Frequent Hitchcock heroine Joan Fontaine dies at 96
Actress is survived by her sister - and rival Olivia de Haviland
One of the silver screen's most fierce divas, Joan Fontaine has died at the age of 96. The Oscar-winning actress was one of the last remaining links to Hollywood's golden age. Working frequently with director Alfred Hitchcock, she won an Oscar for Best Actress in Hitchcock's "Suspicion" and was nominated for same in the director's "Rebecca." She is survived by her sister, Olivia de Haviland, who many consider as her most poisonous rival.
Joan Fontaine, reading the then-new best-seller "Rebecca" she identified with the put-upon heroine struggling against a powerful - if dead rival.
The animosity felt between the sisters for both acting roles and personal success, many say, provided the inspiration for the 1962 shocker "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" wherein real-life rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford descended into madness and murder.
Fontaine owned the screen whenever she deigned to appear. She could seem shy and hesitant, but ironically hammered out a movie career out of sheer will power and drive.
As De Havilland's younger sister, Fontaine maintained a rivalry with the sibling who beat her to the big screen. Critics say that a closer inspection of her filmography reveals an aggressive persona.
The daughters of Walter de Havilland, a British patent attorney with distant royal blood and his actress wife, the sisters were born in Tokyo. Joan was born in 1917. After their mother learned of the father's affair with his Japanese maid, she whisked them to California.
Olivia kept her family name and had early success in Hollywood. Joan took stepfather George Fontaine's name and struggled in smallish roles. Her sister Olivia would continually get larger roles.
She auditioned for and lost the part of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind," only to see Olivia score the part of Melanie. Reading the then-new best-seller "Rebecca" she identified with the put-upon heroine struggling against a powerful - if dead rival.
"Rebecca" shot Fontaine to stardom. She worked again for director Alfred Hitchcock in "Suspicion," as a young wife convinced husband Cary Grant wants to do her in.
Nominated for Best Actress the same year her sister De Havilland was nominated for Hold Back the Dawn, Fontaine won by one ballot. Olivia would kick herself for voting for Barbara Stanwyck.
Fontaine's later roles included a lady on a pirate ship in "Frenchman's Creek" (1944), "Ivy" (1947) - and was nominated once more for "The Constant Nymph" (1943). The four-hankie film "Letter From an Unknown Woman" (1948) was one of her most well remembered roles.
She later retired to Carmel, California. She was married and divorced four times.
When the two sister attended the 1979 Oscars for a reunion of past winners, they were placed at opposite ends of the stage. De Haviland, still living, resides in France.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
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