Biography and 20 excellent Henry Fonda Western Roles

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Henry Fonda, in full Henry Jaynes Fonda, (born May 16, 1905, Grand Island, Nebraska, U.S.—died August 12, 1982, Los Angeles, California), American stage and film actor who appeared in more than 90 films over six decades and created quintessential American heroes known for their integrity.

 

Fonda grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and the surrounding area. He studied journalism at the University of Minnesota but returned home during his sophomore year. He began acting at the Omaha Community Playhouse at the behest of Marlon Brando’s mother, Dorothy, a Playhouse cofounder. In 1928 Fonda moved to the East Coast to pursue his acting career. He soon joined the University Players Guild, a small summer-stock theatre troupe in Falmouth, Massachusetts, where he met, among others, Joshua Logan, Jimmy Stewart, and Margaret Sullavan, who became the first of his five wives.

Fonda made his Broadway debut in 1929, with a small part in The Game of Love and Death. Other stage appearances followed, and in 1934 he played his first leading role on Broadway in The Farmer Takes a Wife. He reprised the role in his movie debut the next year. In 1936 Fonda married socialite Frances Ford Seymour Brokaw, and the couple had two children, Jane and Peter, both of whom became noted actors. Frances later committed suicide.

Trained on the stage to project his voice, Fonda quickly adapted to film by underplaying his roles, which gave him a quietly intense screen persona. This reserved approach prevented him from becoming a romantic screen idol, although his good looks and adaptable presence made him a successful leading man in the period drama Jezebel (1938), with Bette Davis, and the romantic comedies The Lady Eve (1941), with Barbara Stanwyck, and The Big Street (1942), with Lucille Ball.

 

During this time, Fonda began appearing in movies directed by John Ford, and their collaborations produced a number of classic films that established Fonda as a star. He portrayed a gallery of populist American icons, including the gentle, modest Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and the dispossessed farmer and ex-convict Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel. The latter role earned Fonda particular praise and his first Academy Award nomination. He also appeared in Ford’s classic westerns My Darling Clementine (1946), playing the legendary sheriff Wyatt Earp, and Fort Apache (1948), in which he starred as the inflexible Lieut. Col. Owen Thursday, a character modeled on George Armstrong Custer.

 

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Fonda starred in several films before making a triumphant return to Broadway in the title role of Mister Roberts (1948–51). He played an idealistic officer on a cargo ship whose attempts to transfer are thwarted by a tyrannical captain. For his performance, Fonda won a Tony Award. He then starred in two more successful Broadway productions—Point of No Return (1951–52) and The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1954–55)—before making the screen version of Mister Roberts (1955). Ford was the initial director on the comedy, but he was replaced by Mervyn LeRoy, in part because of arguments with Fonda over plot elements. The film was a huge success, and the role became one of Fonda’s most iconic. He created another quintessential character in Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957). In the courtroom drama, Fonda played Juror 8, a lone holdout who tries to convince the rest of the jury that the defendant might be innocent. Fonda, a producer of the film, received his second Oscar nomination when it was nominated for best picture.

Fonda continued to alternate between Broadway and Hollywood and appeared occasionally on television. On the stage he gave acclaimed performances as a Nebraska lawyer involved with a young woman from the Bronx in Two for the Seesaw (1958), as Clarence Darrow in an eponymous one-man show (1974), and as a U.S. Supreme Court justice in First Monday in October (1978). His other notable film roles included those of an innocent man on trial for robbery in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), an American president in Fail-Safe (1964), a villain (a rare role for Fonda) in Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in the West (1968), and a bit part in Wanda Nevada (1979), directed by and starring his son, Peter. In 1981 Fonda appeared in his last feature film, On Golden Pond, playing a cantankerous husband and father during what may be his final summer. The dramedy costarred Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda and was a critical and commercial success. For the role, Henry finally won an Academy Award as best actor. Also in 1981 he costarred with Myrna Loy in the TV movie Summer Solstice.

Great Western roles

20.Welcome to Hard Times

Dir. by Burt Kennedy (1967), starring Henry Fonda, Keenan Wynn & Lon Chaney

Welcome to Hard Times is a 1967 Western film based upon a novel by E. L. Doctorow. The movie was directed by Burt Kennedy. It stars Henry Fonda as the leader of a town who is too weak to stand up to.

19.Warlock

Dir. by Edward Dmytryk (1959), starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn & Richard Widmark

Warlock is a 1959 film, released by Twentieth Century Fox and shot in DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope. It is a Western adapted from the novel by Oakley Hall. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, it stars Richard..

