Advertisement
Advertisement

Joan Fontaine (1917 - 2013)

A photo of Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine
1917 - 2013
Born
October 22, 1917
Tokyo Japan
Death
December 15, 2013
Carmel Highlands, Monterey County, California United States 93923
Other Names
Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, Joan Burfield, Joan St. John
Summary
Joan Fontaine was born on October 22, 1917 in Tokyo. She is the child of Lillian Fontaine and Walter De Havilland, with sibling Olivia. She died on December 15, 2013 in Carmel Highlands, California United States at age 96.
5 Followers
Updated: November 13, 2021
ADVERTISEMENT BY ANCESTRY.COM
Advertisement
Introduction
Joan Fontaine (born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland) was a famous actress during Hollywood's Golden Age. The younger sister of another award winning actress (Olivia De Havilland), Joan won an Academy Award for Best Actress (Suspicion, 1942) and was nominated twice more - in 1940 for Rebecca and in 1943 for The Constant Nymph. She was married 4 times: Brian Aherne (1939 - 1945), William Dozier (1946 - 1951), Collier Young (1952 - 1961) and Alfred Wright Jr (1964 - 1969). One child resulted from her second marriage and, in 1951, she "informally" adopted a 4 yr old Peruvian girl. (The girl's parents allowed Joan custody so that she could provide a better life for her.) Scroll down to read an obituary from the Los Angeles Times.
Show & Tell Her Story
Share your memories, stories, and photos so that Joan is always remembered.
Update biography

Joan's biography

This collaborative biography is for you to show & tell Joan's life so that she is always remembered. What's this?

Biography
Joan Fontaine
Most commonly known as
Joan Fontaine
Full name
Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, Joan Burfield, Joan St. John
Other names or aliases
Unknown. Did Joan move a lot? Where was her last known location?
Last known residence
Female
Gender
Joan Fontaine was born on in Tokyo Japan
Birth
Joan Fontaine died on in Carmel Highlands, Monterey County, California United States 93923
Death
Birth
Death
Natural causes at age 96
Cause of death
Do you know the final resting place - gravesite in a cemetery or location of cremation - of Joan Fontaine?
Burial / Funeral
Heritage

Ethnicity & Lineage

What is Joan's ethnicity and where did her parents, grandparents & great-grandparents come from?

Nationality & Locations

UK/US
Childhood

Education

Tokyo School for Foreign Children Los Gatos High School, Los Gatos CA

Religion

Episcopalian

Baptism

Was Joan baptized?
Adulthood

Professions

Actress

Personal Life

Joan was a licensed pilot, an accomplished interior decorator, and a Cordon Bleu-level chef.

Military Service

Did Joan serve in the military or did a war or conflict interfere with her life?
Obituary

Average Age

Life Expectancy

Looking for a different Joan Fontaine?
View other bios of people named Joan Fontaine

DEC. 15, 2013 Los Angeles Times: Joan Fontaine dies at 96; star of ‘Suspicion’ and ‘Rebecca’

