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Ethel Thayer
Norman Thayer Jr.
Chelsea Thayer Wayne
Billy Ray
Bill Ray
Charlie Martin
Sumner Todd


Screenplay by
Based on the play by
Director of Photography
Production Design
Second Unit Direction
Set Design
Film Editing by
Sound Recordist
Musical Score
Costume Design by
Hair Designer
Hair Stylist
Makeup Artist
Assistant Director

Katharine Hepburn
Henry Fonda
Jane Fonda
Doug McKeon
Dabney Coleman
William Lanteau
Chris(thoper) Rydell


Mark Rydell
Bruce Gilbert
Ernest Thompson
Ernest Thompson
Billy Williams
Stephen Grimes
Stephen Grimes
Emad Halmy
Robert L. Wolfe
David Ronne
Dave Crusin
Dorothy Jenkins
Ramon Gow
Jerry Masarone
Thomas (Tom) Tuttle
Gary Daigler


Film data

An ITC Films / IPC Films Production
A Universal / AFD Release
109 minutes
Produced during Summer/Fall 1981
Filmed on location at the Squam Lake - New Hampshire - USA
Concord - New Hampshire - USA
Meredith - New Hampshire - USA
Franklin Canyon Reservoir - Santa Monica Mountains - Los Angeles - California - USA

Premiere: (limited) December 4, 1981 and January 22, 1982


Norman Thayer Jr., a retired university professor with a heart condition, is spending what may well be his last summer of many with his wife, Ethel, at their lake house in New England. Crotchety and difficult, Norman masks his fear of death and his uncertainties about his health and his future with an attitude that others find abrasive. Stoical and feisty, the wifely Ethel is determined to make Norman's troubled days as easy as possible. Joining them is their daughter, Chelsea, a divorcee who has never gotten along with her father because he resents her not having been a boy. Result: his coldness and lifetime indifference have chilled and alienated her. She brings along her dentist boyfriend, Bill Ray, and his son, Billy, a rebellious teenager who seems to hate the world, feeling unloved and neglected.


Critics' reviews

Richard Schickel - Time
"Spunky Kate and Honest Hank! If people were allowed to vote on such matters, the pair would probably be grandparents to an entire nation, since they are among the very few movie stars who have gone on working while four or five movie generations have grown up. By this time, their personal crochets and graces, the events in the chronicle of their lives, have merged in the public mind with fragments from all those movies. Down the long corridor of the years, it seems we have encountered them at every turning. When they were young they gave lessons in romance; in middle age they taught steadfastness and honor; now it seems not only right but almost inevitable that they should come together - astonishingly - for the first time, to share the pains and puzzlements of age with us."

What Kate had to say

Katharine Hepburn - Me - 1991
"He [Henry Fonda] was an oddie. I never felt that I knew him at all. He wasn't given to a lot of talk and neither was I. It is a very odd relationship acting with someone. You are of course thrown into a most intimate relationship with a person. Then the picture ends. You may never see the person again. But people - and especially ones writing articles or books - say, 'What was he (or she) like?' And I don't know. I don't really know them or anything about them. I wonder if this is true of most actors. I know that my father always advised an impersonal relationship with fellow workers. I must say I followed his advice, but as I look back I wonder if I just am like him. Not particularly given to easy friendships."

Katharine Hepburn - Me - 1991
"It was a very good study of the relationship of a husband and wife who just really liked each other. Hank and I were the right age - we were old - so we weren't busy acting old. It comes upon one unexpectedly. Suddenly you lose your spring. Your spring in the sense of elasticity. Now - old - you don't spring up from a chair. You get up. It is a very different act. Henry had lost a little more spring than I had when we were doing the picture and we slid very easily into our relationship. He was wonderful to play with - very true - very natural. He moved me deeply in the scene when he was beginning to crumble. It really wasn't acting at all. I'm thrilled that he got the award. I think it pleased him very much. He gave some wonderful performances in his career."

Katharine Hepburn - Me - 1991
"Jane and I enjoyed our scenes together. At one moment in the picture Jane had to do a back somersault into the water off a springboard. I would torture her by saying, 'If you can't do it, dear, I'll do it for you. It's one of my specialties.' You may be sure that she did it herself."

What fellow actors, the director and friends had to say

Dabney Coleman
"At the first reading, everyone was calling her Kate, and I was calling her Katharine or nothing. After it was over I said, 'What would you like me to call you?' and she said, 'I'd prefer Miss Garbo.' That was my first encounter with Kate. I think everybody probably remembers the first time they met Katharine Hepburn."

