For Ex-Firebrand Tom Hayden, Days of Rage Are Ones for the Book

UPDATED 08/08/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/08/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

At the end of a long, 14-hour day, a middle-aged man carrying a slight paunch pulls his Volvo into the driveway of his two-story Santa Monica home. The wife and kids are away for a few days, so he changes into jeans, settles down on a pastel floral sofa and flips on the big-screen TV. During a commercial, he pads out to the porch to feed the family rabbits, Bullwinkle and Whiskers. "I don't mean to sound clichéd," he says, "but I'm home almost every night. If I'm away a day or something, I start to lose my mind."

The happy homebody is Tom Hayden, 48, the former student radical whose commitment to social revolution in the '60s and '70s led him into Southern jails, North Vietnamese villages, a Chicago courtroom and a Berkeley collective. He is also the husband of actress Jane Fonda, 50, whom he met at an antiwar rally in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1971. At the time, Hayden was speaking about Vietnam, and Fonda was touring the country supporting Black Panthers, feminists, American Indians and student radicals. That was then. This is now.

Tom, Jane and the kids—Troy, 15, and Jane's daughter, Vanessa Vadim, 19—have recently returned from a family holiday in New York, where they shopped, went to plays and enjoyed themselves like any other tourists. Not only is Hayden a family man these days, but he has become a respected Democratic Assemblyman from California's 44th district, predominantly moneyed turf that includes Malibu, the Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica.

Given the sharp contrast between his past and present, he has for years pondered his transformation and yearned to write about it. The result, a 539-page autobiography, Reunion: A Memoir, was published in May. Completing the book "may have something to do with the difference between youth and middle age," he says. "As long as I thought of myself as a young person and '60s activist, I couldn't let go of my experiences, look at them, say what I felt then, what I feel now, and let the chips fall where they may, which is what a real writer has to do."

The death of Hayden's parents (his father in 1982, his mother four years later) "broke the dam," he says. In emotional, sometimes rueful prose, Hayden deals with his own splintered upbringing, his fascination with radical politics and, finally, his rusted idealism. Reviewers have been generally enthusiastic, praising his evenhandedness and honesty. Hayden, concluded the New York Times critic, was perhaps "the single greatest figure of the 1960s student movement."

Not everyone agrees. One of his most vocal critics has been Abbie Hoffman, 51, a co-defendant with Hayden in the celebrated Chicago Seven trial of 1969-70. Hayden regarded the trial as an inconvenience, says Hoffman, and "he slept through most of it. We called him Mr. Warmth. He was hard-edged and cold-blooded, and we considered him the Stalinist of the group." Hoffman is outraged that Hayden's book is getting good reviews and says that he won't even read it. It is, he says, simply an example of Hayden's opportunism: "You're getting a view of the '60s put through a filter. 'Let's make it so I look noble and respectable so I'm electable to office today by the Archie Bunkers.' "

Raised in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, Mich., Hayden was schooled from the start in the values of Middle America. When he was 10, his parents divorced. His father, John, an accountant, moved to Detroit, while Tom and his mother, Genevieve, a film librarian, stayed in Royal Oak. Hayden visited his father often, accompanying him on fishing trips and to baseball, football and hockey games. In high school he planned a career as a foreign correspondent, but when he became editor of the University of Michigan student newspaper in 1960, his political vision began crystallizing. As a member of the Students for a Democratic Society one year later, he was arrested with other freedom riders in Albany, Ga., while trying to desegregate a railway station. He was thrown into a roach-infested jail cell with a puddle of urine on the floor and four drunks for company; the experience, he suggests, was enriching. "As the catacombs were to the early Christians, the jails were the places where a new faith was fortified," Hayden writes.

Soon after the incident, he began working on what came to be known as the Port Huron Statement, the manifesto of SDS radicals. Then in 1965 he made his first trip to Hanoi, a journey into enemy territory that prompted his father to sever relations with his son. The two didn't speak for the next 13 years until John, then 70, initiated a reconciliation and assumed the role of attentive grandfather to Troy. "So stubborn was this man," says Hayden, recalling the estrangement, "that when he remarried and had a daughter, he didn't tell her she had a brother."

