ALEXANDER PAYNE, LAURA DERN & AN AMAZING WEEKEND IN OMAHA

The great director Alexander Payne (“Descendants,” “Sideways,” “All About Schmidt,” “Citizen Ruth”…) invited me to come to Omaha, where he lives and grew up and often makes his movies, to participate in an evening to raise money for Film Streams, Omaha’s non-profit cinema institution. The event would consist, he said, of a dialogue between us about film and acting, held on stage at the Holland Performing Arts Center. Laura Dern would also be coming (she was the actor he dialogued with at the 1st such event 5 years ago).

I flew with, my son, Troy, daughter-in-law, Simone, and Laura Dern to Omaha Saturday morning and that trip, in itself, was a special treat because I had never had an opportunity to spend quiet time with Laura. I made 2 movies with her father, Bruce Dern (“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and “Coming Home”) and had done several events and projects with her mother, Diane Ladd, when Laura was a little girl, so there was history between us but not enough direct exchange. She and I share a tendency to cut to the chase, dispense with small talk and get right into it–”it” being what we’ve learned from relationships, dysfunction, narcisicism, mental health, philosophy, meditation, raising children, addiction—for better or worse, Troy and Simone have a lot to say on all the above and I’m always struck by their emotional intelligence. But—speaking of emotional intelligence– I was deeply impressed by Laura’s ability to understand, articulate and dissect her experiences. She’s a seeker, a woman curious about all of life vagaries, who puts herself in situations where her compassion will deepen and she’ll meet unusual people from whom she learns. This is not common in movie stars and, I believe, is one of the things that gives her performances such depth and specificity. In the 3 hours we were on the plane I learned a lot and even got some ideas for my character, Leona Lansing, in “The Newsroom.”

We were met at the airport by Alexander, Rachel Jacobson, founder and director of Film Streams, and Ann Beeder, one of Alexander’s best friends since they were 17 and in high school together in Omaha. More about Ann in a moment.

We drove to the Film Streams building named after Ruth Sokolof, in whose name the initial endowment was made.

Here we are in the lobby, left to right, Rachel, Laura, me, Alexander and Troy.

Rachel has done an amazing job creating and building this place where people can see mainstream and even just-released films in one theater and classic art films, foreign films and documentaries in another. Citizens of Omaha including school children, are exposed to film masterpieces they would otherwise not have a chance to see, often followed by panel discussions. I hate to say this, but even Hollywood doesn’t have this, which is truly shameful.

From there we had a delicious lunch at M’s pub in what used to be the meat packing district.

All the old brick buildings have been maintained and turned into cool shops, restaurants.....

...even a Farmers Market

During lunch we learned that Alexander and Ann had purchased a landmark Chinese restaurant called King Fong with a secret speak easy upstairs and amazing Chinese décor. I asked Alexander to let us see it cause I think it’s fascinating that these two native Omahans who have busy lives that have nothing to do with Chinese restaurants (though Alexander is Greek and his grandfather had a 24 hour tavern in the late 1800s or early 1900s) have invested in preserving the place and have big plans for it even though they aren’t doing anything with it right now. The restaurant has a long history dating back to the mid 1800s. It has been King Fong since 1922 and the interior details are intact and extraordinary. Inlaid mother-of-pearl tables, embroidered silk tapestries, elegantly carved chandeliers.

Outside King Fong

King Fong decor inside

Tables inside King Fong

After lunch we went to the old Paxton Hotel (now only condos) where Gerry Morrow-Lauritzen generously made her beautiful and very ample apartment available to Troy, Simone and myself.

I was able to look out over the city and my fears that Omaha would be so over developed that I wouldn’t recognize it were abated. It has changed, of course, there are beautiful new buildings, but the essence of the city feels the same. How wonderful to be in an important American city where you can still look out over the downtown and see the horizon.

Page 1 of 4Next
Share This Post
13 Comments
  1. Ms. Fonda,
    I was at the event at the Holland and have to tell you it was a pleasure to listen in on the conversation between you and Alexander. I did not expect to need a Kleenex for the event but found myself tearing up at several points. Thank you for your honesty and humor.
    Liz

  2. Thank you for your wonderful comments about Omaha. Wen I moved here over 30 years ago, I never thought I would stay, but it’s simple beauty gets under your skin, and all of a sudden you notice you’ve put down roots?..

  3. Ms. Fonda thank you so very much for this blog post. I have lived in Omaha my whole life and while I see all the beauty and creativity here, sometimes it isn’t so easy to convince others that Omaha is an amazing place. So for you to gush about our beautiful city and the great people, art, restaurants and culture here makes people like me very happy. I have been a fan of you and your work for as long as I can remember–my mom and I even used to do your aerobic videos together! And while I wasn’t able to attend the Film Streams event, I had many friends that did and they all agree that it was one of the most incredible nights of their lives.
    I also have to tell you that my husband and I LOVE The Newsroom! It is one of the most thought-provoking and insightful shows we’ve seen in a very long time.
    Thank you again for coming to visit Omaha and for sharing pieces of your life with Film Streams and on this blog. Please come visit Omaha again soon!

  4. I love how you give details about the places you visit. I would never have given Omaha much thought until you wrote about it. It looks like a neat city with quite a Fonda past. The fact that you were able to visit some of your father’s old stomping grounds is fantastic, especially with your son to soak it all in. In a couple weeks I will be taking my 98 year old grandfather on a road trip to some of his old stomping grounds from his much younger years. I am going to soak in every place and story he shares. Luckily, he is still very much with it mentally.
    I continue to love “The Newsroom”. The writing and acting is excellent. It is now my favorite series by far. Your performance was incredible. I can’t wait to see you on it more. It started too late for this year’s Emmys, but I am positive we will be seeing the bunch of you on stage accepting awards for next year’s Emmys.

