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Jane Fonda Recalls the Time Katharine Hepburn Mentored Michael Jackson

By Julie Miller

Michael Jackson may have been one of the great musicians of our time, but in the early 1980s, between his hit albums "Off the Wall" and "Thriller," the King of Pop was entertaining the idea of becoming a serious actor. Jackson had recently made his acting debut in Sidney Lumet's "The Wiz," in which he played the Scarecrow, and he was eager to learn the craft. So, being resourceful and well connected, Jackson reached out to two of Hollywood’s top actresses, Jane Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, who happened to be making a movie together at the time.

Well, more accurately, he reached out to Fonda to see if it would be O.K. with Hepburn if he visited the set of "On Golden Pond."

"[He] came and stayed for 10 days," Fonda revealed during a recent "Hollywood Masters" interview. "And when I first asked [Hepburn for] permission, there's this young singer, a black young singer that I would like to invite, she was not happy ... But then the crew said, You don't understand. It's Michael Jackson ... So she had that attitude about allowing a young kid that she'd never heard of [on set], but she accepted him."

Fonda said that Jackson lived with her during his 10-day visit, and the two even went skinny dipping together. When Jackson was not gallivanting with Fonda around New Hampshire, though, he was gleaning as much as he could from Hepburn about acting.

"He wanted to be a movie star," Fonda continued. "He had just finished doing 'The Wiz.' And he had a tape recorder with him, and every day I would bring him to the set, and in between scenes she would sit down in a chair and pull over a chair for him and tell him stories."

Before you ask, Fonda clarified that those tapes will never see the light of day, mostly because she doesn’t know where they are. But Fonda did describe the unlikely duo’s conversations.

"Every [one of Hepburn's] story embedded a lesson: for example, she talked about Laurette Taylor, probably one of the great American actors of all time . . . who starred [on-stage] in Glass Menagerie ... So she described to Michael seeing this transcendent piece of acting. She then saw [Taylor] 25 or 30 years later playing the same role, the magic was gone"

"She said to Michael, 'She wasn’t hungry anymore.' What a great thing to say to a young, rising star like Michael: You gotta stay hungry. Don't ever phone it in. Don't ever take it for granted."

Fonda also shared two memories of Hepburn that bookended the Golden Pond experience for her.

"Her first words to me in person were, 'I don’t like you,' which, you know, is kind of like having God say that you're worthless," Fonda shared. "And the reason that she was so angry I realized, I found out, she told me, is because she and my father had never met ... Which to her was a huge sign of disrespect."

A year or so later, Hepburn and Fonda’s father, Henry, would both win Oscars for their roles in the film — although neither actor was well enough to attend the ceremony. Fonda, who had won two Oscars at this point, called Hepburn the next day to pay her respects to the now four-time Academy Award winner.

"I called her the next day to congratulate her," Fonda said. "You know what she said to me? ‘You’ll never catch me now.'"

You can learn more about Jane Fonda in her MAKERS video above. 

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Meryl Streep Will Be Jury President at One of the World's Most Prestigious Film Festivals
Alan Alda Knows His Feminist History

Photo Credit: By Clemens Bilan (Fonda), Alfred Eisenstaedt (Hepburn), Kevin Winter (Jackson), all from Getty Images.