Hayden went on three missions to Hanoi in all and even helped gain the release of the first three American POWs. Back home, he looked increasingly to Robert F. Kennedy as his political hero and wanted to work with him during Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. When Kennedy was assassinated, Hayden tearfully stood vigil by his casket the night before the funeral. "I experienced the sensation of my own future being cut off and my own life being rendered meaningless," he says. "I started to act out of defiance and anger, not out of the expectation that I would get anywhere."

Later that year Hayden traveled to Chicago to lead antiwar marchers outside the Democratic National Convention. Arrested twice, he was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to incite violence. At the circus-like trial of the Chicago Seven, presided over by 74-year-old Judge Julius Hoffman, the jury convicted five of the defendants, including Hayden, though the convictions were eventually overturned on appeal. "Through the riots and trial, I lived in an internal exile," says Hayden. "The future was at best in doubt. I had fantasies of apocalypse, revolution, civil war, repression. I lost my confidence in the Middle America that I came from. And I lost it not out of logic, but out of despair, hate, frustration, furies, demons."

After the trial, Hayden grew increasingly discouraged with the efficacy of protest, while the gradual shifting of public opinion against the war, the increasing political power of blacks and the burgeoning feminist movement provided little solace. "I saw the snow on the ground, but not the buds coming up," he says. "There were all these achievements, but they were all marred by some grief. I don't think I ever felt undiluted success. I didn't want the human being hurt. I wanted the policy changed."

He also wanted a home. Married briefly in his early 20s to fellow student activist Sandra "Casey" Cason, he now yearned for a more lasting marriage and a family. So, he discovered, did Jane Fonda. After meeting in Ann Arbor, the two met again in Los Angeles in 1972 and began seeing each other. On Jan. 9, 1973—with Troy three months on the way—they married and settled in Santa Monica, where Tom began teaching at nearby Pitzer College while continuing his efforts to halt public funding for the war. By 1976 he had decided to work within the political system by running for the U.S. Senate. "It was a way to visibly carve a role for myself and people like myself in American politics. I was saying, 'We're entitled to be in office,' " he explains. Though he lost to John Tunney, he turned his Hayden-for-Senate grass-roots network into the Campaign for Economic Democracy, which sponsored successful rent-control initiatives, conducted a no-nuke crusade and developed a statewide solar energy program.

In 1982 Hayden's successes helped him to win a seat in the state assembly, where he survived two attempts by right-wing Republicans to have him expelled as a traitor because of his earlier antiwar efforts. "When he first came, everyone thought he would be this wild-eyed person, difficult to get along with," says Tom Bates, a friend and fellow Democratic Assemblyman. "They found him to be easygoing, prepared and one of the best minds in the legislature."

Hayden denies any aspiration for higher office for now, although he says he would like to live in Washington, D.C., at some point and continue his writing. In the meantime, he happily commutes home by plane from Sacramento most nights and throws himself into family life. He has coached Troy's baseball team for the past six years and often goes jogging with Jane. Several times a year, Vanessa, who will be a senior at Brown University, meets her parents and Troy for a family vacation. Besides their recent New York jaunt, they have taken skiing trips to Aspen during Christmas and gone marlin fishing in Cabo de San Lucas in Mexico.

After 15 years of marriage, Hayden and Fonda are something of a show business oddity. The glue, says Fonda, is "trust, respect and we don't make a lot of demands on each other. And Tom is very playful. It makes for enjoyable times."

Hayden, for his part, seems remarkably comfortable living in a movie star's shadow. "I see what problems women have being married to somebody who's always introduced first, makes more money and has more clout," he says, laughing. Still, "It isn't like we went into this unaware. We have a positive relationship." And, at least in some ways, an ordinary one. The two former radicals are already worrying about the empty-nest syndrome. "We're counting on the high price of housing to force Troy and Vanessa to stay at home for the next 10 to 15 years," says Hayden. "If they escape, it's just me and Jane crashing around the house like Casper the Ghost and his wife."

This night, at Hayden's cozy home, there are many memories and few regrets. "We opened up a lot of closed systems; that was the achievement," says Hayden, looking back on his years outside the mainstream. Now a self-described "born-again Middle American," Hayden is perhaps the best proof of that point. Last month he traveled to Atlanta for another Democratic get-together, and this time, instead of dodging billy clubs outside the convention walls, he cast his ballot from within—as a Dukakis delegate.

—By Andrea Chambers, with Jacqueline Savaiano in Santa Monica

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