Jane Fonda, now 73, was once an international sex symbol and then one of the most famous -- and most hated -- celebrity activists. A new biography details the star's open marriage to her first husband, French director Roger Vadim, who also romanced Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot.

The book reads like a who's who of the Swinging '60s: Fonda partied with Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson and indulged in threesomes to please her husband.

Biographer Patricia Bosworth, who's also profiled Marlon Brando and Mongomery Clift, shares a lengthy excerpt of her new book on Vanity Fair's web site. The section focuses on Fonda's time in France and the making of the cult film 'Barbarella' (see above) and details her sexual and political awakening and desire to carve out an identity other than "Henry Fonda's daughter."

Check out some highlights:

Rumors about Jane's sexuality:
For years there were rumors that Jane was gay or bisexual. "Look," she said once, "can't we leave something to the imagination?" She added, "Frankly, I've probably done everything. But I will never write about my sex life unless I write about it in a novel."

Her open marriage to Vadim:
She hated Vadim's idea of "an arrangement," but she kept silent, rationalizing that she had to put up with it in exchange for the emotional security Vadim gave her: "I didn't want to be alone," she wrote. "I still felt that it was my relationship with him, however painful, that validated me." So she didn't object when he brought home a beautiful redhead, a high-class call girl from Madame Claude's, the most elegant brothel in Paris. Jane wrote, "I ... threw myself into the threesome with the skill and enthusiasm of the actress that I am." The threesomes would continue throughout most of their marriage.

The wild times at Vadim's villa in Rome:
Buck Henry, who was in Rome writing the screenplay for 'Catch-22' for Mike Nichols, would drop by the villa in the evenings. "I'd heard about orgies, acid, a lot of drugs. I was never invited. I wanted to be." What he remembers best is Jane. "I'd go in and just feast my eyes on Jane. She was unbelievable. So beautiful. And unattainable. Those long, long legs, so much blonde hair. Sexy. Jane was born a movie star."

The wild times in Hollywood:
Jane would sunbathe nude on one of the decks, not at all self-conscious when friends such as Brando and Christian Marquand wandered by. Dennis Hopper often took photographs. Nathalie [Vadim's daughter with Danish model Annette Stroyberg] said, "Sometimes while Jane was lying there, Vadim would kneel down and caress her beautiful body with oil." Once, a female guest was so overwhelmed by the sensual atmos­phere that she knelt down and kissed Jane full on the mouth.

While many of these scandalous details were previously revealed in autobiographies by Vadim and Fonda herself, Bosworth is one of Hollywood's most respected biographers and appears to provide more context to these revelations.

Fonda's place in film history is definitely a cause for discussion: Will she be best remembered as the sex symbol of the '60s; one of Hollywood's leading actresses and a political lightning rod of the '70s; or the workout enthusiast of the '80s?

Leading with the sexy French phase of Fonda's life is definitely a great way to hook readers who might only know her as J.Lo's scary mother-in-law in 'Monster-in-Law.' 'Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman' will be released on Aug. 30, just weeks after Fonda debuts her own latest book, 'Prime Time,' about embracing life into your 70s. (Fonda will turn 74 in December.)

[via Vanity Fair]

Photo: Everett Collection.