An absolutely pivotal American actor who gave up a ton of years of movies for the theater - no movies from '49-54 at the height of the studio era and also WW II kept him away too.
He essentially invented the "triple threat" (Triple Crown) idea for movie stars - although he somehow never won a Tony Award which is baffling (like George C. Scott).
Scott, Pacino, Lemmon, Washington, Spacey, Driver are all in some ways in his debt in trying to do theater - whether they even admit it or not - or even know of it or not - he invented the idea of a US movie star looking to branch out and expand.
Actors follow a lot of his attributes even today - Tom Hanks - the guy I think most Americans will (probably) one day think of as the actual GOAT (he's good, he's nice, he balances comedy/drama, he plays people the audience can see themselves in, everyone likes him- etc) is quite reminiscent of much about Henry Fonda .
He of course also has the greatest "against type" role in movie history in Once Upon A Time In The West
Favorite performances, underrated or stories?
One of my faves - Hitchcock's "The Wrong Man" (1956):
I never loved him as much as Jimmy Stewart, but Fonda at his absolute peak could be nigh-untouchable. And for a career where he played good guys fighting against the system, or decent hard-working joes, his best work is the one that is completely antithetical to the image he had cultivated for so long.
Henry Fonda was called upon to sum up the most important thing any young actor must learn. He thought for a moment and replied: “How to become an old actor."
I like that quote from him, kinda funny kinda true. Can't say I'm much of a fan but I haven't seen so much either. My favs are the usuals - OUATIW, Wrong Man, 12 Angry Men, and maybe Fail Safe too, tense perf especially the telephone scenes. I recently watched Ox Bow Incident, a smaller perf but I like the tetchy edge he gives that character in his fast line-readings as if having to say anything at all is a bother. And he can dependably defer to his (much better) female coleads like Jezebel and Lady Eve....
Also wanna shoutout his hosting of the PBS American Short Story movies. Really love some of those - The Blue Hotel, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Paul's Case.