Joan Fontaine, the coolly beautiful 1940s actress who won an Academy Award for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” and who became almost as well-known for her lifelong feud with her famous older sister, Olivia de Havilland, died Sunday. She was 96. Fontaine died of natural causes at her home in Carmel, said her assistant, Susan Pfeiffer. In addition to winning an Academy Award as best actress for “Suspicion,” Fontaine was also nominated as best actress for her role in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” (1940) and, three years later, for Edmund Goulding’s “The Constant Nymph.” She gave her Oscar-winning performance as the threatened wife in “Suspicion,” opposite Cary Grant, in 1941, the same year for which De Havilland was nominated for “Hold Back the Dawn” — a head-to-head sibling competition that had the Hollywood press buzzing. “Now what had I done!” Fontaine wrote in her 1978 autobiography, “No Bed of Roses,” of her reaction at the awards ceremony when Fontaine’s name was announced. “All the animus we’d felt toward each other as children, the hair-pullings, the savage wrestling matches, the time Olivia tried to fracture my collarbone, all came rushing back in kaleidoscopic imagery.” Career totals for the sisters would be: Fontaine, three Oscar nominations and one win; De Havilland, five nominations and two wins. De Havilland, partly because of her role as Melanie in 1939’s classic “Gone With the Wind,” would be the one with the more enduring film legacy. Although she continued to make films into the 1960s and appeared on Broadway and on television, Fontaine’s brief stardom peaked in the early 1940s. Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born Oct. 22, 1917, in Tokyo to Walter de Havilland, a British patent attorney, and Lillian Ruse, an actress. Joan’s parents separated when she was a small child, and she moved to the United States with her mother and sister Olivia, who was 15 months older. After their mother remarried to George Fontaine, the De Havilland girls grew up in Saratoga in Northern California, where they acted in school plays. But family life was chaotic, and by age 15 Joan was back in Japan with her father and his second wife. When that did not go well, Walter de Havilland put Joan on a ship to the U.S. with $50. She didn’t see him again for 16 years. When Fontaine landed in San Francisco, Olivia was already touring as Hermia in Max Reinhardt’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which would lead to a contract at Warner Bros. For a time, Joan lived with her sister and mother in Hollywood, but the sisters’ rivalry deepened as Olivia’s acting career met with early success. “You see, in our family Olivia was always the breadwinner, and I the no-talent, no-future little sister not good for much more than paying her share of the rent,” Fontaine told columnist Hedda Hopper in 1949. It was an oft-repeated theme. In 1992, Fontaine told journalist Angela Fox Dunn that, as the younger child, she was “the usurper,” while de Havilland was “the berator.” “My sister was born a lion, and I a tiger, and in the laws of the jungle, they were never friends.” On another occasion in 1978, she told The Times: “As my older sibling, Olivia could have looked after me. But au contraire, her desire my whole life has been to get me off-balance.” At the time of that interview, the sisters had not spoken since their mother’s death several years earlier. During the years when Olivia was becoming a star, Joan, who had been sickly as a child, had blossomed into a beautiful young woman, and soon she was embarking on a Hollywood career of her own. She began in films with a role in “No More Ladies,” starring Joan Crawford, and soon was under contract at RKO. Not able to use the family name because of her sister, she first became Joan Burfield and for a brief time Joan St. John, and finally took the name of her stepfather, Fontaine. She became a naturalized citizen in 1943. Fontaine spent several years doing B movies and minor roles before one night, sitting at dinner next to producer David O. Selznick, she conversed with him about the book she had just read, Daphne du Maurier’s romance “Rebecca.” Selznick eyed the young actress and said, “I bought it today. Will you test for it?” “Would I!” Fontaine replied. Fontaine was pitted against such stars of the era as Vivien Leigh, Susan Hayward, Virginia Mayo, Margaret Sullavan, Anne Baxter and Loretta Young. But the casting process was so protracted that by the time Fontaine got the part, she was thoroughly demoralized. This suited Hitchcock in preparing her for her role as “the second Mrs. de Winter.” “Hitchcock built up his power over Fontaine while keeping her nervous and vulnerable enough to enhance the nervous, vulnerable character she was playing,” Patrick McGilligan wrote of Hitchcock in his 2003 biography of the director. Fontaine was further humiliated when her costar, Laurence Olivier, treated her with disdain, in part because he was angry that Leigh, his then-fiancee and later wife, had not gotten the role. “Hitch said that Larry had just come to him, saying Fontaine was awful and that Vivien was the only one who should play opposite him,” Fontaine wrote in “No Bed of Roses.” “I could hardly be friends with [him] after that.” These problems aside, Fontaine was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her first major role. Her next role was also for Hitchcock, in “Suspicion,” playing the frightened wife of Cary Grant whom she suspects of trying to kill her. The film was given a Hollywood ending — her suspicions turn out to be a misunderstanding — because the filmmakers believed that Grant’s fans would not accept him as a murderer, as originally written. But Grant was quoted as saying that the casting was perfect because “anyone who knows me realizes that I couldn’t be married to Joan Fontaine for more than 24 hours without wanting to wring her neck.’' In the 1940s, Fontaine also starred in “This Above All,” “The Constant Nymph,” “Jane Eyre,” “Frenchman’s Creek,” “The Affairs of Susan,” “From This Day Forward,” “Ivy,” “Letter From an Unknown Woman,” “The Emperor Waltz,” “You Gotta Stay Happy” and “Kiss the Blood Off My Hands.” Her favorite film of her career was “The Constant Nymph,” directed by Goulding, whom she called “an actor’s dream,” and costarring Charles Boyer, “my favorite leading man.” She received her third Oscar nomination for her role as Tessa Sanger, who falls in love with an older man (Boyer). “Touching, intelligent and beautifully realized,” critic Leonard Maltin later wrote of the film. But despite these triumphs, Fontaine’s career faltered, and she never got the kind of roles that would build on her successes. Film historian David Thomson wrote that after her Oscar, Fontaine “went after stately, romantic parts, lacking the real emotional sophistication of a Lombard or a Loy, and entered into weepies without the conviction of a Joan Crawford.” In Hitchcock’s movies and later in Max Ophuls’ “Letter From an Unknown Woman,” Thomson said, she “was so good as to leave us baffled by her general indifference.” Her last lead film performance was in “The Devil’s Own” (1966), in which the actress, who was nearing 50, became the latest aging star consigned to making a horror movie, joining contemporaries such as her sister and Bette Davis. Fontaine’s roles after that consisted of films for television and an occasional appearance in a TV series. In the 1950s and ‘60s, she also appeared on Broadway in “Tea and Sympathy” and “Forty Carats.” She continued to act in dinner theaters and for many years hosted a cable television show. She appeared regularly on the American Movie Classics cable TV station telling tales about Hollywood. In 1986, Fontaine was recruited to replace Loretta Young in a TV pilot for the gothic soap opera “Dark Mansions.” Fontaine liked her matriarch character, whom she called “a bossy lady who has a spine of steel but the manners of the old school” — some would say a fair description of herself. But ABC did not go ahead with the series. Her final role in film was Queen Ludmilla in 1994’s “Good King Wenceslas,” a Christmas movie for television. Fontaine was an avid sportswoman who rode horses, became a licensed pilot, was a good golfer (she made two holes-in-one), fished and flew in a hot-air balloon. She disclosed in interviews that in later years she was estranged not only from her sister but from Deborah, her daughter from her marriage to producer William Dozier, and Martita, her adopted daughter born to impoverished Peruvians, whom she brought home with her in 1951 after a trip to view the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu. ADVERTISEMENT She once quipped about children at a lecture in Laguna Beach: “You can acquire enemies. Why give birth to them?” Fontaine’s home in Brentwood burned down during a wildfire in 1961. After living for many years in New York City, she moved in 1984 to Villa Fontana, her estate in Carmel. Besides Dozier, whom she divorced in 1951, Fontaine was married to and divorced from actor Brian Aherne, producer-screenwriter Collier Young and journalist Alfred Wright Jr. In addition to her sister, she is survived by her daughters and grandchildren.
Kathy Pinna
Kathy Pinna shared
on Dec 06, 2020 9:40 PM
Advertisement
Advertisement