Henry Fonda - Fonda: My Life - 1981
"Hepburn is a presence wherever she is. In a room, she is the only one in it. In a big area, she doesn't do anything to dominate, she just does and is....I consider her someone very rare. You don't come across a person of her caliber often."

Henry Fonda - 1981
"It was a magical summer for both of us. We worked together as though we'd been doing it all of our lives. Kate is unique - in her looks, in the way she plays, most of all in herself. I love Kate for playing with me in this film. Other movies have had a lot of meaning for me.... but On Golden Pond is the ultimate role of my career."

Bruce Gilbert - 1981
"She was always testing me. Kate's an old-fashioned star who makes demands of old-fashioned protocol - flowers, meetings, dinners - and argues constantly in front of the crew. Of course, I'd make another film with her in a minute. This time, though, I'd give her a pair of boxing gloves."

Jane Fonda - My Life So Far - 2005
"There is a scene where Dad and Miss Hepburn are playing Parcheesi and I'm sitting on the couch reading a magazine. Dad makes a remark about my not wanting to play because I'm afraid to lose. I respond, 'Why do you like playing games? You seem to like beating people. I wonder why?' After we shot the master and the crew had finished lightning for my close-up, I got into place and realized that there were to many lights on me that I couldn't see Dad's eyes, which would hinder my playing of this brief, hostile exchange. It was easy to fix; I just asked the cameraman to throw a little light onto his face. That done, it was time for Dad's close-up, and just before we were set to go, I asked, 'Is it okay, Dad? Can you see my eyes?' 'I don't need to see your eyes,' he answered dismissively, 'I'm not that kind of actor.'
'Whoa. His words pierced me to my core. It felt like such a put-down. Forget that I had made this project happen for him. Forget my two Academy Awards, that I was the mother of two children, forget all that. I was suddenly reduced to a quivering, insecure fat girl, in the same way my character is. As Chelsea says to her mother in another scene. 'I act like a big person everywhere else. In California I'm in charge of things.... Yet I get back here with him and I?m just a little fat girl again!' I could relate to that. And yet - and this is what makes life so interesting for actors: hell, maybe it is why some of us become actors - while one part of me was in emotional agony because of his comment, the other half of me was saying. Oh my God - this is so great. This is exactly the way I'm supposed to fell. This is just perfect for the character.
When the scene was over and everyone had prepared to go home for the day, I remained on the couch, unable to move but sure that no one was aware how Dad's words had hurt me.
To my surprise Miss Hepburn came over and sat next to me, put her arms around me, and whispered in my ear, 'I know just how you feel, Jane, Spence used to do things like that to me all the time. He'd tell me to go home after I'd done my close-up, say that he didn't need me to be around, he could do his lines just as well to the script girl. Please don't feel badly. Your dad has no idea that his words hurt you. He didn't mean to. He's just like Spence.' I was deeply grateful for her understanding and compassion. It showed me it hadn't all been my imagination. I had a witness; I wasn't alone."

Jane Fonda - My Life So Far - 2005
"One day about three weeks into this ordeal on the lake, I finally got it right. Nothing to write home about, but I had managed to flip far enough over to have time to straighten my legs and enter the water head-first. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do it again, but at least I'd done it once. As I crawled, battered and bruised, onto the shore, out of the nearby bushes appeared Miss Hepburn. She must have been hiding there, watching me practice. She walked over to where I was standing and said in her shaky, nasal, God-is-a-New-Englander voice, 'Don't you feel good?' 'Terrific,' I answered. And it was true. 'You've taught me to respect you, Jane. You faced your fear. Everyone should know that feeling of overcoming fear and mastering something. People who aren't taught that become soggy.' Thank you, Lord! I'd been redeemed. God knows the last thing in the world I wanted was to be soggy, certainly not in the eyes of Miss Hepburn, a living testament to nonsogginess. It was odd. In the film the backflip was to prove myself to my father. In real life I had proved myself to Ms. Hepburn. Dad probably couldn't have cared less if I'd done the dive myself or used a stunt double."

Jane Fonda - My Life So Far - 2005
"On the set one day, Miss Hepburn told our unit publicist that she thought it was the duty of a star to be fascinating. There is no denying the lady worked hard to do her duty and as a result was one of the two most fascinating people I have known (the other being Ted Turner)."

