Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland (born 22 October 1917), known professionally as Joan Fontaine, is a British American actress. Born in Japan to British parents, de Havilland and her older sister Olivia de Havilland moved to California in 1919. Fontaine began her career on the stage in 1935 and signed a contract with RKO Pictures that same year.
In 1941, she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her role in Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The following year, she won the Best Actress Academy Award for Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941), the only actress Academy Award ever won in a film directed by Hitchcock. Fontaine and sister de Havilland are the only 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 50 years, Fontaine made her last on-screen appearance in 1994.
Fontaine currently lives in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California where she owns a home, Villa Fontana. Fontaine and sister de Havilland are two of the last surviving leading ladies from Hollywood of the 1930s.
Fontaine was born in Tokyo, Japan, to parents from the United Kingdom. Her father, Walter Augustus de Havilland (31 August 1872 – 23 May 1968; aged 95), was a patent attorney with a practice in Japan, and her mother, Lilian Augusta (née Ruse; 11 June 1886 – 20 February 1975; aged 88) was a stage actress who had left her career after going to Tokyo with her husband – she would return to work after her daughters had already won fame in the 40s, with the stage name of Lillian Fontaine. 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 geisha girls; the divorce was not finalized, however, until February 1925.
She was reportedly a sickly child who developed anaemia following a combined attack of the measles and a streptococcal infection. Taking a physician's advice, their mother moved Joan and her sister to the United States. 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 theAmerican School in Japan where she graduated in 1935.
from the trailer for The Women
Fontaine made her stage debut in the West Coast production of Call It a Day in 1935 and was soon signed to an RKO contract. Her film debut was a small role in No More Ladies (1935) (in which she was billed as Joan Burfield).
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 (1937) and Quality Street (1937), opposite Katharine Hepburn. The studio considered her a rising star, and touted The Man Who Found Himself as her first starring role, placing a special screen introduction, billed as the "new RKO screen personality" after the end credit. 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.
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 some time 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. Fontaine did not 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 co-starred Cary Grant and was also directed by Hitchcock. This is the only Academy Award winning performance directed by Hitchcock.
in the film Ivanhoe
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), Jane Eyre (1944), 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.
During the 1960s, Fontaine 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. 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. In 1982, she was head of the jury at the 32nd Berlin International Film Festival.
Fontaine last film role was in the 1994 television film Good King Wenceslas. She currently resides at her estate, Villa Fontana, in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California where she spends her time in her gardens and with her dogs.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Fontaine has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1645 Vine Street.
Fontaine holds dual citizenship; she is British by birth (both her parents were British) and became an American citizen in April 1943.
Marriages and children
Fontaine has been married and divorced four times. Her first marriage was to actor Brian Aherne. They married in 1939 in Del Monte, California and divorced in April 1945.
In May 1946, she married actor/producer William Dozier in Mexico City. The couple had a daughter, Deborah Leslie, in 1948 and separated in 1949. The following year, Fontaine filed for divorced charging Dozier with desertion. Their divorce was finalized in January 1951.
Fontaine's third marriage was to producer and writer Collier Young on 12 November 1952. They separated in May 1960 and Fontaine filed for divorce in November 1960. Their divorce was finalized in January 1961. Fontaine's fourth and final marriage was to Sports Illustrated golf editor Alfred Wright, Jr. They married on 23 January 1964 in Elkton, Maryland, and divorced in 1969.
While in South America for a film festival in 1951, Fontaine adopted a 4-year-old Peruvian girl named Martita. Fontaine met Martita when she was visiting Incan ruins where Martita's father worked as a caretaker. Martita's parents allowed Fontaine to become Martita's legal guardian in order to give the child a better life. Fontaine promised Martita's parent she would send the girl back to Peru to visit when Martita was 16-years-old. When Martita turned 16, Fontaine bought her a round-trip ticket to Peru to visit her parents but Martita refused to go and opted to run away. Fontaine and Martita have been estranged since the incident occurred. While promoting her autobiography in 1978, Fontaine addressed the issue stating, "Until my adopted daughter goes back to see her parents, she's not welcome. I promised her parents. I do not forgive somebody who makes me break my word." In 1996, The New York Post reported that Fontaine was also estranged from her birth daughter, Deborah.
Fontaine and Gary Cooperholding their Oscars at Academy Awards, 1942
Olivia de Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine, are the only siblings to have won lead acting Academy Awards.
Of the two sisters, de Havilland was the first to become an actress; when Fontaine tried to follow her lead, their mother, who allegedly favored de Havilland, refused to let her use the family name. Subsequently, Fontaine was forced to invent a name, taking first Joan Burfield, and later Joan Fontaine. Biographer Charles Higham records that the sisters have always had an uneasy relationship, starting in early childhood when de Havilland would rip up the clothes Fontaine had to wear as hand-me-downs, forcing Fontaine to sew them back together. A large part of the resentment between the sisters allegedly stemmed from Fontaine's perception that de Havilland was their mother's favorite child.
Both de Havilland and Fontaine were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942. Fontaine won that year for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion over de Havilland's performance in Hold Back the Dawn. Charles 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. Several years later, de Havilland remembered the 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. De Havilland's relationship with Fontaine continued to deteriorate after the two incidents. Charles Higham has stated that this was the near final straw for what became a lifelong feud, but the sisters did not completely stop speaking to each other until 1975. According to Fontaine, de Havilland did not invite her to a memorial service for their mother, who had recently died. De Havilland claims she informed Fontaine, but Fontaine brushed her off, claiming she was too busy to attend.
Charles Higham records that Fontaine has an estranged relationship with her own daughters as well, possibly because she discovered that they were secretly maintaining a relationship with de Havilland. Both sisters have refused to comment publicly about their feud and dysfunctional family relationships, though in an interview with John Kobal, Fontaine stated categorically that the so-called rivalry was a pure hoax, cooked up by the studio publicity hounds.
In a 1979 interview, Fontaine says the reason she stopped speaking with her sister was because Olivia wanted their mother (who was suffering from cancer) operated on at the age of 88. Joan also says that when their mother died, Olivia didn't even bother to phone to find out where she could be reached (Fontaine was on tour). Instead, Olivia sent a telegram, but it was delivered to Joan two weeks later at her next stop.