HOLLYWOOD — Two of the country’s cultural icons are back in the public eye, and as different as their personas, their politics and their fan bases are, both have gone through radical makeovers, if not spiritual transformations.
Or so they say.
After five months in prison for lying about a stock deal, domestic diva Martha Stewart was sprung last week. She immediately shook off the jailhouse blues, rallying her business troops and prepping for a new reality show.
And after a 15-year absence from the Hollywood merry-go-round and a failed marriage to Ted Turner, Jane Fonda is tub-thumbing a new biography and a new movie and subjecting herself to the talkshow circuit.
Ostensibly, the two could not be more dissimilar, yet they have come to remarkably similar points.
Thirty-five years ago, Fonda, now 66, was manning the barricades in Paris and making movies like “Barbarella” and “Barefoot in the Park,” while Stewart, now 63, was toiling in obscurity, perfecting her biscuits and practicing her stock charts.
Free-spirit Fonda’s left-wing politics and sex-kitten image couldn’t have been more at odds with matronly Stewart’s conservative focus on home and hearth.
But both proved astute businesswomen, Fonda having made gazillions in the ’80s from her exercise videos and Stewart having amassed a fortune from canapes, curtains and K-Mart tie-ins.
How much either of them will be loved or admired in the future is unclear, but both can lay claim to having empowered women.
Fonda was a feminist role model for legions of young women in the ’70s and a fitness ideal for some of those same femmes in the ’80s. But Hanoi Jane is still a lightning rod for right-wingers, who have never forgiven the actress for her politics.
Stewart, meanwhile, taught a whole different swathe of women (and perhaps some burnt-out Fonda fans?) that tastefulness could be attained at a reasonable price, and that it helped make life more fulfilling. OK, she yelled at employees and allegedly flouted the law to make an extra buck, but being made a scapegoat for corporate malfeasance was a bit much.
As for their respective transformations, Stewart emerged from Camp Cupcake, the low-security women’s facility in West Virginia, newly trim, soft-spoken and more relaxed than we’ve ever seen her.
Fonda’s recent photos reveal a strikingly handsome woman, determinedly made-up and toned, one who spends her time on philanthropic causes from her base in Atlanta. And she is human, living on a bad knee and skedded for hip replacement surgery after the promotional tour.
In post-prison comments, Stewart made her sojourn behind bars sound more like a spa-cum-spiritual retreat, complete with dandelion salad, rather than a demeaning punishment for wrongdoing.
Sporting a poncho crocheted by one of her fellow inmates — “a wonderful lady,” Stewart called her — the reupholstered diva projected newfound concern for all, not just those privileged few who purchase her pillows.
“Our mission,” she told her staff at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, is not only to explain the nuts and bolts of crafts, cooking and housekeeping but also “why those things are important for building relationships in an often uncertain world.”
No doubt reality guru Mark Burnett, who is producing Stewart’s new syndicated show, will encourage her to continue the metamorphosis. If her pre-prison image came dangerously close to that of Leona Helmsley, her newfound emphasis on “human connections” makes her sound oddly close to the Jane Fonda of old.
As for Fonda, her years cheering the Braves baseball team alongside Turner and then a subsequent religious conversion left many flummoxed. The born-yet-again Fonda, as “My Life So Far” purportedly puts it, now views her life as a spiritual quest for more fulfilling human connections and inner serenity.
Martha and Jane should have lunch.