Both Megyn Kelly and Jane Fonda have proven themselves as headstrong women who are not likely to back down from a confrontation. A major celebrity feud was perhaps inevitable, then, when the two ladies came head-to-head following a cringe-worthy interview in 2017. So, this is how the conflict really went down.
Back in September 2017 Kelly was hosting the first week of her new NBC talk show Megyn Kelly Today. And it would be fair to say that things got off to a bumpy start thanks in part to a cringe-inducing interview with Fonda. The frosty encounter soon went viral – though probably not for reasons either women would have liked.
Fonda was appearing on Kelly’s show to promote her film Our Souls in the Night alongside her co-star Robert Redford, and the interviewer felt it apt to question her about plastic surgery. Needless to say, the actress was not impressed, and things have seemingly remained tense between the two women ever since.
Even before her run-in with Kelly, however, Fonda had a reputation for not beating around the bush when it came to sharing a piece of her mind. She was born into Hollywood royalty in December 1937 as the daughter of the actor Henry Fonda and the socialite Frances Seymour Brokaw. The star eventually followed in her father’s footsteps to become an actress, though she also became an outspoken activist.
Fonda began her acting career on stage but progressed to movies in 1960 when she starred in her first film: Tall Story. One of the star’s most famous roles came courtesy of the 1968 science fiction Barbarella, which cemented Fonda’s status as a sex symbol. But the actress’ image evolved once again when she began taking on more serious roles.
The star’s film choices gradually became more socially conscious, and Fonda’s activism also came to the forefront. In 1968 she led a civil rights protest alongside the Black Panther Party, which was campaigning against police brutality. She also reportedly raised funds for the group and donated some of her own money to the movement.
Fonda got behind another cause in 1970 when she showed up to a protest organized by Bernie Whitebear – protesting the declining conditions of Native American reservations. The group occupied Seattle’s Fort Lawton as part of the demonstration, and Fonda assisted Whitebear in bargaining for Native American rights. Furthermore, she visited a group of protesters who occupied San Francisco’s Alcatraz in 1969 to 1971.
However, perhaps one of Fonda’s most controversial periods of activism occurred during the Vietnam War. She’d begun actively protesting against the conflict in 1970 and subsequently traveled to North Vietnam two years later. And while there, the actress appeared on no fewer than ten radio shows to declare her disapproval of the U.S. military’s actions in the country.
As part of her protests in Vietnam, Fonda urged U.S. pilots to stop bombing non-military targets. She was also photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun, which gave the impression that she would shoot down American aircraft. As a result of her time in the country she even earned the nickname “Hanoi Jane.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fonda’s actions in response to the Vietnam War sparked outrage in the U.S. The Veterans of Foreign Wars suggested that the actress should be tried for being a traitor, according to the Washington Post. Meanwhile, some lawmakers felt that her actions were treasonous, and in Maryland state officials considered banning her movies.
But Fonda didn’t let the controversy sway her from her activism. In the years since, she’s become a poster girl for the anti-war movement and has lent her voice to a number of struggles. For instance, her Fonda Family Foundation focuses on issues of social services and human rights. She has also contributed to organizations including Peace Over Violence, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
In recent years, Fonda has focused her activism on climate change. Working alongside Greenpeace, in late 2019 Fonda began staging weekly protests known as “Fire Drill Fridays” on Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill. As a result of the rallies, the actress was arrested and later charged with unlawfully demonstrating.
So, Fonda is certainly no pushover – as her long-running activism has shown. But, it would seem, neither is her rival: Megyn Kelly. Prior to embarking on a career in TV, she worked for over a decade in corporate law. However, Kelly later set her eyes on becoming a news anchor. And in order to achieve this dream, she cold-called station managers armed with demo tapes.
Eventually, Kelly’s efforts paid off and she was employed by WJLA-TV – an ABC News affiliate in Washington D.C. Her job role was as a freelance assignment reporter, but she soon earned a name for herself as a journalist covering the election and Supreme Court nomination hearings for ABC in 2004.
The year 2004 turned out to be a big one for Kelly, who received national exposure acting as a Washington correspondent on behalf of Fox News. The gig set the path for the journalist to become one of the most popular TV reporters in the U.S. And two years later she became Bill Hemmer’s co-anchor on Fox’s America’s Newsroom.
The anchor hosted a segment known as “Kelly’s Court” as part of her role on America’s Newsroom, which saw the reporter utilize her legal expertise to evaluate current news issues. Though it was perhaps Kelly’s 2010 appointment as the anchor of Fox News’ America Live that she really proved herself as a competent journalist.
While fronting America Live, Kelly established a reputation as a no-nonsense interviewer who wasn’t afraid to put difficult questions to her guests. She then later returned to Fox after a break from reporting due to maternity leave. And this time she fronted her own show – The Kelly File – which first aired in 2013.
But it wasn’t until 2015 that Kelly really came to the attention of the masses. At the GOP debate in August that year the journalist famously challenged the then-Republican candidate Donald Trump on sexist comments he’d made in the past. The future president didn’t take kindly to Kelly’s questions, and after the debate he retaliated by calling her “overrated,” “angry,” “crazy” and said she was “a bimbo.”
Prior to the debate, Kelly claimed that Trump had offered gifts in exchange for positive coverage. In her 2016 book Settle for More, the reporter revealed, “I was not the only journalist to whom Trump offered gifts clearly meant to shape coverage. Many reporters have told me that [he] worked hard to offer them something fabulous — from hotel rooms to rides on his 757.”
Kelly’s employers at Fox News did not come to her defence while she was clashing with Trump. In fact, CEO Roger Ailes had enjoyed an amiable relationship with the future president. Both men would also face accusations of sexual harassment – with Kelly later claiming that she’d be a victim of Ailes.
