Happy Birthday Henry Fonda 

U.S. #3911 – Fonda was the 11th honoree in the Legends of Hollywood series.

Henry Jaynes Fonda was born on May 16, 1905, in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Fonda’s ancestors had moved from Genoa, Italy, to the Netherlands before becoming some of the first Dutch settlers in upstate New York (known as New Netherland at the time). They also established the town of Fonda, New York, which still bears their name today. These ancestors later moved to Nebraska in the late 1800s.

Fonda was a shy child, but had a talent for skating, swimming, and running. He worked part-time at his father’s print plant and considered working as a journalist. Fonda was also a boy scout and enjoyed drawing. After high school he studied journalism at the University of Minnesota, but didn’t graduate.

Fonda first got into acting when he was 20 years old. His mother’s friend, Dodie Brando (mother of Marlon Brando), suggested he try out for a part in the Omaham Community Playhouse production of You and I. He got the part and was quickly enamored with the entire process, learning about every aspect of the theater. In 1928 he quit his job to move East in hopes of finding work as an actor.

U.S. #3911 FDC – Henry Fonda Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

Fonda moved to Massachusetts where he found a small role and then joined the University Players. He then moved to New York City where he befriended and lived with James Stewart. During this time Fonda appeared in several Broadway productions.

U.S. #3154 from the Opera Singers issue.

Fonda’s big break came in 1935 when he was offered a part in The Farmer Takes a Wife, reprising his role from the Broadway play that had gained him significant attention. Soon Stewart moved out to Hollywood to join him and they lived next door to Greta Garbo. That same year, Fonda appeared in I Dream Too Much with Lily Pons. The New York Times called him “the most likable of the new crop of romantic juveniles.”   Fonda then appeared in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the first Technicolor movie to be filmed outdoors.

In the coming years, Fonda worked with Hollywood’s elite, including Bette Davis and John Ford. He had several big hits, including You Only Live Once, Jezebel, Young Mr. Lincoln, Jesse James, and Drums Along the Mohawk. Then in 1940 he appeared in The Grapes of Wrath, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Many consider this to be the best performance of his career.

U.S. #3911 – This sheet’s selvage pictures a still from The Grapes of Wrath.

Fonda took a break from acting during World War II, claiming, “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio.” He enlisted in the Navy and served for three years and earned a Bronze Star for his service. After retuning home, Fonda played Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine, worked with Joan Crawford in Daisy Kenyon, and Ford again in The Fugitive. He also appeared in Fort Apache with John Wayne and Shirley Temple.

U.S. #4197 – In their later years, Stewart and Fonda painted model airplanes together.

After that, Fonda returned to Broadway to play the title role in Mister Roberts, wearing his own officer’s cap. He earned a Tony Award for the performance and spent the next several years in successful stage productions. After eight years away from Hollywood, he reprised his role in Mister Roberts for the screen. Fonda continued to work in movies, appearing in War and Peace, The Wrong Man, and 12 Angry Men, for which he won a BAFTA Best Actor award.

U.S. #4461 – Hepburn was the 16th honoree in the Legends of Hollywood series.

Most of Fonda’s roles throughout the 1960s were in war and western films such as The Longest Day, How the West Was Won, Battle of Bulge, and Once Upon a Time in the West. In the 70s Fonda continued to work on stage and the big and small screens. He starred in his own TV series, The Smith Family, was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, and received and the Lifetime Achievement Awards from The Fold Globes and Academy Awards. In 1981 he starred in On Golden Pond opposite Katharine Hepburn and his daughter Jane. The film was an unexpected blockbuster and Fonda earned his only Oscar, for Best Actor, as well as a Golden Globe.

Henry Fonda died the following year, on August 12, 1982. President Ronald Reagan, a former actor, called Fonda “a true professional dedicated to excellence in his craft. He graced the screen with a sincerity and accuracy which made him a legend.”

Click here for a video tribute to Fonda.

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  1. I’ve always had a problem with movie actors/actresses/singers…entertainers in general appearing on a U.S. postage stamp. I understand that movies/music are a part of Americana and all that, but these people live in an imaginary world, get paid handsomely, and rarely do anything to benefit mankind; like some of the other famous people on postage stamps. I’m probably in the minority to think that way, and love Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, and Katharine Hepburn on the big screen; but to honor them on a postage stamps…sorry that honor is reserved for American Heroes. Just my opinion (and I’m not changing my mind).

    1. Two names you mentioned James Steward and Henry Fonda both served in the military and certainly benefited mankind. If you didn’t serve in the military you have no right to complain,

      1. I’m not complaining…I read my comment twice more and cannot understand where you are coming from…this was just my opinion. Just so you know, I served 32 years in the military as a Warrant Officer in the Army, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. I believe Jimmy Stewart served in the Army Air Corps/Air Force as a Brigadier General…I don’t think he did anything during his Air Force tenure to warrant a postage stamp. I’m not sure about Henry Fonda’s military service. Again, I respectively disagree with all those who think that entertainers should be put on postage stamps; and that certainly applies to Elvis. Too bad no one is going to see my comment since this was from yesterday.

        1. Dennis, just so you know, I always come back to an article to read additional comments as I am sure many others do. I have always enjoyed your opinions including both of them on this day. You will notice that my reply is somewhat in opposition to yours. Doesn’t mean we can’t get along.

    2. James Stewart was a Colonel in the USAF and served during World War II. If you read “This Day . . .” regularly, you would see that many actors enlisted to serve this country during that time. They are not all fakes and have made valuable contributions.

      I respect your opinion. I served 13 years in the USAF to defend your rights, but let’s just set things straight.

  2. I have no problem with actors or any other notables who have performed exceptionally in their field occupying a postage stamp. This is an innocuous way of recognizing various fields of endeavor and the accomplishments of those individuals. Yes, Henry Fonda, James Stewart as well as Elvis and others served their country, but are on stamps due to their fame as entertainers even though they are sometimes depicted in G.I. gear. It is certainly more feasible a practice than a portrait of a celebrity on a monetary unit. Until now these have been relegated appropriately to founding fathers, military heroes (or both), in essence, dead presidents. Stamps are more versatile and accommodating to a broader spectrum by their nature. Albert Einstein was Time Magazine’s “Man of the Century” but it is doubtful he will ever grace a box of Wheaties.

  3. I really and truly enjoyed this update with detailed information about both Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart. They are both two of my favorite male actors over the years because both came across as REAL in their roles and not as “trying-actors,” which is far more common in movies. I think John Wayne and a few others are the same way, thank GOD !! I also served in the U.S. Army, and spent 7 of my 10 years in a combat engineer battalion, at Ft. Benning, GA. I am not only very proud of my service but think EVERY single American citizen … man AND woman … would greatly benefit from serving at least one year in the Army to clearly understand … and appreciate … the fantastic difference between living in an open and free society as we do in the U.S…. and NOT under useless and worthless monarchal control, under a dictatorship, or under an evil brute who ONLY cares for himself and helps ONLY those who help keep him in control … and NOT the citizens of the country he inherited from his “father,” or took over himself, thru multiple murder and destruction to achieve his worthless goal … useless permanent personal control for himself and family to maintain their control, by creating nuclear support quickly while IN control… and to hell with the population !!

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