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Joan Fontaine

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Title: Joan Fontaine  
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Subject: Olivia de Havilland, Rebecca (1940 film), Academy Award for Best Actress, The Witches (1966 film), September Affair
Collection: 1917 Births, 2013 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Actresses, 20Th-Century English Actresses, Actresses from Tokyo, American Film Actresses, American Memoirists, American Radio Actresses, American School in Japan Alumni, American Stage Actresses, Best Actress Academy Award Winners, De Havilland, English Emigrants to the United States, English Film Actresses, English Memoirists, English Radio Actresses, English Stage Actresses, People from Monterey County, California, People from the San Francisco Bay Area, Warner Bros. Contract Players, Writers from California
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Joan Fontaine

Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine 1943
Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland
(1917-10-22)October 22, 1917
Tokyo, Japan
Died December 15, 2013(2013-12-15) (aged 96)
Carmel Highlands, California, U.S.
Cause of death Natural causes
Resting place Cremated
Residence Carmel Highlands,§ California
Other names Joan Burfield
Joan St. John
Citizenship British
Education Los Gatos High School
American School in Japan
Occupation Actress
Years active 1935–1994
Spouse(s) Brian Aherne
(m. 1939; div. 1945)
William Dozier
(m. 1946; div. 1951)
Collier Young
(m. 1952; div. 1961)
Alfred Wright, Jr.
(m. 1964; div. 1969)
Children 2 daughters
Relatives Olivia de Havilland (elder sister)

Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland (October 22, 1917 – December 15, 2013), known professionally as Joan Fontaine, was a British-American actress. Fontaine began her career on the stage in 1935 and signed a contract with RKO Pictures that same year.

In 1941, she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her role in Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The following year, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941), making Fontaine the only actor to ever win an Academy Award in a film directed by Hitchcock.[2] Fontaine and her elder sister Olivia de Havilland are the only set of siblings to have won lead acting Academy Awards. During the 1940s to the 1990s, Fontaine continued her career in roles on the stage and in radio, television and film. She released her autobiography, No Bed of Roses, in 1978. After a career spanning over fifty years, Fontaine made her last on-screen appearance in 1994.

Born in Japan to British parents, the sisters moved to California in 1919. Fontaine lived in Carmel Highlands, California, where she owned a home, Villa Fontana. It was there that she died of natural causes at the age of 96 in 2013.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Later career 2.1
  • Personal life 3
    • Marriages and children 3.1
    • Sibling rivalry 3.2
  • Death and legacy 4
  • Filmography 5
  • Broadway credits 6
  • Radio appearances 7
  • Awards and nominations 8
  • References 9
    • Notes 9.1
    • Bibliography 9.2
  • External links 10

Early life

Joan de Havilland was born in Tokyo, Japan, to English parents. Her father, Walter Augustus de Havilland (August 31, 1872 – May 23, 1968), was educated at the University of Cambridge and served as an English professor at the Imperial University in Tokyo before becoming a patent attorney with a practice in Japan.[3] Her mother, Lilian Augusta (née Ruse; June 11, 1886 – February 20, 1975),[4][5] was educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and became a stage actress who left her career after going to Tokyo with her husband.[3] Her mother would return to work with the stage name "Lillian Fontaine" after her daughters achieved prominence in the 1940s. Joan's paternal cousin was Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882–1965), an aircraft designer known for the De Havilland Mosquito,[6] and founder of the aircraft company which bore his name. Her paternal grandfather, the Reverend Charles Richard de Havilland, was from a family from Guernsey, in the Channel Islands.[7][8]

De Havilland's parents married in 1914 and separated in 1919, when Lilian decided to end the marriage after discovering that her husband used the sexual services of geishas; the divorce was not finalized, however, until February 1925.[9]