In 2017 Kelly left Fox and joined NBC News – where she would front her own daytime program. The Meghan Kelly show first aired in September 2017, though the host didn’t have the smoothest of starts as she faced off with Fonda in her first week. And being the headstrong women they both were, neither of them intended to back down from the resulting feud.
As we mentioned earlier, Fonda had appeared on Megyn Kelly Today with Redford to promote their film Our Souls at Night. The movie tells the tale of a small-town widow and widower who find solace by sleeping next to each other at night. And Kelly decided to question her guests on the topic of aging.
Kelly asked Redford if he felt like a “heartthrob,” though her line of questioning for Fonda seemed a little more pointed. She began with compliments, telling the actress, “You’ve been an example to everyone in how to age beautifully and with strength and unapologetically.” But she then moved to a place that Fonda clearly felt uncomfortable with.
Continuing her line of questioning, Kelly added, “You admit you’ve had work done, which I think is to your credit. But you look amazing… I read that you said you’re not proud to say you’ve had work done. Why not?” Despite Kelly’s compliments, judging from her stony facial expression Fonda was not impressed.
A dramatic pause then followed which saw Fonda look Kelly up and down, and the star responded to plastic surgery question by asking, “[Do] we really want to talk about that now?” Seemingly undeterred, Kelly giggled and explained, “Well, one of the things people think when they look at you is how amazing you look.”
Kelly’s efforts to sweet talk Fonda clearly didn’t seem to be working, and the latter responded, “Well, thanks.” She then went on to list some of her attributes, saying, “[I have a] good attitude [and] good posture. I take care of myself.” However, she then quickly changed the subject, telling Kelly, “But let me tell you why I love this movie that we did – Our Souls at Night – rather than plastic surgery.”
And just like that, Fonda had batted off Kelly’s seemingly inappropriate question. For their part, Redford and the audience laughed off the awkward incident, though the actress didn’t seem to see the funny side. As a result, she later took aim at the chat show host in an interview with ET Canada later in 2017.
Fonda explained why she’d taken such a disliking to Kelly’s question. The actress said, “Given the fact that we don’t have a lot of time and [Redford] is right here, it’s a weird thing to bring up – whether I’ve had plastic surgery or not. I have and I’ve talked about it. [It] seemed like the wrong time and place to ask that question.”
However, it was not the last time Fonda would bring up her awkward encounter with Kelly in public. During a 2018 appearance on Today, the actress’ Grace and Frankie co-star Lily Tomlin appeared to stir the pot when answering a question about how long she’d known Fonda. She answered that they’d met before Fonda’s “first facelift.”
At first, Fonda tried to brush past Tomlin’s comments, saying, “Never mind, never mind, we don’t need to hear that.” However, she soon responded with her own killer line, asking her co-star, “Who are you, Megyn Kelly?” And after a few outraged laughs from the studio, Today hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb were forced to move things hurriedly along.
And Fonda didn’t leave her disdain for Kelly there. In an interview with Variety in 2018 she said of her clash with the chat show host, “It wasn’t like I was upset. I was stunned. It was so inappropriate. It showed that she’s not that good an interviewer.” Nevertheless, Fonda suggested that she would speak to Kelly again “if she comes around and learns her stuff.”
This time, Kelly chose not to take Fonda’s criticism lying down. The host finally broke her silence on the brewing feud between her and the legendary actress in a three-minute monologue delivered on a 2018 episode of her chat show. Kelly told her audience, “It’s time to address the ‘Poor Me’ routine.”
Giving her side of the story, Kelly continued, “First, some context: Fonda was on to promote a film about aging. For years, she has spoken openly about her joy in giving a cultural face to older women. Well, the truth is, most older women look nothing like Fonda, who is now 80. And if Fonda really wants to have an honest discussion about older women’s cultural face, then her plastic surgery is tough to ignore.”
The show then cut to a number of clips in which Fonda spoke about her plastic surgery to the media. Kelly then said, “Look, I gave her the chance to empower other women, young and old, on a subject which she purports to know well, and she rejected it. That’s okay, but I have no regrets about that question, nor am I in the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not appropriate.”
It seemed to Kelly that Fonda was not to be taken as an authority on what’s appropriate – given the latter’s activist past. As the host put it, “After all, this is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage.” She explained, “Look at her treatment of our military during the Vietnam War; many of our veterans still call her ‘Hanoi Jane.’”
Kelly continued, “[Fonda] had to apologize years later for that gun picture, but not for the rest of it. By the way, she still said she is not proud of America. So, the moral indignation is a little much. She put her plastic surgery out there, she said she wanted to discuss the plight of older women in America, and honestly, she has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive.”
Later in 2018 Kelly addressed the feud between her and Fonda once more in an interview with Us Weekly. Revealing her one regret from the first 12 months of fronting her Today show, the host said, “I certainly wish I hadn’t put on Jane Fonda. That didn’t go well!”
But despite her regrets, Kelly felt there was nothing wrong with quizzing Fonda about plastic surgery. The host explained, “She answered that question in about 40 different forums. There was nothing wrong with me. And she’s answered it in 40 more forums since!” She also claimed that Fonda had since “beat up on [her] repeatedly.”
However, by the end of 2018 it seemed that Fonda had softened her stance on Kelly. Speaking after her foe’s Today show was cancelled, the actress told Entertainment Tonight, “I feel [bad] because, you know, I wanted her to make it, I did.” She added, “That’s always how everyone learns, through making mistakes.”
Though it seems that Kelly may not have been ready to leave her feud with Fonda there. Because after the actress announced she was quitting plastic surgery in February 2020, the reporter retweeted the story alongside the caption, “Wait… I thought… oh, never mind.” And with that, she seemingly left the door open for Fonda to retaliate in the future.