective brother.
Today’s screening of a beautiful 35mm print was introduced by Robert Osborne. Osborne joked that he was stunned to see such a full house at 10 AM on a Sunday morning. He asked festivalgoers why they’d chosen to see SUNDAY IN NEW YORK today. One woman spoke about seeing the movie while growing up in New Jersey—and how she always wanted to go into the city, but her parents wouldn’t take her. SUNDAY IN NEW YORK gave her a glimpse of that world. It was clear that today’s audience had great affection for the film. They clapped at even the mention of the stars’ names. Robert Osborne spoke warmly about Jane Fonda. He admitted that he was a little nervous sitting down with Fonda for her Private Screenings interview. He was afraid she would want to talk politics and not something trivial like movies. But when Osborne broached the subject of her films, Fonda was relieved. “Oh thank God,” she said. “I’m never asked about my movies. I love my movies.”
SUNDAY IN NEW YORK was only Jane Fonda’s sixth film. Though she was a Hollywood legacy, the daughter of screen great Henry Fonda, Jane was not initially interested in following in her father’s footsteps. It was director Joshua Logan (a family friend who had worked with Henry Fonda on Mister Roberts) that convinced her to appear on stage alongside her dad in The Country Girl at the Omaha Community Theatre in 1954. Fonda then met acting coach Lee Strasberg in 1958 and soon joined the Actors Studio. It was a move that changed her life. As Fonda put it, “I went to the Actors Studio and Lee Strasberg told me I had talent. Real talent. It was the first time that anyone, except my father — who had to say so — told me I was good. At anything. It was a turning point in my life. I went to bed thinking about acting. I woke up thinking about acting. It was like the roof had come off my life.”
In 1960, Jane Fonda made her first film (Tall Story opposite Anthony Perkins) and appeared in her first Broadway play (There Was a Crooked Girl). Both were directed by Joshua Logan. From there, Fonda never looked back. She began working consistently in Hollywood and had seemingly fewer growing pains than most young actors trying to jump start a movie career. The next few years brought a series of well respected films and some big name co-stars: Fonda shared the screen with Laurence Harvey, Anne Baxter and Barbara Stanwyck in Walk on the Wild Side (1962), set in a New Orleans bordello; she played a newlywed married to Korean War vet Anthony Franciosa in Period of Adjustment (1962); and co-starred with Peter Finch in the vacation romance In the Cool of the Day (1963).
Of course Fonda would go on to a long, and sometimes controversial career—that included two Oscar wins (for Klute in 1971 and Coming Home in 1978). But SUNDAY IN NEW YORK, which was the next film she made, marked another crucial turning point. Fonda has said that SUNDAY IN NEW YORK was the first time she enjoyed making a movie—and the first time she thought she was any good at acting. The rest of us knew it all along.