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Joan Fontaine (born October 22, 1917) is a British American actress who became an American citizen in April 1943. She is the younger sister of actress Olivia de Havilland, also an Academy Award winner. The two sisters are among the last surviving female stars from Hollywoodmarker's Golden age. Fontaine is the only actress to win an Academy Award for a performance in a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Early life

She was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland in Tokyomarker, Japan, the younger daughter of Walter Augustus de Havilland (1872-1968), and Lilian Augusta Ruse (1886-1975), a British actress known by her stage name of Lilian Fontaine, who married in 1914, and divorced in 1919. Walter was a British patent attorney with a practice in Japan. She is the younger sister of actress Olivia de Havilland (b. 1916), from whom she has been estranged for many decades, not speaking at all since 1975. They both attended Los Gatos High Schoolmarker and the College of Notre Damemarker Roman Catholic girls school in Belmont, Californiamarker. Her paternal cousin is Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, designer of the famous de Havilland Mosquito airplane.

Joan was a sickly child who developed anemia following a combined attack of the measles and a streptococcic infection. Upon the advice of a physician, Joan's mother moved her and her sister to the United States where they settled in the town of Saratoga, Californiamarker.

Joan's health improved dramatically and she was soon taking diction lessons along with her sister. She was also an extremely bright child and scored 160 on an intelligence test when she was three. When she was fifteen, Joan returned to Japan and lived with her father for two years.

Stage career

Joan made her stage debut in the West Coast production of Call It A Day in 1935 and was soon signed to an RKO contract. In later life she appeared on Broadwaymarker in Forty Carats.

Film career

Her film debut was a small role in No More Ladies (1935). She was selected to appear in a major role alongside Fred Astaire in his first RKO film without Ginger Rogers: A Damsel in Distress (1937) but audiences were disappointed and the film flopped.She continued appearing in small parts in about a dozen films but failed to make a strong impression and her contract was not renewed when it expired in 1939, the same year she married her first husband, the British actor Brian Aherne. That marriage was not a success.

Her luck changed one night at a dinner party when she found herself seated next to producer David O. Selznick.

She and Selznick began discussing the Daphne du Maurier novel Rebecca, and Selznick asked her to audition for the part of the unnamed heroine. She endured a grueling six-month series of film tests, along with hundreds of other actresses, before securing the part.

Rebecca marked the American debut of British director Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940, the film was released to glowing reviews and Joan was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

She didn't win that year (Ginger Rogers took home the award for Kitty Foyle) but Fontaine did win the following year for Best Actress in Suspicion, which was also directed by Hitchcock. This is the only Academy Award winning performance directed by Hitchcock.

Career rise

She went on to continued success in the 1940s, during which she excelled in romantic melodramas. Among her memorable films during this time were The Constant Nymph (1943), Jane Eyre (1944), Ivy (1947), and Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Her film successes slowed a bit during the 1950s and she also began appearing in television and on the stage. She won good reviews for her role on Broadwaymarker in 1954 as Laura in Tea and Sympathy, opposite Anthony Perkins.

During the 1960s, she continued her stage appearances in several productions, among them Private Lives, Cactus Flower and an Austrian production of The Lion in Winter. Her last theatrical film was The Witches (1966), which she also co-produced. In 1956, she appeared with Eduard Franz in the NBC anthology series The Joseph Cotten Show. She appeared as herself in 1957 in the CBS sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve, starring Howard Duff and Ida Lupino. She had a guest role on ABC's short-lived sitcom, The Bing Crosby Show, in the 1964–1965 season. She continued appearing in the 1970s and 1980s and was nominated for an Emmy Award for the soap opera, Ryan's Hope in 1980.

Her autobiography, No Bed of Roses, was published in 1978.

She resides in Carmelmarker, Californiamarker, in relative seclusion, spending her time in her gardens, and with her dogs.

Personal life

Marriages and children

Joan Fontaine was married and divorced four times:

She has one daughter, Deborah Leslie Dozier (born in 1948), from her union with Dozier, and another daughter, Martita, a Peruvian adoptee, who ran away from home.Joan Fontaine has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 1645 Vine Street.

Sibling rivalry

Of the two sisters, Olivia de Havilland was the first to become an actress; when her sister, Joan, tried to follow her lead, their mother, who allegedly favoured Olivia, refused to let her use the family name so Joan was forced to invent a name (Joan Burfield, and later Joan Fontaine, utilizing her own mother's former stage name).

Biographer Charles Higham records that the sisters have always had an uneasy relationship, starting in early childhood, when Olivia would rip up the clothes that Joan had to wear as hand-me-downs, forcing Joan to sew them back together. A lot of the feud and resentment between the sisters stems from Joan's perception of Olivia being their mother's favorite child.

Both Olivia and Joan were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942. Joan won first for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) over Olivia's nomination for Hold Back the Dawn (1941). Higham states that Joan "felt guilty about winning; given her lack of obsessive career drive...".

Higham has described the events of the awards ceremony, stating that, as Joan stepped forward to collect her award, she pointedly rejected Olivia's attempts at congratulating her and that Olivia was both offended and embarrassed by her behavior. Several years later, Olivia would remember the slight and exact her own by brushing past Joan, who was waiting with her hand extended, because Olivia had allegedly taken offense at a comment Joan had made about Olivia's then-husband.

Olivia's relationship with Joan continued to deteriorate after the two incidents. Higham has stated that this was the near final straw for what would become a lifelong feud, but the sisters did not completely stop speaking until 1975.

According to Joan, Olivia did not invite her to a memorial service for their mother, who had recently died. Olivia claims she told Joan, but that Joan had brushed her off, claiming that she was too busy to attend.

Higham records that Joan has an estranged relationship with her own daughters as well, possibly because she discovered that they were secretly maintaining a relationship with their aunt Olivia.

Both sisters have refused to comment publicly about their feud and dysfunctional family relationship, though in an interview with John Kobal, Joan stated categorically that the so called rivalry was a pure hoax, cooked up by the studio publicity hounds.

Awards and Nominations

Year Award Category Film Result
1940 Academy Award Best Actress Rebecca
1941 Academy Award Best Actress Suspicion
NYFCC Award Best Actress
1943 Academy Award Best Actress The Constant Nymph
1947 Golden Apple Award Most Cooperative Actress
1980 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Guest/Cameo Appearance in a Daytime Drama Series Ryan's Hope



  2. Suspicion (1941) - Trivia
  • Fontaine, Joan. No Bed of Roses. Berkley Publishing Group, (1979) ISBN 0-425-05028-9
  • Higham, Charles. Sisters: The Story of Olivia De Haviland and Joan Fontaine. Coward McCann, May 1984, 257 pages.
  • Current Biography 1944. H.W. Wilson Company, 1945.

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