  5. Ms. Fonda,
    Many thanks for returning to Nebraska for the event on Sunday. Your calm and heartfelt responses to Alexander made the audience feel like a part of the evening. “Well done”, as I told Alexander in passing at the post-party. It was truly entertaining and enlightening. He and I’ve met briefly and he’s pledged to provide input to our restoration project in Friend, NE. Perhaps next time you visit, we can welcome you!
    I also blog, and my last entry was “nothing happens for no reason”. I enjoyed your photos of the Market and your touring, and I assume/agree that your host is all of those things you blogged about- certainly “creative, original and georgous”, but what struck me even moreso was his friend Dr. Ann. And, again, I refer to my blog…
    I am a consultant for an incredible group of psychiatric pharmacists (CPNP) who are struggling to make their way in to the healthcare field. What my clients do is an incredible service. Along side physicians, psychiatrists and therapists, Psych Pharmacists are key to patient centered healthcare. The VA has some good programs, but the Government can/should do more. AND, emergency rooms and on-the-street access to anyone, Vets, or otherwise, is not sufficient. So, I thank you and Alexander for your comments on stage about the need for access and compassion. And I will hope to reach out to Ann in an attempt to make a difference in the world that is, for me, both tied to creative theater and movies, but also the mental health of our service people and our citizens.
    Thanks for visiting Nebraska.

  6. Hi Jane!!
    I was VERY fortunate enough to fly out from MD to come see you at this event( thanks to my friend and my hubby). I have to say one of my FAVORITE parts was watching you watching yourself on the big screen. There is just something special about watching an artist looking at their own work…so very cool! My next favorite part was MEETING YOU and TROY. It was a SPECIAL treat and you were SO gracious to spend time with my friend Susi and me and sign my On Golden Pond book as well as your Prime Time book. As I said when I met you, I have watched your movies since I was 12( first one being California Suite) and was HOOKED! I was in great need of a strong figure in my life and there you were showing the world that gender should not mean being weak or strong just being the best YOU can be! SO your voice WAS found AND heard 🙂
    I also have to say as I look at your pics here, I took MANY of the same pics you did!! The Playhouse, the pics inside the Playhouse like the stage and of course the pics of your father AND the pic of the OLD Playhouse in that office upstairs!! Too funny! The chinese place (bc you said you ate there) and my friend and i ALSO ate at Ms pub… but we did that after your show.
    Sorry to ramble but I just have to say one more time! That you AGAIN for your time with my friend and me and signing as many things as you could before we were asked to leave. This TRULY was a dream come true!!!! REALLY!!!
    Love,
    Michelle 🙂

  7. Thank you for supporting Omaha’s Film Stream. I just brought my daughters to see “Klute” yesterday. Your first movie I watched was “On Golden Pond” in China in 1980s when China just opened the door to Western. I was deeply touched, even my English was not good. It remains my favorite movie. I am thrilled the Omaha Film Stream has a “Jane Fonda Series”, which allows me to show my daughters some of the greatest movies. You might be used to hear this. However, I have to say this, you are one of the greatest ARTIST who has touched people’s heart. Thank you!

  8. Hi,
    Have always read about Omaha, your father’s history with the playhouse. The photographs were incredible. An Eagle Scout…to see it through your eyes is magical. Any special reminiscences about Dorothy McGuire?

  9. Oh, Jane. You don’t know how happy you’ve made me with this post. I absolutely adore Laura Dern, she’s also among my favorite actresses (with you, Great Glenn, Barbara Stanwyck, Kathy Bates and Dame Maggie Smith). I was actually desperate to get a picture with the two of you and this is the first I’ve found. You perfectly put why she’s so fantastic.

    Do you watch her show Enlightened? Because if not, you really should. It was an outrage that she didn’t get an Emmy nomination, don’t you think?

    (I also love Alexander Payne’s films, except for his latest, The Descendants, which I didn’t really warm up to. But Citizen Ruth with Laura is fantastic. And Sideways, About Schmidt etc…)

  10. Thanks for sharing this great story. I love that you and Laura Dern were able to connect. I’ve shown Citizen Ruth to thousands of students in my Ethics courses over the years- so hilarious with so many great characters. I haven’t seen Troy since he was a toddler on the campaign trail in 1976- what a fine young man he has become.
    Thanks for all you do.

  11. Thank you, Ms. Fonda, for your wonderful blog about Omaha and your support of Film Streams. I am taking your statement about wanting to see a good movie part for a 74-year old woman as a challenge and will write one. You are truly inspirational.

  12. Dear Jane,
    Thanks so much for who you are. I write to invite you to participate, join us here in Omaha for our One Billion Rising Celebration of the beginning of the end of violence and rape that diminish women across our world.
    https://www.facebook.com/events/196567140482200/

    Your coming to Omaha for this seems a spectacular match to me.

    Omaha is a central energy in your life.
    Omaha is a central energy in our country.
    This issue is central to our surviving as a species.
    Omaha is RISING. Join us.

    Truly, please consider, you could speak or just dance with us. PLease let me know your thoughts.

    Best to you and yours,
    Jane Martin
    402-212-8523
    I am a therapist here, who specializes in the healing of trauma.

    • Dear Jane, thanks for the invitation (and i love that One Billion Rising will be happening in Omaha–and 187 other countries and still counting!) but I have made a commitment to rise here in Los Angeles where I live and have been organizing. Send photos of Omaha’s Rise!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.