Jane Fonda - My Life So Far - 2005
"[In filming the big father-daughter reconciliation scene] the camera swung around for my close-up. We did a rehearsal for the camera and... oh, no, the actor's ultimate nightmare: I was bone dry, spent, unable to call up any emotions. No one knew it, of course, because this was just a rehearsal, but I panicked. What to do? It wasn't that I had to be overtly emotional in the scene, but I needed to feel emotional and then stifle it. I tried to relax, as Strasberg would have wanted. I tried all the sense-memories I had, sang my old song that always made me cry, everything. But nothing seemed to work. As I was pacing around onshore waiting for the camera to be ready (dreading that the camera would be ready), up came Miss Hepburn. She wasn't even supposed to be on set that day, but there she was. She looked at me. 'How are you?' she asked, sensing something. 'I'm in trouble. I've gone dry. Please don't tell Dad,' I answered weakly, and then I was called to the set. The time of reckoning had come. Hoping that some last-minute miracle would unleash my heart, I said to Mark, 'I'm going to turn my back to the camera while I prepare, and when I turn around, it means that I'm ready for you to roll.' He understood. I turned away to prepare, though I had no idea what to do, and as I was staring at the shore, trying to relax and bring myself into the scene, there was Hepburn, crouching in the bushes just within my line of vision. Nobody could see her but me. She fixed me intensely with her eyes, and slowly she raised her clenched fists and shook them as if to say, 'Do it! Go ahead. You can do this!' She was willing me into the scene: Katharine Hepburn to Jane Fonda; mother to daughter; older actress, who'd been there and knew about drying up, to younger actress. It was all those layers of things and more. Do it! Do it! You can! I know it. With her energy she literally gave me the scene, gave it to me with her fists, her eyes, and her generosity, and I will never, ever forget it."

Mark Rydell
"About a month before shooting began she hurt her shoulder serving tennis. She showed up in New Hampshire against the wishes of her surgeons, refusing to acknowledge her injury. It was written that she and Henry would carry a canoe down to the dock. She said, 'I can carry it myself.' The canoe weighed 100 pounds. She walked over and lifted it over her head with pins in her shoulder and I shot her carrying this canoe a distance of 25 yards. As happens often in editing, you look and you see you don't need this. I don't think she ever forgave me [for cutting the scene]."

Mark Rydell
"I had the privilege of introducing her to Henry Fonda. Henry was very taciturn, in direct contrast to her effusiveness. He was a miniaturist, a detail-oriented man. She, on the other hand, was extremely generous with her feelings, with no impediment to expressing them. She embraced him and he slightly stiffened and softened and put his hands on her. She kept telling stories about her relationship with Spencer Tracy. And they were all extremely entertaining but I sensed after some days' rehearsal that Henry was withdrawing a bit. I took her aside and told her she should make some gesture to transfer her affections to Fonda. And the following day she brought in and gave to Henry in front of everybody Spencer's fishing hat, which he wore throughout the picture. He wept. He was very touched by that."

Mark Rydell
"Dorothy Jeakins, our costume designer, came to me and said, 'You'd better go see what she's wearing.' As opposed to the wardrobe we'd selected, she was standing there in kind of a buttery Eisenhower suede jacket and suede fedora. I said to her, 'Listen, we're going to shoot in a few minutes, I think you better get into your wardrobe.' And she said, 'Oh, no, this will be fine.' She kind of pooh-poohed me. I knew that this was a moment of challenge. I was trembling inside with anxiety?after all, it was the first shot of the picture. I said, 'We're all going to take a 15-minute break while Miss Hepburn gets into her wardrobe.' It was as if I had thrown a bucket of water in her face. She rose imperiously and stared at me and tears came to her eyes and she walked off toward her trailer. Henry [Fonda] said, 'There goes the picture.' But she came back dutifully in 15 minutes dressed in the wardrobe we had selected."

Mark Rydell
"Jane [Fonda] has a scene with Henry near the end of the picture about wanting to have a relationship like a father and a daughter. It was a big moment for both. Kate was hiding in the trees watching them, encouraging Jane between takes. She would look at Jane and Jane would look up into her eyes and Kate would give her a thumbs-up, go on, you can do it. Henry never saw her. She was so sensitive to what was going on between them. Jane was practically ill every time she had to work with Henry, it was so emotionally powerful."

Mark Rydell
"Harold Clurman asked her to be a member of the original Group Theatre. She said to him, 'I don't want to be a member of the Group Theatre, I want to be a star. I want no part of the group dynamic. The group is by nature weak."


A fantastic site about the making of On Golden Pond can be found here. The site has several archives such as press clippings, photos, documents and artifacts.

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