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Joan Fontaine Overview:

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 .

Early Life

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.

Early Career

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.


Big Break

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.

Continued Success

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).



Joan Fontaine was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Actress for Suspicion (as Lina McLaidlaw) in 1941.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1940Best ActressRebecca (1940)Mrs. de WinterNominated
1941Best ActressSuspicion (1941)Lina McLaidlawWon
1943Best ActressThe Constant Nymph (1943)Teresa 'Tessa' SangerNominated

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.

BlogHub Articles:

- A Rising Star

By The Metzinger Sisters on Nov 11, 2017 From Silver Scenes - A Blog for Classic Film Lovers

comes close to her famous one-picture-to-stardom Rebecca role in her currently releasing Suspicion with Cary Grant. And so, the great question of whether Miss Fontaine - or Mrs. Brian Aherne, if you prefer - was a flash in the pan is definitely settled. She's not. She is an actress o... Read full article

A Big Thanks to the Participants of the Centenary Blogathon!

By Virginie Pronovost on Oct 25, 2017 From The Wonderful World of Cinema

As it is said in the title, I’m simply publishing this post to thanks all the participants of the Centenary Blogathon for their marvelous pieces about ’s films and their love and admiration for her. Of course, it also was a pleasure for me to co-host it with Cr... Read full article

In Honour of on her Heavenly Centenary

By Virginie Pronovost on Oct 22, 2017 From The Wonderful World of Cinema

Do you remember the first time you ever heard about the more than extraordinary ? I do as if it was yesterday. I was looking at this book called Les Stars de cinema that I had bought for my own curiosity (I was 15 and yet not really familiar with classic movie stars, but I thought the p... Read full article

The Centenary Blogathon is here!

By Virginie Pronovost on Oct 20, 2017 From The Wonderful World of Cinema

We are finally going to celebrate what would have been ’s 100th birthday. This magnificent star was born on October 22, 1917, but, unfortunately, left us in 2013 at the age of 96. I and my friend Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood thought it would be a good ide... Read full article

THE CENTENARY BLOGATHON: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

on Oct 20, 2017 From Caftan Woman

Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema are co-hosting The Centenary Blogathon running October 20th to 22nd. Burt Lancaster Does one rash act define a life or does a harsh life lived lead to a blur of wrong choices? Bill... Read full article

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Joan Fontaine Quotes:

[first lines]
Jane Eyre: [narrating] My name is Jane Eyre... I was born in 1820, a harsh time of change in England. Money and position seemed all that mattered. Charity was a cold and disagreeable word. Religion too often wore a mask of bigotry and cruelty. There was no proper place for the poor or the unfortunate. I had no father or mother, brother or sister. As a child I lived with my aunt, Mrs. Reed of Gateshead Hall. I do not remember that she ever spoke one kind word to me.

Ivy Lexton: [about Jervis] I don't think I've been very fair to him you know.
Roger Gretorex: Fair? He's held you in his arms, people point you out as his wife. I think he's just about the luckiest man in England.
Ivy Lexton: Well that's sweet Roger, but we are rather forgetting that i'm married to him.

Mavis Norman: Does it make any difference, having an aim in life?

read more quotes from Joan Fontaine...

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Best Actress Oscar 1941

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Joan Fontaine Facts
At the age of three she scored 160 on an infant IQ test.

As of 2011 she is the last surviving cast member of George Cukor's "The Women" (1939).

Vice-President Emeritus of the Episcopal Actors' Guild of America.

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