Happy 94th Birthday, Joan Fontaine!
One of our last living cinema legends from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Joan Fontaine, celebrates her 94th birthday on October 22, 2011!
Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland in Tokyo, Japan, Fontaine is the baby sister of actress Olivia de Havilland, and enjoyed a screen career that spanned seven decades and included two Academy Awards. Her many films included such first-rate fare as Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Jane Eyre (1943), but my favorite was 1948’s Kiss the Blood Off My Hands, a fascinating film noir in which she was seen opposite Burt Lancaster. In this feature, set in post-war England, Fontaine portrayed Jane Wharton, a lonely young woman who becomes involved with a luckless drifter who accidentally kills a man during a bar brawl. (Fittingly, the film was universally applauded by critics – be sure to see it if you get the chance!)
To honor the occasion of Miss Fontaine’s birth, join me in raising a glass to this great lady and enjoy some fun Fontaine facts!
Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, Joan Fontaine began her acting career in her late teens with various West Coast stage companies under the name Joan Burfield. She later took the name of her stepfather, George Fontaine.
Fontaine’s mother, Lilian, was a film and stage actress who appeared in a number of films, including The Lost Weekend (1945) and the film noir feature, The Locket (1946).
Fontaine is the last surviving cast member of one of my all-time favorite (and most often-seen) pictures, The Women (1939).
Fontaine and de Havilland are the first sisters to win Oscars and the first ones to be Oscar-nominated in the same year (Fontaine for Suspicion, de Havilland for Hold Back the Dawn). (Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave were both nominated in 1966, for Georgy Girl and Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment. Neither won.)
Fontaine holds the distinction of being the only performer to win an acting Oscar for an Alfred Hitchcock film (Suspicion) and starring in the only Hitchcock-directed film to win an Oscar as Best Picture (Rebecca).
Fontaine was also nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Rebecca (1940) and The Constant Nymph (1943). (She lost to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle in 1940, and Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette in 1943.)
Fontaine became an American citizen on April 23, 1943.
For 45 years, Fontaine was the youngest actress to win the Best Actress Oscar; she won her Academy Award for Suspicion at the age of 24. (This record was broken in 1986 when 21-year-old Marlee Matlin won the award.)
The actress was said to have been badly treated by Lawrence Olivier during the production of 1940’s Rebecca, as Olivier had wanted his then-girlfriend, Vivien Leigh, to play the role that was eventually played by Fontaine.
Columbia Pictures is the only major studio where Joan did not make a film.
According to legend, Fontaine’s first husband, actor Brian Aherne, had a friend call her the night before their wedding to tell her he had gotten cold feet and couldn’t go through with the ceremony. Fontaine had the friend tell Aherne that he’d better show up at the altar the next morning, and that he could divorce her later if he wanted. Aherne showed up as directed and the two remained married for the next six years. (Reportedly, they never mentioned this incident to each other.)
Joan Fontaine and her second husband, William Dozier, formed Rampart Productions and produced two films, Letter From an Unknown Woman and You Gotta Stay Happy, both in 1948.
Fontaine’s mother, Lilian Fontaine, appeared with the actress in two films, Ivy (1947) and The Bigamist (1953).
Speaking of The Bigamist, this film was produced by Fontaine’s third husband, Collier Young, who was previously married to Ida Lupino, who directed and also appeared in the film. (That must have been an interesting set!)
Fontaine has the honor of having a flower named for her: the “Joan Fontaine Rose” is a pale peach and white Heirloom rose.
In 1961, Fontaine’s home in Brentwood, California, burned to the ground due to wildfires in the hills above Los Angeles. The actress now lives in Carmel, California – her home is known as “Villa Fontana.”
The versatile actress is a licensed pilot, champion balloonist, expert rider, prize-winning tuna fisherman, hole-in-one golfer, Cordon Bleu chef and licensed interior decorator.
Fontaine’s final acting role was Queen Ludmilla in a 1994 television movie, Good King Wenceslas.
In a 2008 interview in Vanity Fair, Fontaine stated that her idea of perfect happiness is: “Working in my garden while my five ASPCA dogs smell the roses . . . or water them.”
Footnote: Joan Fontaine and her sister, Olivia de Havilland, have been estranged for many years – their feud has become a thing of legend, and is most often reported to have stemmed from 1942, when the sisters were both nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award and Fontaine emerged the winner. In fact, Fontaine once said, “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!” (Olivia de Havilland, incidentally, turned 95 on July 1, 2011.) A fascinating and eye-opening 2010 article by Michael Thornton in The Mail shines a light on this decades-long sibling conflict – check it out! http://bit.ly/bM5WQR)