18.Wanda Nevada

Dir. by Peter Fonda (1979), starring Brooke Shields, Henry Fonda & Peter Fonda

Wanda Nevada is a 1979 western comedy film starring Peter Fonda and Brooke Shields. It was also directed by Peter Fonda. Henry Fonda makes a cameo appearance as an Arizona prospector, making it the…

17.There Was a Crooked Man…

Dir. by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1970), starring Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda & Burgess Meredith

This film is a 1970 western starring Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It was written by David Newman and Robert Benton, their first script to be produced after.

16.The Trail of the Lonesome Pine

Dir. by Henry Hathaway (1936), starring Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray & Sylvia Sidney

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine is a 1936 American romance film based on the novel of the same name. It was directed by Henry Hathaway. It was the second full-length feature film to be shot in..

15.The Tin Star

Dir. by Anthony Mann (1957), starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins & Lee Van Cleef

The Tin Star was first a short story then a 1957 American western film directed by Anthony Mann and starring Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins, in one of Perkins’ first roles. The film became one of…

14.The Rounders

Dir. by Burt Kennedy (1965), starring Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford & Warren Oates

The Rounders is a lighthearted 1965 film starring Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda. The comedy was based on the novel of the same..

13.The Return of Frank James

Dir. by Fritz Lang (1940), starring Henry Fonda, Gene Tierney & Jackie Cooper

The Return of Frank James is a 1940 western film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney. It is a sequel to Henry King’s 1939 film Jesse James. Written by Sam Hellman, the…

12.The Ox-Bow Incident

Dir. by William A. Wellman (1943), starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn & Margaret Hamilton

The Ox-Bow Incident is a 1943 American western film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews and Mary Beth Hughes, and featuring Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Harry..

11.The Cheyenne Social Club

Dir. by Gene Kelly (1970), starring James Stewart, Henry Fonda & Shirley Jones

The Cheyenne Social Club is a 1970 Western comedy, written by James Lee Barrett, directed and produced by Gene Kelly, and starring James Stewart, Henry Fonda and Shirley Jones. It’s the story about..

10.Spencer’s Mountain

Spencer’s Mountain is a 1963 film written, directed, and produced by Delmer Daves from a novel by Earl Hamner, Jr. The film starred Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara and in early appearances, James MacArthur, Veronica Cartwright, and Victor French. The novel and film became the basis for the popular television series The Waltons, which followed in 1972. Differing from both the film and novel, The Waltons watered down many of the adult themes, including alcoholism and infidelity. Spencer’s Mountain..

9.My Name Is Nobody

Dir. by Sergio Leone and Tonino Valerii (1973), starring Henry Fonda, Terence Hill & Geoffrey Lewis

My Name is Nobody, also known as Gellert, is a 1973 Spaghetti Western comedy film. The film was directed by Tonino Valerii and, in some scenes, by Sergio Leone. It was written by Leone, Fulvio..

8.Jesse James

Dir. by Henry King (1939), starring Henry Fonda, Tyrone Power & John Carradine

Jesse James is a western film directed by Henry King and starring Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Nancy Kelly and Randolph Scott. Written by Nunnally Johnson, the film is loosely based on the life of the..

7.My Darling Clementine

Dir. by John Ford (1946), starring Henry Fonda, Walter Brennan & Linda Darnell

My Darling Clementine, a 1946 film, regarded as one of the best Western movies made by Director John Ford, stars Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp during the period leading up to Gunfight at the OK Corral..

6.How the West Was Won

Dir. by Henry Hathaway and George Marshall (1962), starring John Wayne, James Stewart & Debbie Reynolds

How the West Was Won is a 1962 western film written by James R. Webb and John Gay and directed by John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall and Richard Thorpe..

5.Fort Apache

Dir. by John Ford (1948), starring Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple & Ward Bond

Fort Apache is a 1948 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda. The film was the first of the director’s “cavalry trilogy” and was followed by She Wore a..

4.Firecreek

Dir. by Vincent McEveety (1968), starring James Stewart, Henry Fonda & Inger Stevens

Firecreek is a 1968 western movie directed by Vincent McEveety and starring James Stewart and Henry Fonda in his second role as an antagonist that year. The film is similar to High Noon in that it..

3.Drums Along the Mohawk

Dir. by John Ford (1939), starring Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert & John Carradine

Drums Along the Mohawk is a 1939 historical Technicolor film based upon a 1936 novel of the same name by American author, Walter D. Edmonds. The film was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by..

A Big Hand for the Little Lady

Dir. by Fielder Cook (1966), starring Henry Fonda, Burgess Meredith & Joanne Woodward

A Big Hand for the Little Lady is a 1966 Technicolor western film, made by Eden Productions Inc. and released by Warner Bros. The movie was produced and directed by Fielder Cook from a screenplay by.

and…

 

Once Upon a Time in the West

Dir. by Sergio Leone (1968), starring Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale & Charles Bronson

Once Upon a Time in the West is a 1968 Italian/American epic Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone for Paramount Pictures. It stars Henry Fonda cast against type as the villain, Charles..
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