Taking a physician's advice, Lilian de Havilland moved Joan—reportedly a sickly child who had developed anaemia following a combined attack of the measles and a streptococcal infection—and her elder sister, Olivia, to the United States.[10] The family settled in Saratoga, California, and Fontaine's health improved dramatically. She was educated at Los Gatos High School, and was soon taking diction lessons alongside her elder sister. When she was 16 years old, Fontaine returned to Japan to live with her father. There she attended the American School in Japan, graduating in 1935.[11]


The Women (1939)
Suspicion (1941), with Cary Grant
Jane Eyre (1943)

Fontaine made her stage debut in the West Coast production of Call It a Day (1935) and was soon signed to an RKO contract. Her film debut was a small role in No More Ladies (also 1935) in which she was credited as Joan Burfield.[12]

Although Fontaine, on contract with RKO, had already made her screen appearance in No More Ladies, a series of other minor roles followed, in A Million to One and Quality Street (both 1937), opposite Katharine Hepburn. The studio considered her a rising star, and touted The Man Who Found Himself (also 1937) as her first starring role, placing a special screen introduction, billed as the "new RKO screen personality" after the end credit.[13] She next appeared 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, including The Women (1939), but failed to make a strong impression and her contract was not renewed when it expired in 1939.[12]

Fontaine's 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 sometime before her 22nd birthday.

Rebecca, starring Laurence Olivier alongside Fontaine, marked the American debut of British director Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940, the film was released to glowing reviews, and Fontaine was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.[12] Fontaine did not win that year (Ginger Rogers took home the award for Kitty Foyle), but she did win the following year for Best Actress in Suspicion, which co-starred Cary Grant and was also directed by Hitchcock.[12] This was to be the only Academy Award-winning acting performance to have been directed by Hitchcock.[2]

During the 1940s, Fontaine excelled in romantic melodramas. Among her memorable films during this time were The Constant Nymph (1943) (for which she received her third Academy Award nomination),[12] Jane Eyre (1943), Ivy (1947) and Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948).

Her film successes slowed a little during the 1950s, and she also began appearing in television and on the stage. She won good reviews for her role on Broadway in 1954 as Laura in Tea and Sympathy, opposite Anthony Perkins. She also appeared in numerous radio shows during the 1940s for the Lux Radio Theater.

Later career

During the 1960s, Fontaine appeared in several stage productions, including 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. She continued appearing in film and television roles throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and was nominated for an Emmy Award for the soap opera Ryan's Hope in 1980.

Fontaine's autobiography, No Bed of Roses, was published in 1978.

Fontaine's last role for television was in the 1994 TV film Good King Wenceslas, after which she retired to her estate, Villa Fontana, in Carmel Highlands, California where she would spend time in her gardens and with her dogs.[14]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Fontaine has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1645 Vine Street. She left her hand and foot prints in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre on May 26, 1942.

Personal life

Fontaine held dual citizenship; she was British by birthright (both her parents were British) and became an American citizen in April 1943.[15][16]

Marriages and children

Fontaine was married and divorced four times. Her first marriage was to actor Brian Aherne, in 1939 in Del Monte, California; they divorced in April 1945.[17] In May 1946, she married actor/producer William Dozier in Mexico City. They had a daughter, Deborah Leslie, in 1948 and separated in 1949.[18] The following year, Fontaine filed for divorce, charging Dozier with desertion. Their divorce was finalized in January 1951.[19][20] Fontaine's third marriage was to producer and writer Collier Young on November 12, 1952. They separated in May 1960, and Fontaine filed for divorce in November 1960.[21] Their divorce was finalized in January 1961.[22] Fontaine's fourth and final marriage was to Sports Illustrated golf editor Alfred Wright, Jr, on January 23, 1964 in Elkton, Maryland; they divorced in 1969.[23]

While in South America for a film festival in 1951, Fontaine met a 4-year-old Peruvian girl named Martita, and informally adopted her.[24] Fontaine met Martita while visiting [25]

