Doll Maker: Jane Fonda TV Debut

Jane Fonda made her eagerly-awaited TV debut in “The Doll Maker,” based on a novel by Harriett Arnow, adapted to TV by Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn. The film concerns Gertie, a gritty Kentucky mountain woman and uneducated mother of five, who sees to it that all of her children get some schooling.

Set in l944, the movie is another reverential, though unsentimental, ode to the simplicity and dignity of rural folks. Similarly to previous male heroes, Gertie’s ambition is to own her land. However, her husband Clovis (Levon Holmes, who played Sissy Spacek’s father in “Coal Miner’s Daughter”) is a weakling who prefers a mechanic’s job in Detroit.

As a result, Gertie uproots to preserve the unity of the family, but in the city, she has to endure the humiliation of being called a “dumb hillbilly.”

As in Jeremiah Johnson,” the Robert Redford vehicle, the problem of this–and other films–is casting a highly recognizable star in the role of a plain and bland woman. Indeed, despite a stunning performance by Fonda, it took longer for audiences to suspend disbelief than would have been the case it the role had been played by an unknown (or less attractive) actress.