The Guardian (17/Dec/2013) - 'Beauty, grace, eloquence': Joan Fontaine dies at 96
- article: 'Beauty, grace, eloquence': Joan Fontaine dies at 96
- author(s): Andrew Pulver
- newspaper: The Guardian (17/Dec/2013)
- keywords: Academy Awards, Alfred Hitchcock, Daphne du Maurier, David O. Selznick, Joan Fontaine, Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941)
'Beauty, grace, eloquence': Joan Fontaine dies at 96
On a sad weekend for the film world, the news of the death of Peter O'Toole was followed by the passing of a leading light of an earlier generation: Joan Fontaine. Fontaine, perhaps best remembered as the prototype of the "Hitchcock blonde" - attractive, malleable, neurotic - died at the age of 96 on Sunday morning at home in Carmel, California.
Fontaine's most notable role was arguably that of the "second Mrs de Winter" in Rebecca, the 1940 adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's gothic novel that marked Alfred Hitchcock's Hollywood debut. She gained an Oscar nomination for the role - and won the best actress award a year later for a second Hitchcock film, Suspicion.
At the latter Academy Award ceremony, Fontaine defeated her sister, Olivia de Havilland (nominated for Hold Back the Dawn); the rivalry focused attention on a feud between the pair that had smouldered since childhood.
In 1949, Fontaine was reported by Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as telling her: "You see, in our family Olivia was always the breadwinner, and I the no-talent, no-future little sister not good for much more than paying her share of the rent."
Though the sisters apparently did not speak at the funeral for their mother in 1975, insiders have claimed they were in communication in Fontaine's last years.
Born in 1917 as Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, Fontaine followed her elder sister into acting. She had impressed producer David O Selznick and although she went up for Scarlett O'Hara's best friend Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind (a role that eventually went to Olivia), Selznick cast her in Rebecca.
Although Fontaine worked with big-name directors in the late 40s and 50s, including Billy Wilder, Max Ophuls, Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray and Anthony Mann, another big hit eluded her and her Hollywood career was over by the the 60s.
Fontaine's passing was marked by fans of Hollywood's golden age, including Interview With a Vampire author Anne Rice, who wrote: "I will never forget your beauty, grace, eloquence and demeanour. You were a great actress and a true star."