Sibling rivalry

Fontaine's sister Olivia de Havilland, 1940s

Fontaine and her sister, Olivia de Havilland, are the only set of siblings to have won lead acting Academy Awards. Olivia was the first to become an actress; when Fontaine tried to follow her lead, their mother, who allegedly favored Olivia, refused to let Joan use the family name. Subsequently, Fontaine had to invent a name, taking first Joan Burfield, and later Joan Fontaine. Biographer Charles Higham records that the sisters had an uneasy relationship from early childhood, when Olivia would rip up the clothes Joan had to wear as hand-me-downs, forcing Joan to sew them back together. A large part of the friction between the sisters allegedly stemmed from Fontaine's belief that Olivia was their mother's favorite child.[26]

Fontaine and Gary Cooper holding their Oscars at the Academy Awards, 1942

De Havilland and Fontaine were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942. Fontaine won for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion over de Havilland's performance in Hold Back the Dawn. Higham states that Fontaine "felt guilty about winning given her lack of obsessive career drive...". Higham has described the events of the awards ceremony, stating that as Fontaine stepped forward to collect her award, she pointedly rejected de Havilland's attempts at congratulating her and that de Havilland was both offended and embarrassed by her behavior. Fontaine, however, tells a different story in her autobiography, explaining that she was paralyzed with surprise when she won the Academy Award, and that de Havilland insisted she get up to accept it. "Olivia took the situation very graciously," Fontaine wrote. "I was appalled that I'd won over my sister."[27] Several years later, however, de Havilland apparently remembered what she perceived as a slight and exacted her own revenge by brushing past Fontaine, who was waiting with her hand extended, because de Havilland allegedly took offense at a comment Fontaine had made about de Havilland's husband.

Contrary to press reports, the sisters continued their relationship after the 1940s. After Fontaine's separation from her husband in 1952, de Havilland came to her apartment in New York often, and at least once spent Christmas together there, in 1961. They were photographed laughing together at a party for Marlene Dietrich in 1967.[28] Joan also went to visit Olivia in Paris in 1969.[29]

The sisters reportedly did not completely stop speaking to each other until 1975, after their mother's funeral, to which Joan, who was out of the country, was not invited.

Both sisters largely refused to comment publicly about their relationship. In a 1978 interview, however, Fontaine said of the sibling rivalry, "I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she'll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!"[30] The following year, in a 1979 interview, Fontaine claimed the reason she and her sister stopped speaking to each other was that de Havilland wanted their mother (who was suffering from cancer) to be treated surgically at the advanced age of 88, which Fontaine apparently did not think was a good idea. Fontaine claims that after their mother died, de Haviland did not bother to try to find out where Fontaine could be reached (Fontaine was on tour in a play). Instead, de Havilland sent a telegram, which did not arrive until two weeks later at Fontaine's next stop.[31] According to Fontaine, de Havilland did not invite her to a memorial service for their mother. De Havilland claims she informed Fontaine, but Fontaine brushed her off, claiming she was too busy to attend. Higham records that Fontaine had an estranged relationship with her own daughters as well, possibly because she discovered that they were secretly maintaining a relationship with de Havilland.[26]

Death and legacy

On December 15, 2013, Fontaine died in her sleep of natural causes at the age of 96 in her Carmel Highlands home. Her longtime friend Noel Beutel said, "She had been fading in recent days and died peacefully."[32] Her Academy Award for best actress in Suspicion was initially going to be sold at an animal rights auction, however, the Academy threatened to sue since it was not offered back to them for $1.[33]

After Fontaine's death, Olivia de Havilland released a statement saying she was "shocked and saddened" by the news.[34] Fontaine was cremated.


