Skip to comments.Legendary Actress Joan Fontaine Dies at 96
Posted on 12/15/2013 5:16:52 PM PST by Borges
The star of the Hitchcock classics "Suspicion" and "Rebecca" famously won an Oscar in 1942 over her bitter rival -- her older sister Olivia de Havilland.
Joan Fontaine, the polished actress who achieved stardom in the early 1940s with memorable performances in the Alfred Hitchcock films Suspicion for which she earned the best actress Oscar over her bitter rival, sister Olivia de Havilland and Rebecca, has died. She was 96.
THR awards analyst Scott Feinberg spoke with the actress' assistant, Susan Pfeiffer, who confirmed the death of natural causes Sunday at Fontaine's home in Carmel, Calif. Fontaine earned a third best actress Oscar nomination for her role in The Constant Nymph (1943), She also was notable as Charlotte Bronte's eponymous heroine in Jane Eyre (1944) opposite Orson Welles; in the romantic thriller September Affair (1950) with Joseph Cotton; in Ivanhoe (1952) with Robert Taylor; and in Island in the Sun (1957), where she plays a high-society woman in love with an up-and-coming politician (Harry Belafonte).
It was Hitchcock, with his penchant for cool blondes, who brought Fontaine to the forefront when he cast her as the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca (1940), the directors American debut. Her performance as the new wife of Laurence Olivier in a household haunted by the death of his first wife earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress. A year later, Hitchcock placed her opposite Cary Grant in Suspicion, and she won the Oscar for her turn as Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth, a shy English woman who begins to suspect her charming new husband of trying to kill her. She thus became the only actor to win an Oscar in a Hitchcock film. Among those Fontaine beat out at the 1942 Academy Awards was her older sister de Havilland, up for Hold Back the Dawn (1941). Biographer Charles Higham wrote that as Fontaine came forward to accept her trophy, she rejected de Havillands attempt to congratulate her and that de Havilland was offended. The sisters, who never really got along since childhood, finally stopped speaking to each other in the mid-70s. De Havilland, a two-time Oscar winner, is 97 and living in Paris.
Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born in Tokyo on Oct. 22, 1917, to British parents. Her father was a patent attorney who had a thriving practice in Japan. Due to the ill health of her and Olivia, their mother, Lilian, moved them to California and pushed them into acting. While de Havilland pursued acting, Fontaine returned to Tokyo and attended the American School. Ultimately, their parents divorced and Fontaine returned to the U.S. at age 17 to live in San Jose, Calif. As de Havilland was already having some success as an actress, Fontaine joined a local theater group and moved to L.A. She received a screen test at MGM and was given a bit part in No More Ladies (1935), credited as Joan Burfield. After changing her last name to Fontaine (from her stepfather, George Fontaine) to avoid confusion with her sister, she signed with RKO and garnered small parts in several movies, including The Women and Gunga Din, both released in 1939. Capitalizing on her emotional turns in Rebecca and Suspicion, Fontaine appeared in several romantic films in the 40s, including Constant Nymph (where she falls for composer Charles Boyer), Frenchmans Creek (1944), The Affairs of Susan (1945), From This Day Forward (1945) and Ivy (1947). Fontaine moved into more mature roles in the movies and starred on Broadway opposite Anthony Perkins in Tea and Sympathy in 1954. Her last movie appearance was in The Witches (1966). Fontaine made regular TV appearances in the late 50s and early 60s and served as a panelist on the game show To Tell the Truth from 1962-65. In 1986, she co-starred in the TV movie Dark Mansions and the miniseries Crossings, and her last credited performance came in the 1994 telefilm Good King Wenceslas. Fontaine was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1980 for her guest-starring stint in the soap opera Ryans Hope and served as jury president at the 1982 Berlin International Film Festival. In 1978, she published her autobiography, No Bed of Roses, which detailed her feud with de Havilland. Off the screen, Fontaine was a licensed pilot, an accomplished interior decorator and a Cordon Bleu-level chef who was married and divorced four times. In the 40s, she and William Dozier, the second of her four husbands, formed Rampart Productions, which oversaw her 1948 film Letter From an Unknown Woman, Billy Wilders The Emperor Waltz (1948) starring Bing Crosby and Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) with Burt Lancaster. In 1939, Fontaine married British actor Brian Aherne, and they divorced in 1945. She was married to Batman TV show producer Dozier from 1946-51, to producer Collier Young from 1952-61 and to journalist Alfred Wright Jr. from 1964-69.
Dang, dropping like flies today.
They always die in threes, don't they?
I had read that and thought oh goody thought it was Fonda
TCM is going to have redo TCM remembers 2013.
Billy Jack also died.
Holy smokes! I knew had been ill. I did like his first movie
Does FR have a Ghoul Pool?
Wow. Someone from the old Gunga Din movie that was still alive.
Her sister Olivia De Haviland was in the 1935 MGM film of ‘A Midsummer Night Dream’!
Yes some where a thread is started every year and then reviewed after the first of the year
And one of I think three surviving actors in “Gone With The Wind.”
Thanks Borges. Not long ago I was reading up on these sisters, who haven’t spoken in 30 years; their mother played one off against another, making them compete with each other in unhealthy ways.
Well, make up your mind. Which is it?
She was also in “Gone With the Wind”.
Watched Fontaine not too long ago in what was probably her first film, a little independent cheapie, in which she was leading lady to Bruce Bennett. Circa 1936 or 1937.
Mandela on Castro and the Cuban revolution:
From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has also been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist-orquestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gain made in the Cuban Revolution. Long live the Cuban Revolution. Long live comrade Fidel Castro.
On the U.S. war with Iraq:
If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They dont care for human beings.
I know it’s amazing. God bless them. The British WWII fighter bomber De Haviland Mosquito is named after her. I was watching Santa Fe Trail on TCM a few days ago and was amazed to see she is still alive today. Wow. A lot of years.
No, her sister Olivia de Havilland was Melanie.
Don’t forget Eleanor Parker leaving us 6 days ago at 91. Hollywood must be running low on beautiful, skilled, nonagenarian actresses, although Joan’s surviving older sister certainly qualifies.
Also (as mentioned by someone else above), Tom Laughlin, best known for the role of "Billy Jack", died this weekend.
Another giant of the cinema gone. RIP.
I presume she never reconciled with her sister.
My late mother-in-law said she went to school with Joan Fontaine and her sister Olivia de Havilland at Los Gatos High School in California.
I didn’t realize the two women were sisters until my mother-in-law mentioned it years ago.
I have the Hitchcock movie “Suspicion” on DVD. I’ll watch it again tonight as a tribute to Joan.
Threes... always in threes...
O’Toole, Laughlin, and Fontaine.
Looks like Olivia won.
Everybody is dying today. Must be the cold and snow in the air.
Oh, I love that movie.
That’s 3 actors just today.
2013 has been a bad year; a lot of people have died.
My uncle is having his annual Christmas Party next Saturday and I said to him the other day: “There’s a lot of people that won’t be there.”
For obvious reasons, I’m not going.
“Everybody is dying today. Must be the cold and snow in the air.”
More likely from an Obamination.
Many of them are obscure names. However, RIP.
this is my favorite Hitchcock movie... i also loved the spoof done by Carol Burnett :)
“The British WWII fighter bomber De Haviland Mosquito is named after her.”
Which was made by the de Havilland Aircraft Company
Great film. Need to watch it again.
Nobody is going to believe this but I was watching the “TCM Remembers” short about Eleanor Parker thinking it was about Joan Fontaine and now Joan Fontaine is gone too.
Gives me the willies and I promise not to think about anybody else dying for a while.
That’s three by the way.
“Billy Jack also died”
De Havilland Drive in Saratoga is named after Olivia.
Speaking of HS classmates, my mother went to high school with Johnny Mathis and Lee Meriwether (who is a good friend of my Aunt’s, apparently - my mother’s older sister).
Threes... always in threes...
OToole, Laughlin, and Fontaine.”
and Parker six days ago.
“I wouldn’t put Mandela in with O’Toole and Fontaine ...”
I agree totally! One mass murderer and two decent people - no similarities at all.
OH man first it was Peter now Joan
Wow, just watched “Rebecca” night before last...
I met her in Monterey, CA back in the 80s at a private party. She was having a great time and was very approachable then.
Had a good run, old girl.
A Damsel in Distress starring Joan Fontaine, Fred Astaire and George Burns is coming on TCM at 2 am on 12/19.
RIP, Miss Fontaine
RIP. Don’t know of Joan but I’ve heard of her sister Olivia de Havilland.
My aunt who’s husband died is apparently not coming to our family’s party, this makes my mom not want to go either.
Tired of saying RIP, any famous babies born today?
Oh, I’ve seen that one several times over the years. The cheapie film I mentioned was entitled “A Million to One” (1936), which won’t be found on TCM. Not part of their library. Technically, might not be a part of ‘any’ library, those poverty-row independent productions, which had long ago fallen into public domain.