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St. Louis Post (23/Dec/1992) - Fontaine enjoys tension-free life she says keeping worries away also keeps aging away



Fontaine enjoys tension-free life she says keeping worries away also keeps aging away

Elegant and aristocratic, a superstar from Hollywood's Golden Era, Joan Fontaine holds court at her home in Carmel, the Villa Fontana, a magnificent estate on the California coast framed by the ocean and Monterey pines.

With her blond hair pulled back, revealing those great cheekbones, and fuller than the 108 pounds she once weighed, but still neat-figured, Fontaine looks younger than the age she has just reached — 75.

She shares her only beauty secret: "I think it's lack of tension. I've arranged my life sensibly at last. No family worries, no economic worries, no career worries.

"At last, I can breathe the air, feel free, enjoy my roses and my gorgeous dogs (at least five), look at this view and be happy."

She wears no makeup. "I hate the stuff," says Fontaine, who was nominated three times for an Academy Award and won an Oscar in 1941 for her role in "Suspicion."

"I sleep with the windows open, and I never turn on the heat. Kay Ballard stayed here once and left the next day, saying, 'I can't stay in your igloo!' I think cold keeps your metabolism up, and your brain working."

Fontaine was born in Tokyo of English parents with the theatrical name of Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland. A remote descendant of two English kings, she says, "Everybody's got royal blood somewhere."

When her parents divorced, her mother married American retailer George Milan Fontaine. Joan took her stepfather's name. Her sister, Olivia de Havilland, had pre-empted the family name.

Fontaine made 46 films — "I've never seen any of them" — and acquired four husbands: actor Brian Aherne, producer William Dozier, producer Collier Young and Alfred Wright, golf editor of Sports Illustrated magazine.

Her marriage to Dozier produced a daughter, Deborah. The union with Young, who was once married to Ida Lupino, brought the family an adopted daughter, Martita. Suitors included actor/director John Houseman, cartoonist Charles Addams, tycoon Howard Hughes and Prince Aly Khan.

"But I'm not meant to be married," says Fontaine. "The moment I walk down the aisle it's over. I suddenly feel a heavy yoke on my shoulders."

Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the slain president, caught her between marriages.

"Joe came to a dinner party I gave, and between courses, he beckoned me into the living room. He said, 'Tell you what I'll do. I'll live here whenever I come to California. There's only one thing — I can't marry you.' I chucked him under the chin and returned to the table."

Years later, Fontaine told the story to President John F. Kennedy. She says he smiled and said, "Let's see, was he 65 then? Hope I'm the same when I'm his age."

From Fontaine's perspective, her rivalry with her sister Olivia began at birth. As the younger child, she says, "I was the usurper, and she the berater. My sister was born a lion, and I a tiger, and in the laws of the jungle, they were never friends."

The feelings persist 70 years later. At the time of the 1988 Academy Awards, an item was printed about the sisters being "booked just doors away (from each other) at the Beverly Hills Hotel, so Fontaine up and moved to another floor."

Not true, Fontaine insists. "Why would I want to be on another floor? I'd want to be in another hotel — actually, another state!"

Fontaine's career took off when Alfred Hitchcock cast her in "Rebecca" in 1940 and she received an Oscar nomination. Hitchcock, she said, "was a dear, chummy, sweet man with a wonderfully ribald, childish sense of humor."

Although she hasn't made a picture in more than 20 years, Fontaine hosted a talk show on cable television for 14 years and has appeared on the American Movie Classics cable channel telling Hollywood anecdotes. She still lectures to delighted audiences.

She wrote her autobiography, "No Bed of Roses," in 1978 and is a woman of many accomplishments: licensed pilot, expert golfer, interior decorator and Cordon Bleu chef.

Fontaine's mother, Lillian Ruse, wanted to be an actress but didn't particularly encourage Joan's ambitions. Although her mother claimed she never saw any of her films, Fontaine said, "I know she saw 'Rebecca' because she told Louella Parsons, 'My daughter has always seemed very phony in real life, but she's rather believable on the screen.' "

Fontaine laughs and adds another zinger from her mother. "She told a friend, 'Oh, my daughter, Joan, is not beautiful. She just knows how to make herself look like that.' "

Here are some of Fontaine's comments about other Hollywood stars she has known:

James Stewart. "I loved working with Jimmy! I was pregnant when I made 'You Gotta Stay Happy' (1948). Jimmy was divine. One of the really decent men I know. We saw each other at the Berlin Film Festival years later, and we'd both been through so much it was silly to talk. We just hugged. We knew. All we could do was hug each other."

Charles Boyer. "My favorite leading man! There are two kinds of actors: one who is proud to be an actor and it's his life, and the others who are ambitious to be stars and box-office favorites. He was the first kind, and so handsome, so charming, such a cultivated man."

Laurence Olivier. "The very first week of shooting 'Rebecca,' Hitchcock told me that Olivier wanted his fiancee, Vivien Leigh, in my role. Remember, the war had broken out, and Olivier wanted to go home. He didn't like America, and he didn't like films. And I think Vivien was nagging him. He wasn't getting his divorce."

Cary Grant. "After we made 'Suspicion,' he made 'Penny Serenade,' and I thought the film had won an Oscar for something (it didn't). So I went up to him and said, 'I'm so glad you got it!' And Cary turned on me and said, 'Keep your opinions to yourself. I don't care what you think.' Maybe he thought I was chortling that he lost. No way! Cary was absolutely superb!"