Today, Hollywood’s fourth oldest female living legend, Joan Fontaine, turns 96 years young.
(The third oldest female living legend happens to be Fontaine’s own older sister, Olivia de Havilland, who turned 97, three months ago. The oldest living legend, who’s outlived all the legendary stars of her age group, happens to be Luise Rainer, who celebrated her 103rd Birthday, in January this year.)
Wishing Joan Fontaine a life of content, peace and happiness, for the rest of her journey through her physical existence on this planet.
I was introduced to Joan Fontaine, as a kid, somewhere in the mid-1980’s, when I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), an adaptations of Daphne du Maurier’s most notable adult piece of literature. Rebecca (1940) was my first film review as a kid, in school, aged about 10 or 11. Rebecca, du Maurier’s novel, was my very first mature novel, aged 12½/13. Then as a journalist, just over a decade go, I wrote a feature length article on Hitchcock, for his 22nd Death anniversary, for a local newspaper. And when I did my M.A. in International Cinema, my final dissertation was on Marriage in Hitchcock Films: from Rebecca to Marnie. And for my second masters, M.A. in Painting, I started off my first semester by paying a tribute to Hitchcock and his films.
Since Joan Fontaine has appeared in more than one Hitchcock film, she (along with the two very varied characters she’s played in Hitchcockian cinema) has played quite a significant role when it comes to my own academic performance. Besides that I’ve seen a few non-Hitchcockian Fontaine flicks where her artistic accomplishments have been just as superb.
Born on the 22nd of October, 1917; in Tokyo, Japan; to British parents; Fontaine spent her early childhood in Japan, but due to various illness that she, and her elder sister, were prone to, and once her parents divorced, the two girls moved along with their mother to California, USA. Fontaine recovered pretty soon, and by 16, Fontaine was back in Japan, studying at The American School there.
After graduating, by 1935, Fontaine was once again in California, where she started her acting career, both on stage and the screen. Fontaine’s mother too was a stage artiste, Lillian Fontaine, but she gave it up when she got married; and would return years later, in the 1940’s, only after both her daughters had achieved fame. Joan Fontaine made her big screen debut with No More Ladies (1935), alongside veterans Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. Throughout the 1930’s she tried to make a name for herself, but failed to make a strong impression with her audiences. But soon her luck was to change.
One night at a dinner function, Fontaine found herself sitting next to film producer, David O. Selznick. The two began discussing Daphne du Maurier’s acclaimed novel Rebecca, which O. Selznick was planning to make into a movie, and O. Selznick casually asked her to audition for the nameless heroine of the book. After enduring six gruelling months of screen tests after screen tests, along with hundreds of other actresses, Fontaine finally saw the light of day. In 1939, just before her 22nd Birthday, she bagged the role that would catapult her towards stardom and a great repute as an actress.
Joan Fontaine garnered her first Academy Award nomination, for Best Actress, in 1941, for Alfred Hitchcock’s very first Hollywood venture; and the first and only Hitchcock film to ever win a Best Picture Oscar; Rebecca (1940). Though she did not win that year, the following year she won the Best Actress Oscar, for yet another Hitchcock film, Suspicion (1941). Suspicion was also director Alfred Hitchcock’s first film as a producer as well.
Post that Joan Fontaine earned great repute in movies like The Constant Nymph (1943); which earned Fontaine her third Oscar nomination; Jane Eyre (1943), Frenchman’s Creek (1944), From This Day Forward (1946), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Emperor Waltz (1948), Othello (1952), Ivanhoe (1952), and Tender is the Night (1962), to name a few. Besides film, she had a successful stage career as well. She retired from acting altogether in 1994, after appearing in the television movie Good King Wenceslas (1994).
Today she lives a relaxed life with her dogs, at her home, Villa Fontana, in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, USA. Fontaine used to correspond with her fans on a regular basis, writing to them personally, until her 90th birthday. She even has her own official ‘Facebook’ page where fans can still write to her today.
(Do chk out my various lists/critiques related to Joan Fontaine on IMDB: Why I love …. ,No Name , These are a Few of my Favourites ,Joan Fontaine (1940 & the 40’s) ‘TOP FIVE’,50-50’s ,etc..etc…)
Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense