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Also Known As: Joan Burfield, Joan De Beauvoir De Havilland, Joan St John, Joan Burfield Died:
Born: October 22, 1917 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Tokyo, Japan Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

The younger sister of actress Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine is known for her exceptionally poised performances in Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, including Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca" (1940), and "Suspicion" (1941) which earned her an Academy Award, as well as collaborations with Orson Welles in "Jane Eyre" (1944) and "Othello" (1952). Her career trajectory took her from romantic female leads in "The Constant Nymph" (1943) to formidable older women in "Serenade" (1953) and "Island in the Sun" (1957) before winding down in the late sixties. Fontaine later brought Golden Age Hollywood glamour to Broadway and television, and excelled at a variety of non-acting endeavors, including cooking, golf and aviation. Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland in Tokyo, Japan on Oct. 22, 1917, she was the daughter of British patent attorney Walter de Havilland and Lillian Augusta Ruse, a former stage actress; as both she and her father would often recount, the family counted two English kings in their lineage. Plagued by illness as a child, including bouts with anemia and measles, Fontaine was sent with her sister and mother to live in Saratoga, CA, while her father remained in Japan. Her parents'...

The younger sister of actress Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine is known for her exceptionally poised performances in Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s, including Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca" (1940), and "Suspicion" (1941) which earned her an Academy Award, as well as collaborations with Orson Welles in "Jane Eyre" (1944) and "Othello" (1952). Her career trajectory took her from romantic female leads in "The Constant Nymph" (1943) to formidable older women in "Serenade" (1953) and "Island in the Sun" (1957) before winding down in the late sixties. Fontaine later brought Golden Age Hollywood glamour to Broadway and television, and excelled at a variety of non-acting endeavors, including cooking, golf and aviation.

Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland in Tokyo, Japan on Oct. 22, 1917, she was the daughter of British patent attorney Walter de Havilland and Lillian Augusta Ruse, a former stage actress; as both she and her father would often recount, the family counted two English kings in their lineage. Plagued by illness as a child, including bouts with anemia and measles, Fontaine was sent with her sister and mother to live in Saratoga, CA, while her father remained in Japan. Her parents' marriage was already in trouble prior to the move to the States, and the separation preceded a divorce, which became final when Fontaine was two. Academic tests proved Joan to be an exceptionally bright child with an IQ of 160, and she excelled at school. Home life, however, was a different story; she had an uneasy relationship with de Havilland, who was reportedly favored by her mother. The feud eventually became the stuff of Hollywood legend, and by all accounts, was alive and well when both sisters had entered their ninth decades.

Fontaine left Los Angeles in 1932 to live with her father in Japan. She returned a year later and began to develop an interest in acting like her sister, who was making a name for herself on stage. Fontaine adopted the surname "Burfield" for her stage debut opposite May Robson in a 1935 production of "Kind Lady." The story surrounding her stage name was part of the legend of the feud; allegedly, Fontaine's mother refused to allow her to bill herself as "de Havilland" because it would interfere with her sister's career, although other sources stated that Fontaine adopted the name without any prompting. Whatever the case, she soon found herself signed to RKO and made her screen debut with a small role in George Cukor's "No More Ladies" (1935), starring Joan Crawford. By 1937, she had changed her name again, this time using her stepfather's surname of Fontaine for a string of minor dramas and musicals. A break came with a major role opposite Fred Astaire in the George Gershwin musical "A Damsel in Distress" (1937), but the picture was a failure at the box office.

Her fortunes began to change in 1939 when she received excellent notices for her performance in "Gunga Din" as the love interest of British soldier Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and later as a naïve newlywed caught in the midst of Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Paulette Godard in Cukor's film adaptation of "The Women" (1939). That same year, she married her first husband, British actor Brian Aherne, which ended unhappily in divorce in 1945.

A chance seating next to producer David O. Selznick at a dinner party paved the way for her to audition for Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca" (1940), which became one of her greatest screen triumphs. The auditions were reportedly a grueling experience for all involved, and Hitchcock exploited her weariness for the film's unnamed narrator, who struggles with the adulation felt for the late title character, who is still worshipped by her new husband (Laurence Olivier) and his malevolent housekeeper (Judith Anderson). The film was a box office success, and made Fontaine both a Hollywood star and an Oscar nominee. However, she lost the trophy to Ginger Rogers in "Kitty Foyle" (1940).

The following year, she reunited with Hitchcock and her "Gunga Din" co-star Cary Grant for "Suspicion" (1941), a crackling psychological thriller about a young woman who discovers that the man she has married - Grant, in a decidedly uncharacteristic turn - is a compulsive liar, thief, and burgeoning murderer. The Academy nominated her again for Best Actress - opposite her sister, who had become a star in her own right thanks to "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) and "Gone With the Wind" (1939), and was nominated for "Hold Back the Dawn" (1941). Fontaine took home the Oscar that evening, and according to legend, she snubbed de Havilland's attempts to congratulate her as she walked to the podium. Years later, de Havilland would do the same to Fontaine when she accepted her award for "To Each His Own" (1946).