Year Title Role Notes
1935 No More Ladies Caroline 'Carrie' Rumsey Credited as Joan Burfield
1937 A Million to One Joan Stevens
Quality Street Charlotte Parratt Uncredited
The Man Who Found Himself Nurse Doris King
You Can't Beat Love Trudy Olson
Music for Madame Jean Clemens
A Damsel in Distress Lady Alyce Marshmorton
1938 Maid's Night Out Sheila Harrison
Trade Wind Kay Kerrigan
Blond Cheat Juliette 'Julie' Evans
Sky Giant Meg Lawrence
The Duke of West Point Ann Porter
1939 Gunga Din Emmy
Man of Conquest Eliza Allen
The Women Mrs. John Day (Peggy)
1940 Rebecca The second Mrs. de Winter Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated – New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress - Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
1941 Suspicion Lina Academy Award for Best Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress - Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
1942 This Above All Prudence Cathaway
1943 The Constant Nymph Tessa Sanger Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Jane Eyre Jane Eyre (as an adult)
1944 Frenchman's Creek Dona St. Columb
1945 The Affairs of Susan Susan Darell
1946 From This Day Forward Susan Cummings
1947 Ivy Ivy
1948 Letter from an Unknown Woman Lisa Berndle
The Emperor Waltz Countess Johanna Augusta Franziska
You Gotta Stay Happy Dee Dee Dillwood
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands Jane Wharton
1950 September Affair Marianne 'Manina' Stuart
Born to Be Bad Christabel Caine Carey
1951 Darling, How Could You! Alice Grey
1952 Something to Live For Jenny Carey
Othello Page Uncredited
Ivanhoe Rowena
1953 Decameron Nights Fiametta/Bartolomea/Ginevra/Isabella
Flight to Tangier Susan Lane
The Bigamist Eve Graham
1954 Casanova's Big Night Francesca Bruni Alternative title: Mr. Casanova
1956 Serenade Kendall Hale
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Susan Spencer
1957 Island in the Sun Mavis Norman
Until They Sail Anne Leslie
1958 A Certain Smile Françoise Ferrand
1961 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Dr. Susan Hiller
1962 Tender Is the Night Baby Warren
1966 The Witches Gwen Mayfield Alternative title: The Devil's Own
Year Title Role Notes
1953–1954 Four Star Playhouse Trudy episode: Trudy
episode: The Girl on the Park Bench
1956 The Ford Television Theatre Julie episode: Your Other Love
1956 The 20th Century Fox Hour Lynne Abbott episode: Stranger In the Night
1956–1957 The Joseph Cotten Show Adrienne episode: Fatal Charm
episode: The De Santre Story
1956–1960 General Electric Theater Linda Stacey
Laurel Chapman
Melanie Langdon
Countess Irene Forelli
episode: A Possibility of Oil
episode: The Story of Judith
episode: At Miss Minner's
episode: The Victorian Chaise Lounge
episode: In Summer Promise
1959 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse Margaret Lewis episode: Perilous
1960 Startime Julie Forbes episode: Closed Set
1960 Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond Ellen Grayson episode: The Visitor
1961 The Light That Failed Hostess (TV movie)
1961 Checkmate Karen Lawson episode: Voyage Into Fear
1962 The Dick Powell Show Valerie Baumer episode: The Clocks
1963 Wagon Train Naomi Kaylor episode: The Naomi Kaylor Story
1963 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Alice Pemberton episode: The Paragon
1965 The Bing Crosby Show Mrs. Taylor episode: Operation Man Save
1975 Cannon Thelma Cain episode: The Star
1978 The Users Grace St. George
1980 Ryan's Hope Paige Williams 5 episodes
Nominated – Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Guest/Cameo Appearance in a Daytime Drama Series
1981 The Love Boat Jennifer Langley episode: Chef's Special/Beginning Anew/Kleinschmidt
1983 Bare Essence Laura episode: Hour Four
episode: Hour Five
1986 Crossings Alexandra Markham
1986 Hotel Ruth Easton episode: Harassed
1986 Dark Mansions Margaret Drake (TV movie)
1994 Good King Wenceslas Queen Ludmilla (TV movie)
Year Title Role Notes
1952 Hallmark Playhouse Episode: The Professor[35]

