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Joan Fontaine

Best known for her roles in Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Suspicion as well as her ongoing feud with sister Olivia de Havilland.

Joan Fontaine

Filmography

1935      

No More Ladies

 

1937      

A Million to One

Quality Street

The Man Who Found Himself

You Can’t Beat Love

Music for Madame

A Damsel in Distress

 

1938      

Maid’s Night Out

Blond Cheat

Sky Giant

The Duke of West Point

 

1939      

Gunga Din

Man of Conquest

The Women

 

1940      

Rebecca

 

1941      

Suspicion

 

1942      

This Above All

 

1943      

The Constant Nymph

Jane Eyre

 

1944      

Frenchman’s Creek

 

1945      

The Affairs of Susan

 

1946      

From This Day Forward

 

1947      

Ivy

 

1948      

Letter from an Unknown Woman

The Emperor Waltz

You Gotta Stay Happy

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands

 

1950      

September Affair

Born to Be Bad

 

1951      

Darling, How Could You!

 

1952      

Something to Live For

Othello

Ivanhoe

 

1953      

Decameron Nights

Flight to Tangier

The Bigamist

 

1954      

Casanova’s Big Night

 

1956      

Serenade

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

 

1957      

Island in the Sun

Until They Sail

 

1958      

A Certain Smile

 

1961      

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

 

1962      

Tender Is the Night

 

1966      

The Witches

Awards

Joan Fontaine was nominated for a Best Actress in a Leading Role Academy Award three times and won once.

You know, I’ve had a helluva life. Not just the acting part. I’ve flown in an international balloon race. I’ve piloted my own plane. I’ve ridden to the hounds. I’ve done a lot of exciting things. ~ Joan Fontaine

Joan Fontaine was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland; October 22, 1917 in Tokyo, Japan, to English parents. Her father, Walter Augustus de Havilland (August 31, 1872 – May 20, 1968), was educated at the University of Cambridge and served as an English professor at the Imperial University in Tokyo before becoming a patent attorney.  Her mother, Lilian Augusta de Havilland Fontaine (née Ruse; June 11, 1886 – February 20, 1975), was educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and became a stage actress who left her career after going to Tokyo with her husband.

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 geishas; the divorce was not finalized, however, until February 1925.

Taking a physician’s advice, Lilian de Havilland moved Joan‍—‌reportedly a sickly child who had developed anemia following a combined attack of the measles and a streptococcal infection‍—‌and her elder sister, Olivia de Havilland, to the United States. The family settled in Saratoga, California, and Fontaine’s health improved dramatically. She was educated at nearby Los Gatos High School, and was soon taking diction lessons alongside her elder sister. When she was 16 years old, Joan returned to Japan to live with her father. There she attended the Tokyo School for Foreign Children, graduating in 1935.

Fontaine made her stage debut in the West Coast production of Call It a Day (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 credited as Joan Burfield.

Although Fontaine, under 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 and Quality Street (both 1937), opposite Katharine Hepburn. The studio considered her a rising star, and touted The Man Who Found Himself (1937) 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. Selznick and she 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 sometime before her 22nd birthday.