Fontaine soon settled into a series of romantic films which capitalized on her emotional turns in "Rebecca" and "Suspicion." Most were high quality efforts - she earned her third Oscar nomination as a naïve Belgian girl who falls for a self-absorbed composer (Charles Boyer) in Edmund Goulding's 1943 adaptation of Margaret Kennedy's novel "The Constant Nymph," and played Charlotte Bronte's eponymous heroine in "Jane Eyre" (1944) opposite Orson Welles as Rochester. "Frenchman's Creek" (1944) found her English noblewoman romanced by dashing pirate Arturo de Cordova, while "The Affairs of Susan" (1945), "From This Day Forward" (1945) and "Ivy" (1947) found her entangled in one or more love affairs, occasionally with unhappy results. Fontaine also found time to become an American citizen in 1943.

In 1946, she married actor/producer William Dozier - later the man responsible for the TV version of "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68) - with whom she had a daughter, Deborah, in 1948. She also formed a production company with Dozier, called Rampart Productions, which oversaw her 1948 film "Letter from an Unknown Woman" for director Max Ophuls. A heady romance in the style of her collaborations with Hitchcock, it preceded several more hits, including the Billy Wilder musical comedy "The Emperor Waltz" (1948) with Bing Crosby, and a gritty 1948 film noir, "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands," with Burt Lancaster.

Fontaine was absent from productions from 1949 but returned in 1950 for a string of sudsy melodramas, including "September Affair" (1950) and "Born to Be Bad" (1950). High emotion was not relegated to Fontaine's on-screen appearances; she divorced Dozier in 1951, and adopted a Peruvian orphan, Martita, in 1952, before marring screenwriter Collier Young that same year. Her film career continued on a largely positive if unremarkable path for the next decade or so. There were hits like "Ivanhoe" (1952) with Robert Taylor, and the Bob Hope comedy "Casanova's Big Night" (1954). She also had an unbilled cameo in Welles' film version of "Othello" in 1952. She tried her hand at stage work, appearing on Broadway opposite Anthony Perkins in "Tea and Sympathy" in 1954. By the mid-1950s, though, Fontaine was slowly moving out of the leading lady realm and into more mature character parts - "Serenade" (1955) found her a wealthy art patron whose snobbish attitude encourages Mario Lanza to pass her over in favor of poor but kindly Sara Montiel, while Robert Rossen's class drama "Island in the Sun" (1957) cast her as a high society matron in love with Harry Belafonte's up-and-coming politician. By the early 1960s, she was appearing more on television as a guest panelist on talk shows and quiz shows than in features. She brought her film career to a close with "The Witches" (1966), a horror film about modern-day black magic which she co-produced with England's legendary Hammer Films.

Fontaine remained active on stage throughout the sixties, most notably in "Forty Carats," which brought her to Broadway in 1968. She divorced Young in 1961 and married her fourth husband, journalist Alfred Wright Jr., in 1964 (they would later divorce in 1969).

In the 1970s, Fontaine made infrequent returns to acting in television movies and miniseries like "The Users" (1978) and the sudsy Danielle Steele adaptation "Crossings" (1986). She earned a Daytime Emmy nomination in 1980 for appearances on the soap opera "Ryan's Hope" (ABC, 1975-1989). In 1986, she stepped in for Loretta Young when the actress departed the Aaron Spelling-produced "Dark Mansions" (ABC), a Gothic-styled primetime soap that failed to earn a spot on the schedule. Her last appearance was for the Family Channel's Christmas-themed TV movie "Good King Wenceslas" (1994), where she lent her poise and dignity to Queen Ludmilla, grandmother to the title character.

In addition to her acting and producing careers, Fontaine excelled at numerous hobbies and pursuits in her private life. She studied cooking at the Cordon Bleu School, earned her pilot's license, was an expert golfer and fisherman, and won a championship as a member of a hot air ballooning team. In 1978, she published her autobiography, titled No Bed of Roses which detailed the infamous de Havilland blood feud that had lasted their entire lives.

r private life. She studied cooking at the Cordon Bleu School, earned her pilot's license, was an expert golfer and fisherman, and won a championship as a member of a hot air ballooning team. In 1978, she published her autobiography, titled No Bed of Roses which detailed the infamous de Havilland blood feud that had lasted their entire lives.

