Joan Fontaine, 1917-2013

Reply Mon 16 Dec, 2013 09:55 am
Academy Award winner Joan Fontaine died yesterday at age 96. She shot to fame in 1940 playing the title role in Rebecca, and then won the Oscar for best actress the following year for her role opposite Cary Grant in Suspicion. Both films were directed by Alfred Hitchcock. She was also the sister of Olivia de Havilland, another Oscar-winner with whom she had a famously contentious relationship.

By an odd coincidence, I had Suspicion on my Netflix cue and watched it last night. Fontaine was a fine actress and stunningly beautiful, but she didn't make very many movies, especially when compared with her sister. In part, that was due to Fontaine's apparent lack of ambition. It also had to do with the way she came up through the studio system. After a rocky start with RKO, she signed on with independent producer David O. Selznick right at the time that Selznick was dissolving his own studio in the wake of Gone With the Wind. After that, Selznick more-or-less stopped making films and went into the rent-an-actor business. Fontaine (and Hitchcock, who was also under contract with Selznick) were loaned out to RKO for Suspicion. In the following years she'd make films for Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox, and Paramount. That meant she didn't have constant work, unlike her sister, who was under contract with Warner Bros. and was routinely starring in two or three movies a year.

The feud with de Havilland is another mystery of sorts. I get the sense that it pre-dated their time in Hollywood, a sort of "mom always liked you best" kind of thing. Olivia de Havilland was known for playing sweet, radiantly virginal characters, like Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind and Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood, but one gets the impression that she had a rather different personality off-screen. She was involved in some epic battles with her bosses at Warner Bros., and most of the stories about her feud with her younger sister suggest that de Havilland was more than half responsible. De Havilland is now 97 and living in France. I think the only thing keeping her alive was her rivalry with her sister. Neither was willing to let the other have the satisfaction of outliving them.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 6 • Views: 1,436 • Replies: 6
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Reply Mon 16 Dec, 2013 05:05 pm
Sad to see them grow old and pass away. RIP
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Reply Mon 16 Dec, 2013 06:30 pm
Great in "Suspicion" and "Ivanhoe."
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Reply Mon 16 Dec, 2013 07:41 pm

Reply Tue 17 Dec, 2013 09:57 am
Joan Fontaine's best roles were undoubtedly in Rebecca and Suspicion, probably because they were, in effect, the same roles. Not surprising, considering that Rebecca and Suspicion were the same movie. In both, Fontaine played a beautiful, if somewhat naive, woman who becomes involved in a whirlwind romance with a charming man who, she discovers immediately after the wedding, is hiding a dark secret. Both movies are marred by endings dictated by the Production Code that deviated substantially from the source material by changing the male lead from a killer to a henpecked husband (Laurence Olivier in Rebecca) or a pathetic wastrel (Cary Grant in Suspicion), and both even had strange lesbian subtexts - creepy (in the case of Rebecca) and superfluous (in the case of Suspicion). Fontaine could have easily won the best actress Oscar for Rebecca (Ginger Rogers won it instead for Kitty Foyle - a good performance in a mediocre movie). Alfred Hitchcock, who directed both movies, was nominated as best director only for Rebecca, but John Ford won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (which was the right choice).
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Lustig Andrei
Reply Tue 17 Dec, 2013 06:26 pm
Peter O'Toole yesterday, Joan Fontaine today. We're losing all the great ones. Requiescat in pacem.
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Finn dAbuzz
Reply Fri 20 Dec, 2013 12:00 am
Fontaine, and O'Toole.

They come in threes, who is next?

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