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The story behind Jane Fonda’s infamous 1970 mugshot

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Celebrities getting arrested and their mugshots being leaked and used as tabloid fodder is a tale as old as time.

More often than not, the reason behind an A-lister’s arrest is a DUI charge or petty theft.

For Jane Fonda, though, her infamous mugshot is an enduring reminder of her lifelong dedication to activism. 

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The now 85-year-old was arrested and spent a night in jail in Cleveland in 1970.

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In this handout, American actress, writer, producer, political activist Jane Fonda in a mug shot following her arrest, Cleveland, Ohio, US, 3rd November 1970. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)
Jane Fonda pictured in a mugshot in Cleveland in November 1970. (Getty)

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Her mugshot, which showed Fonda, then aged 32, with her fist raised in defiance, is now a symbol of militant feminism.

Though, Fonda’s imprisonment didn’t have much to do with feminist protesting.

Fonda had been handcuffed and thrown in prison on fabricated and trumped-up charges of drug smuggling.

At the time, the Barbarella actress was the celebrity face of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

In 1970, the US was nearing the end of its involvement in the Vietnam War, which took place from 1955 until 1975.

Fonda was a vocal political crusader against the war and had arrived in Cleveland on a speaking tour to address demonstrators around the country. By this point, news of her protests reached the White House.

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(Original Caption) 5/9/1970-Washington, DC-"Greetings, fellow bums," is the way film star Jane Fonda addresses anti-war demonstrators gathered on ellipse across from the White House. Her greeting was an allusion to the way President Nixon referred to students during a visit to the Pentagon earlier in the week.
Fonda addressing anti-war demonstrators in Washington in 1970. (Bettmann Archive)

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The Washington Post reports orders for her arrest came straight from then-President Richard Nixon. He allegedly had the FBI and CIA tailing her movements.

After being booked and spending a night in jail for possession of what Fonda later said were simply vitamins, the charges were eventually dropped.

“The guy who arrested me said he was taking orders from the Nixon White House,” Fonda told The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2017. “It was a frame-up.”

Fonda’s black-and-white mugshot, with her cropped ’70s hairdo and symbolic gesture, soon became more famous than the reason for her arrest.

The Post also noted the star’s hairstyle sparked a sensation comparable to the ‘Rachel’ haircut popularised by Jennifer Aniston.

It introduced American women to a style known as “bad girl bangs”, which became an even bigger obsession after the release of her 1971 film Klute, where she sported the same haircut.

Fonda’s arrest did nothing to dampen her Hollywood ambitions, either. And it wouldn’t be the last time she would be handcuffed and hauled to a police station thanks to her political activism. 

Jane Fonda at the 2009 National Corporate Theatre Fund Chairman's awards gala at Cipriani's Pegasus on April 20, 2009 in New York City.
Fonda carried a purse with her infamous mugshot on it to a gala in 2009. (WireImage)

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She has been arrested no less than six times in her life, most recently in 2019 for protesting for climate change action.

In 2016, Fonda also answered the decades-long question about how she managed to make the powerful fist gesture while in handcuffs.

“I was in handcuffs, but I have double-jointed hands, so I slipped out of the handcuffs,” she told The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. “It really surprised the guards.”

Fonda is also well aware of how iconic her mugshot is, even over 50 years later.

Merchandise such as mugs, t-shirts, phone cases and bags are sold around the world with her face on it.

The Grace and Frankie star even carried a clutch with the black-and-white photo emblazoned on it in 2009 and was pictured in one of the t-shirts in 2017.

“I sure got a lot of mileage out of that arrest,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2018.

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