Joan Fontaine: Enchantress of the Golden Age
by Kimmy of KimmyStyle: Where Classic Refinement and Style Intersect
She was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland to British patent attorney Walter de Havilland and his wife, Lillian Augusta Ruse, a former stage actress. Walter possessed a lucrative practice in Japan where Joan was born on October 22nd, 1917 in Tokyo, but due to the fact Joan and her older sister Olivia suffered from anemia and measles, their parents felt it would be best to settle in California. Joan was then sent with her mother and sister to live in Saratoga, whilst her father remained in Japan. With a troubled marriage already afoot prior to the move, the de Havilland’s divorced when Joan was two years of age. Joan was an exceptionally intelligent child, possessing an IQ of 160 and excelled throughout her school years at Oak Street School in Saratoga. But her life at home was a far different storyher mother greatly favored Olivia which caused strife between the two sisters. And in 1932 Joan left California to live with her father in Japanonly to return a year later with a keen interest in acting, like her sister who had begun making a name for herself on stage.
Joan adopted the surname of "Burfield" for her stage debut in a 1935 production of Kind Lady. It is reported this name change greatly added to the ongoing feud between she and her sister Olivia. You see, allegedly Fontaine’s mother refused to allow Joan to bill herself as de Havilland because it would interfere with her sister’s career. But the name change had no bearing on her obtaining a career path of her own, for in 1935 she tested for MGM where she garnered a small role in No More Ladies.
By 1937 she changed her name againadopting her stepfather’s surname of Fontaine and in 1937 her huge break came opposite Fred Astaire in George Gershwin’s A Damsel in Distress, though it failed miserably at the box office. She continued gaining more acting momentum in such films as Gunga Din, Man of Conquest, and The Women in 1939. During this same year she married British actor Brian Aherne (the couple divorced in 1945).
A chance seating next to producer David O. Selznick at a dinner party produced an audition for one of my personal favoritesAlfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. And although this film became one of her greatest triumphs onscreen and made Fontaine an Oscar nominee and a Hollywood star, it was reported that Laurence Olivier “treated her horribly” on the set as he wanted the role of Mrs. De Winter to go to his then girlfriend Vivien Leigh.
In 1941 she won the Best Actress Oscar for Suspicion, beating out Olivia for Hold Back the Dawn. Joan starred in numerous films thereafter such as The Constant Nymph (earning her third Oscar nomination), Jane Eyre, Frenchman’s Creek, The Affairs of Susan and From This Day Forward.
In 1943 she became an American citizen and in 1946 married producer/actor William Dozier (later responsible for 1966-68’s Batman). The two had one daughter Deborah in 1948 and began a production company called Rampart Productions. In 1951 she divorced Dozier and adopted a Peruvian orphan named Martita. She married screenwriter Collier Young in 1952, and for the next ten years had a string of hits in the form of Ivanhoe, Casanova’s Big Night, Serenade, Island in the Sun and her last movie offering, The Witches in 1966. She divorced Young in 1961 and remained active throughout the sixties via the stage starring in Broadway’s Forty Carats. She married her fourth and final husband journalist Alfred Wright Jr. on January 27th, 1964 only for it to end in divorce in 1969. More heartache ensued as her relationship with her adoptive daughter Martita soured and Martita ran away from home. When she was later found Fontaine was not allowed contact with her as the adoption was not valid in the United States. Martita maintained contact however with Fontaine’s daughter Deborah but never saw or spoke to her adoptive mother again.
In the 1970’s Joan made infrequent returns to acting via television movies and miniseries such as The Users, Danielle Steele’s version of Crossings, Ryan’s Hope and Dark Mansions.
She also excelled at many hobbies and pursuits throughout her life as well becoming a seasoned pilot, studying at the Cordon Bleu School, becoming an expert golfer and fisherman, a champion balloonist as well as a recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award.
In 1978 she published her autobiography titled, No Bed of Roses which details her long running feud with her famous sibling Olivia de Havilland.
Although Joan may have been a participant in Tinseltown’s most famous sibling rivalry of the forties, she will remain a contented, exceptionally poised Grand dame of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Continue on Joan!
Sisters: The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, Charles Higham 1984
No Bed of Roses, Joan Fontaine 1978
Joan Fontaine: A Bio-Bibliography, Marsha Lynn
By Kimmy | Originally published on February 25, 2010
Post title: "Joan Fontaine: Enchantress of the Golden Age"
KimmyStyle: Where Classic Refinement and Style Intersect
Republished with the author's permission
Administrator's Note: The latest news about and/or related to Ms. Fontaine can be found on the News section of this blog.