tire lives.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Thrill of Genius, The (1986) Herself
2.
3.
 Dark Mansions (1986) Margaret Drake
4.
 Users, The (1978) Grace St George
5.
 The Witches (1967)
6.
 The Devil's Own (1966) Gwen Mayfield
7.
 Tender Is the Night (1962) Baby Warren
8.
 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961) Dr. Susan Hiller
9.
 A Certain Smile (1958) Francoise Ferrand
10.
 Until They Sail (1957) Anne Leslie
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1919:
Immigrated to the U.S.
1932:
Returned to Japan at age 15, attending the American school of Tokyo; had falling out with father after about a year (date approximate)
:
Back in California, introduced to May Robson, making her stage debut as the ingenue in "Kind Lady" in support of Robson
:
Signed to a movie contract after her appearance in "Call It a Day" with Violet Hemming and Conway Tearle; when Hollywood bought the rights to the play, her role went to older sister Olivia de Havilland in the film
1935:
Film debut in "No More Ladies", billed as Joan Burfield
1937:
As a contract player at RKO, appeared in such films as "A Damsel in Distress" (1937, opposite Fred Astaire) and "Gunga Din" (1939), playing the only femme speaking role
1940:
Achieved star status with her appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca" (opposite Laurence Olivier); earned first Best Actress Academy Award nomination
1941:
Won Best Actress Oscar for "Suspicion" (with Cary Grant), also directed by Hitchcock; at the time, she was the youngest leading lady to ever take home the prize
1943:
Received Oscar nomination as Best Actress for "The Constant Nymph"
1944:
Had title role of "Jane Eyre", opposite Orson Welles
1947:
Played change of pace role as a murderess in "Ivy"
1948:
Starred opposite Louis Jourdan in Max Ophuls' "Letter From an Unknown Woman"; film made by her company, Rampart Productions
1948:
Acted opposite James Stewart in "You Gotta Stay Happy"
:
Began appearing on TV anthologies in the 1950s
1954:
Performed on Broadway in Robert Anderson's "Tea and Sympathy" with Anthony Perkins
1956:
Starred opposite Dana Andrews in Fritz Lang's "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt"
1957:
Played sister of Jean Simmons, Sandra Dee and Piper Laurie in Robert Wise's "Until They Sail", starring Paul Newman
1961:
Hosted and narrated the syndicated TV series "Perspectives on Greatness"
1966:
Left film acting after "The Witches"
1978:
Published autobiography "No Bed of Roses"
1978:
First TV-movie, "The Users" (ABC)
1980:
Received daytime Emmy nomination for her cameo on "Ryan's Hope" (ABC)
1985:
Appeared as one of the interviewees in the feature documentary about Alfred Hitchcock, "The Thrill of Genius"
1986:
First TV miniseries, "Crossings" (ABC)
1986:
Starred in Aaron Spelling-produced primetime gothic soaper, "Dark Mansions" (ABC); took over when Loretta Young pulled out of project; pilot not picked up by network
1994:
Had featured role as the title character's grandmother in the Family Channel TV-movie "Good King Wenceslas"
2002:
Made one-shot return to acting in "Rikki," a feature produced under the auspices of Animal Rights Awareness
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Los Gatos High School: Los Gatos , California -
Notre Dame Convent: Belmont , California -

Notes

Fontaine underwent hip replacement surgery on March 30, 1998

On winning the Oscar: "It was a bittersweet moment. I was appalled that I'd won over my sister (Olivia had also lost the previous year for 'Gone With the Wind'). My actor-husband (Brian Aherne) had never been an Oscar contender. A picture taken after the banquet of Brian sitting alone in the empty ballroom, feet up on a chair, my fur coat over his arm, waiting patiently for the photographers to finish with the winners, graphically illustrates the plight of a marriage when the wife is more successful than the husband." --Joan Fontaine

"Working with Cary Grant was wonderful, but I think he wanted a departure from all those light comedies he had been doing. He saw 'Suspicion' as his great dramatic role. He did kill me in the original cut, but at the preview, the audience simply refused to accept him as the murderer ... Halfway through the filming, Cary realized that the whole picture was being told through the eyes of the woman, which gave him quite a shock, since he had given his approval to my being cast on the assumption that he would get to kill me ... He was not a casual actor at all, like Bing Crosby. When Bing arrived, however, he had his writers with him. When we were doing 'The Emperor Waltz', he would appear and say to Billy Wilder, the director and co-writer, 'These are the lines we're doing today.' And Billy would say, 'Well, I don't think so.' And so Bing would say, 'Fine, I'll be playing golf, and when you decide to shoot my lines, I'll be back.'" --From a 1987 interview with Gregory Speck.

Fontaine was a pupil of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School and as a golfer is particularly proud of her hole-in-one shot at California's Cypress Point Club and another at Carmel Valley. A licensed pilot and member of the winning team in an international balloon race over Holland, she is also a recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Brian Aherne. Actor. Married in 1939; divorced in 1945.
husband:
William Dozier. Producer. Married in 1946; divorced in 1951; formed Rampart Productions with Fontaine.
husband:
Collier Young. Producer, screenwriter. Married in 1952; divorced in 1961.
husband:
Alfred Wright Jr. Journalist. Divorced.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
Walter Augustus de Havilland. Professor, patent attorney. Divorced Fontaine's mother c. 1919; de Havilland family listed in De Brett's peerage and Burke's Landed Gentry; related to at least two English kings (Edward II and Henry VIII).
step-father:
George M Fontaine.
sister:
Olivia de Havilland. Actor. Older; born on July 1, 1916.
cousin:
Geoffrey de Havilland. Businessman. Founder of de Havilland aviation company, a precursor to British Aerospace.
daughter:
Deborah Dozier Potter. Father, William Dozier.
daughter:
Martita. Adopted in 1951.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"No Bed of Roses"
"Sisters: The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine"
"Joan Fontaine: A Bio-Bibliography" Greenwood Press

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