Henry Fonda, native of Nebraska, overcame early struggles in his chosen field to become one of America’s acclaimed actors. Who could ever forget his magnificent performances in The Ox Bow Incident, The Grapes of Wrath, The Caine Mutiny, and 12 Angry Men? In 1999, he was named the sixth Greatest Male Star of all time by the American Film Institute.
A mid-westerner and a man of great dignity and inner convictions, he epitomized for many Americans some of the best that is within us. This he demonstrated on the set of the award-winning classic play, Mister Roberts. The production ran for 1,157 performances on Broadway.
As the character, Lt. Doug Roberts, Fonda answered the call in each and every one. On one occasion, he had good reason not to.
During the play’s run, he and his family resided in Greenwich Connecticut. On Friday, April 14, 1950, his second wife, Frances Seymour Brokaw, committed suicide in the bathroom of their home. Hank, as he was known to family and close friends, after immediate arrangements, drove to New York that very night and gave his scheduled performance in Mister Roberts. Those in attendance said his performance was indistinguishable from all others in his three-year run.
His wife was gone. He could not bring her back. An audience awaited him. They expected him. As an actor there was an obligation to be met in the long-standing tradition that ‘the show must go on.’
Fonda gave more than a stage performance that night. He rendered an act of integrity. He held to an honorable standard of conduct even when it was difficult to do so. Integrity is the First Great Virtue, and Aristotle said virtue is concerned with what is harder.