Joan Fontaine, 1917-2013

On December 15, 2013, actress Joan Fontaine passed away.  She was one of the few survivors of The Golden Age (along with her sister, actress Olivia deHavilland) and will be remembered for her performances in many of Hollywood’s greatest films.

She was born in Tokyo, Japan, to British parents (her father was an attorney and her mother a former actress) in 1917.  A sickly child, her moher moved her and her sister to the United States on doctor’s advice.  After her health improved, she returned to live with her father in Japan.  After returning to the U.S., she followed her sister into acting, landing a contact with RKO Pictures.  After a series of forgettable films, included 1937’s A Damsel in Distress opposite Fred Astaire (where her limited dancing skills were obvious), her contract was not renewed.

Her career changed dramatically, when producer David O. Selznick cast her in Alfred Hitchcock’s first American production, Rebecca (1940).  Starring as the second Mrs. deWinter opposite Laurence Olivier, Fontaine received her first Academy Award nomination.  She won the following year for her role in Suspicion, also directed by Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant. 

Her success continued through the 1940s with roles in The Constant Nymph (her third Oscar nomination), Jane Eyre (both 1943), Frenchman’s Creek (1944), and The Emperor Waltz (1948).  After a few hits in the next decade, including Born to be Bad (1950) and Ivanhoe (1952), her career slowed.  After roles on Broadway, Fontaine spent most of the 70s and 80s guest-starring on television, including The Love Boat, Hotel and and Emmy-winning turn on daytime’s Ryan’s Hope.

Much has been written about Fontaine’s relationship with her sister, Olivia deHavilland.  Whether there is any truth to their long-running rivalry, together they hold the record for the most Oscar winning Lead Performances among siblings (2 for Olivia, 1 for Joan).

Joan Fontaine was married four times, most notably to actor Brian Aherne (1939-1945) and producer William Dozier (1946-1951).

Many of Joan Fontaine’s films are available on DVD. Which are your favorite?