Broadway credits

Date Production Role
September 30, 1953 – June 18, 1955 Tea and Sympathy Laura Reynolds
December 26, 1968 – November 7, 1970 Forty Carats Ann Stanley

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1946 Lux Radio Theatre From This Day Forward[36]
1946 Academy Award Portrait of Jennie[37]
1946 Hollywood Players The Constant Nymph[38]
1952 Hallmark Playhouse Miracle on the Blotter[39]
1952 Broadway Playhouse Manhattan Serenade[40]
1952 Theatre Guild on the Air The House of Mirth[40]
1952 Hollywood Sound Stage Ivy[41]
1953 Theater of Stars The Guardsman[42]
1953 Radio Theater Undercurrent[43]

Awards and nominations

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



  1. ^ Weatherford 2010, p. 302.
  2. ^ a b Booker 2011, p. 134.
  3. ^ a b Thomas 1983, p. 20.
  4. ^"Olivia Mary de Havilland at . Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  5. ^ Olivia de Havilland profile at Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  6. ^ French, Philip. "Screen Legends No.73". The Observer, Review Section, 2009.
  7. ^ Beeman 1994, p. 24.
  8. ^ Thomson 2010, p. 339.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Fontaine 1978, p. 19.
  11. ^ "Prominent Alumni." Retrieved: October 6, 2011.
  12. ^ a b c d e Quinlan 1996, pp. 172–173.
  13. ^ Fristoe, Roger. "Articles: The Man Who Found Himself." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
  14. ^ Rush, George, Joanna Molloy and Barid Jones. "A Catalogue Of Complaints For Fontaine." Daily News (New York), June 23, 1996. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  15. ^ "Joan Fontaine To Seek Divorce." The Evening Independent, March 28, 1944. Retrieved December 8 2012.
  16. ^ "Joan Fontaine Now a Citizen." The Milwaukee Journal, April 23, 1943, p. 1. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  17. ^ "Joan Fontaine, A Guest No More, Wins Freedom." St. Petersburg Times, June 3, 1944, p. 5. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  18. ^ "Joan Fontaine And Husband Separate." Daytona Beach Morning Journal, August 4, 1949, p. 14. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  19. ^ "Joan Fontaine Sues Producer for Divorce." The Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1950, p. 2. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  20. ^ "Husband Just Walked Out, Joan Fontaine Asserts." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 26, 1951, p. 2. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  21. ^ "Joan Fontaine Sues 3rd Mate For Divorce." Ocala Star-Banner, November 6, 1960, p. 3. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  22. ^ "Joan Fontaine Gets Divorce." The New York Times, January 4, 1961. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  23. ^ "Names In The News." Tri City Herald, January 24, 1964, p. 7. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^
  26. ^ a b Higham 1984, p. 257.
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ Interview in The Hollywood Reporter (1978), quoted in
  31. ^ "RetroBites: Joan Fontaine – Sisters (1979)" on YouTube, December 2, 2010.
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ a b
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^


  • Beeman, Marsha Lynn. Joan Fontaine: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1994. ISBN 978-0-31328-409-0.
  • Booker, M. Keith. Historical Dictionary of American Cinema. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2011. ISBN 0-8108-7192-0.
  • Current Biography 1944. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1945.
  • Fontaine, Joan. No Bed of Roses: An Autobiography. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1978. ISBN 978-0-68803-344-6.
  • Higham, Charles. Sisters: The Story of Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine. New York: Coward McCann, 1984. ISBN 978-0-69811-268-1.
  • Laufenberg, Norbert B. Entertainment Celebrities. London: Trafford Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-4120-5335-8.
  • Quinlan, David. Quinlan's Film Stars. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1996. ISBN 0-7134-7751-2.
  • Weatherford, Doris. American Women During World War II: An Encyclopedia. London: Taylor & Francis, 2010. ISBN 978-0-41599-475-0.

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