Oscar winning legend Joan Fontaine dies at 96

By Daniel S Levine,

Joan Fontaine, who was the only actress to win an Oscar for a performance in an Alfred Hitchcock film, has died at age 96. She was best known for her versatility, put on display in both films she made with Hitchcock, Rebecca and Suspicion, which earned her an Oscar. Her sister was Olivia De Havilland and the two had a fierce rivalry throughout their lives.

Variety reports that Fontaine died Sunday at her Carmel, Calif. home.

Born to Lillian Ruse and Walter de Havilland in Tokyo, she was 18 months younger than Olivia. Their parents divorced soon after she was born and they moved to California. Her mother married George Fontaine, and Joan took his surname, despite a rift between her and her stepfather.

De Havilland started in films a few years before Fontaine, who didn’t make her film debut until 1937 after testing with George Cukor. Her contract was picked up by RKO, but she only lasted there until 1939, the year she made Gunga Din at the studio and The Women with Cukor at MGM.

She married Brian Aherne in 1939 and had thought about retiring, but that’s when David O. Selznick came into her life. Selznick and Hitchcock cast her in Rebecca, which won the Best Picture of 1940. She earned the first of three Oscar nominations for the film, but lost. She then won for 1941’s Suspicion, another Hitchcock film, which paired her with Cary Grant.

In 1943, she starred in The Constant Nymph, which earned her final Oscar nomination. She continued to star in important films in the late 1940s and 1950s, including Max Ophuls’ 1948 classic Letter From An Unknown Woman and the 1952 adventure film Ivanhoe.

Fontaine continued making appearances in films and television until 1994, when she made her final appearance in the TV movie Good King Wenceslas.

As the Hollywood Reporter notes, de Havilland and Fontaine’s rivalry was public, as there are stories that the two would not congratulate each other when they won Oscars. De Havilland won two Oscars and is living in Paris. She is 97.

Fontaine’s marriage to Aherne ended in divorce in 1945. She was also married to producer William Dozier (1946-1951), producer Collier Young (1952-1961) and journalist Alfred Wright Jr. (1964-1969).

image: Wikimedia Commons


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