Joan Fontaine, star of stage and screen, died today in her California home of natural causes. She was 96.
Joan Fontaine was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland in Tokyo, Japan in 1917. A series of serious illnesses to her and her sister, Olivia, compelled her mother to relocated the girls to California. Once Olivia hit her teens, she began to try her hand as actress. Joan followed soon after.
Fontaine made her stage debut in a 1935 West Coast production of Call It a Day. To avoid confusion with her older sister, she changed her stage name first to Joan Burfield and then finally to Joan Fontaine. Her work in that play garnered the attention of RKO, who soon signed her to a studio contract. She performed in a number of films during her four year contract, most notably The Women, but she failed to rise up in the RKO studio system and her contract was not renewed.
A chance conversation with David O. Selznick about the novel Rebecca led Fontaine to be asked to test, and eventually be cast, for a role in the silver screen adaptation of the book. The film would mark Alfred Hitchcock’s first American directorial job.
She would be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award in 1940 for that role, but lose the statute to Ginger Rogers. She would win the award next year for her performance in Hitchcock’s Suspicion. She would receive a third nomination in 1943 for her work in The Constant Nymph.
Her rivalry with her sister Olivia was legendary. The rivalry started between the two at a very young age and continued through their years in Hollywood. The feud reached its culmination in 1975 when the sisters stopped talking to each other completely.
Fontaine retired from acting in 1994.