December 15, 2013
Joan Fontaine Dead at 96
She and older sister Olivia de Havilland are the only siblings to win Oscars.
Joan Fontaine, who died Sunday night at age 96 at her home in Carmel, Calif., represented more than an Oscar-winning career spanning almost six decades: She was one of the industry's last living links to Hollywood's golden era of the 1930s and '40s.
While she was nominated for two Oscars and won another, she's known as much for her relationships with Hollywood icons including Alfred Hitchcock and sister Olivia de Havilland — a bitter rival.
A polished actress, Fontaine began in minor roles in movies such as A Million to One and Quality Street, opposite Katharine Hepburn, both in 1937.
But during a dinner party with famed producer David O. Selznick, he asked her to audition for a part in the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca, to be directed by newcomer Alfred Hitchcock.
She earned an Academy Award nomination for that film, and followed it the next year with a best actress win for Hitchcock's Suspicion, co-starring Cary Grant. The trophy would mark the only Academy Award-winning acting performance of Hitchcock's career.
Fontaine scored a third best-actress Oscar nomination for her role in The Constant Nymph in 1943, and had notable turns as Charlotte Bronte's heroine in Jane Eyre in 1944 with Orson Welles, as well as roles in 1950's September Affair and in 1957's Island in the Sun.
But it was Hitchcock's fancy for blondes that skyrocketed Fontaine's career — and exacerbated an already-fierce rivalry with older sister de Havilland.
Fontaine, who changed her last name because the family didn't want the two actresses to share one, faced her sister for an Academy Award in 1942, when Fontaine was up for Suspicion, de Havilland for Hold Back the Dawn. Fontaine took the statuette that night, though de Havilland would win two others, for 1949's The Heiress and 1946's To Each His Own. The night of Fontaine's win, she famously rejected her sister's congratulations, and the relationship became so estranged that they stopped speaking. They remain the only siblings to win Oscars.
A licensed pilot, Fontaine was an accomplished interior decorator who married and divorced four times, and her husbands included Batman TV show producer William Dozier and British actor Brian Aherne.
In 1980, Fontaine was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for an appearance on the soap opera Ryan's Hope, and two years later headed the jury at the Berlin Film Festival.
Fontaine, who emerged from retirement for the 1994 Family Channel movie Good King Wenceslas, is survived by two daughters.