Legendary actress, Joan Fontaine, was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland on Oct 22, 1917 in Tokyo, Japan. Fontaine appeared in over 65 film and TV roles. Her best known films include Rebecca, Suspicion, The Constant Nymph, Jane Eyre (1944), Ivy , Frenchman's Creek, Ivanhoe and Letter from an Unknown Woman. Fontaine died at the age of 96 on Dec 15, 2013 in Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA .
Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born on October 22, 1917 in Tokyo, Japan to British born parents. She was the second child to Walter and Lilian de Havilland, her older sister being fellow legendary actress, Olivia de Havilland. Her father was a professor at the Imperial University in Tokyo who later became an attorney. Her mother was a stage actress who gave up her dreams of the theatre to marry and follow her husband to Tokyo. Despite her abandonment of her own acting ambitions, Lilian still installed a love for the arts and performance into her daughters at a young age. Due to Walter's frequent infidelities, the de Havilland marriage was a very not happy one and was already strained by the time Joan was born. Due to Joan and Olivia's delicate health has children, Lilian suggested the family move back to England. Before they could make it back to, their travels were halted in California in order to treat Olivia's bronchitis. Thanks to the high temperatures and moderate weather, Lillian and her daughters decided to stay and settle in small town south of San Francisco.
She attended Los Gatos high school and began to take speech lessons with her sister. With a reported IQ of 160, Joan excelled at academics but had a troubled home life. Since childhood Joan and Olivia had a fierce rivalry - a rivalry that was exacerbated by their mother's reported favoring of Olivia. At age 16 she choose to return to Japan to live with her father and in 1935 graduated from the American School on Japan. Soon after she returned to Americas.
Upon her return to the states, she followed in the footsteps of her mother and older sister by taking a stab at acting. She joined a theatre group in San Jose before heading to the City of Angeles. In 1935 she made her stage debut in the plat Kind Lady. She chose to go by the name Joan Burfield in order to not interfere with her sister's career. Soon after she was signed to RKO studios and made her screen debut in the George Cukor film No More Ladies, starring Joan Crawford. By this time she had chosen her final stage name, Joan Fontaine, taking her father's surname. The role did little to get her noticed and she would not appear on the screen again until 1937 with a minor role in the action-romance A Million to One. The studio then decided to put the young actress on the track to stardom and gave her first starring role, also in 1937, The Man Who Found Himself. Although the film was released to mixed reviews, Joan was generally praised her performance as the intelligent nurse Doris King. She then appeared opposite Fred Astaire in the musical Damsel in Distress. The film was the first for Astaire without Ginger Rogers and audiences seemed to be less than pleased. The film was a flop and the first of Astaire's to loss money at the box office. She next appeared in four films in 1938 but none of them were successful. Although she appeared in two successful films the next year, Gunga Din and The Women, when her contract with RKO expired in 1939 the studio chose not to renew it.
In 1940 Fontaine attended a dinner party where she was seated next to producer David O' Selznick. The two struck up about the Daphne du Maurier novel Rebecca. This lead to her audition and subsequent casting as Mrs. De Winter in Alfred Hitchcock's production of the big screen adaptation. The production of the film was not a pleasant experience for Fontaine. Because her co-star, Laurence Olivier, had Vivien Leigh to play the role of Mrs. De Winter he treated Fontaine with distain through out the filming process and filled her with anxiety. Hitchcock then capitalized on her feelings of uneasiness and proceeded to tell Fontaine that the entire cast and crew disliked her, causing her to remain shy and anxious, thus allowing Hitchcock to elicit the very performance he wanted from her. The film was a critical and financial success owing much of the praise to Fontaine's performance. It received 11 Academy Award nominations including Best Writing, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, and a Best Actress nomination for Fontaine. The film would go to win Best Picture and solidified Fontaine as Hollywood's newest star.
Despite her misery while shooting Rebecca, Fontaine once again team with Alfred Hitchcock for the romantic thriller Suspicion. The film center around a young women who comes to learn the man she has married, played by Cary Grant, is a liar, a thief and perhaps even a murderer. The film was hit, making an almost $500,000 net profit and gaining three Academy Awards with Fontaine walking away with the Best Actress statue. According to legend, on Oscar night Fontaine slighted her sister when she refused to take de Havilland's congratulatory outreached hand thus causing more tension in their already strained relationship.
Although it was common at this time for actors to star in multiple films a year, Fontaine preferred the "quality over quantity" route for her career and starred in only one or two films a year. In 1942 she starred opposite Tyrone Power in wartime romance This Above All. They next year she starred in Edmund Gouldings The Constant Nymph. In the film Fontaine plays a young girl in love with a longtime family friend. For her efforts, Fontaine received her third and final Academy Award nomination. That same she starred opposite Orson Welles in the big screen adaption of the Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre. For the remainder of the decade Fontaine would continue to star high quality romance dramas such as Ivy, Letter from an Unknown Woman and The Emperor Waltz.
In the next decade Fontaine's career would begin to slow. In 1950 she starred in two forgettable melodramas September Affair and Born to be Bad. Two years later she starred opposite Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor in the silver screen Technicolor adaption of the Sir Walter Scott historical novel Ivanhoe. The film was super hit and MGM's biggest moneymaker of the year. That year she also made an unaccredited appearance in the Orson Welles directed Othello. In 1954 she made her Broadway debut opposite Anthony Perkins in the play Tea and Sympathy. By the mid-1950s Fontaine's clout as a leading lady had declined and she soon found herself oscillating between film and television. She appeared in films such as Serenade, Island in the Sun, and A Certain Smile and television series such Star Stage, The Joseph Cotten Show and General Electric Theater.
Later Career and Life
Fontaine remained busy through out the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. In 1966 she made her final theatrical feature in the British gothic horror flick The Witches and returned to Broadway in 1968 for the successful staging of the Abe Burrows directed Forty Carats. She continued to appear on the stage in productions such as Private Lives, Cactus Flower, and The Lion in Winter. In 1978 she released her autobiography No Bed of Roses. Largely absent from the small screen in the 1970s, Fontaine made a small comeback in 1980 with the soap opera Ryan's Hope for which she was nominated for a daytime Emmy. She remained on the small screen throughout the rest of the 1980s and into the mid-1990s. In 1994 she made her final television performance in the made for TV movie Good King Wenceslas. She then entered quiet retirement, relaxing in her California home. Joan Fontaine died on December 15th, 2013 of natural causes. She was 96 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
HONORS and AWARDS:.
Joan Fontaine was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Actress for Suspicion (as Lina McLaidlaw) in 1941.
|1940||Best Actress||Rebecca (1940)||Mrs. de Winter||Nominated|
|1941||Best Actress||Suspicion (1941)||Lina McLaidlaw||Won|
|1943||Best Actress||The Constant Nymph (1943)||Teresa 'Tessa' Sanger||Nominated|
She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. Joan Fontaine's handprints and footprints were 'set in stone' at Grauman's Chinese Theater during imprint ceremony #63 on May 26, 1942.
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Lisa Berndl: Oh, if only you could've recognized what was always yours, could've found what was never lost. If only...
Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth: I must go now or I'll be late to luncheon. Anyway, if my father saw me come in both late and beautiful, he might have a stroke.
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