Family Tree

Joan's immediate relatives including parents, siblings, partnerships and children in the Fontaine family tree.

Friends

Friends can be as close as family. Add Joan's family friends, and her friends from childhood through adulthood.

Add bio

Photos

Photos and snapshots taken of Joan Fontaine, her Fontaine family, and locations and places or events from her life.

ADVERTISEMENT BY ANCESTRY.COM
Advertisement

Comments

Leave a comment to ask questions, share information, or simply to show that you care about Joan.

Cancel

Obituary

Share Joan's obituary or write your own to preserve her legacy.

Joan Fontaine passed away on December 15, 2013 in Carmel Highlands, California United States at 96 years of age. She was born on October 22, 1917 in Tokyo. She is the child of Lillian Fontaine and Walter De Havilland, with sibling Olivia.
ADVERTISEMENT BY ANCESTRY.COM
Advertisement

1917 - 2013 World Events

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Joan's lifetime.

In 1917, in the year that Joan Fontaine was born, Russian government offices were seized and the Romanov's Winter Palace was stormed in the Russian February and October Revolutions. The February revolution resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas and a coalition of the Parliament and workers parties taking control of the government. The October revolution resulted in Lenin and the Bolsheviks taking complete control.

In 1930, Joan was merely 13 years old when on August 6th, N.Y. Supreme Court Judge Joseph Crater went through papers in his office, destroyed some of them, withdrew all his money from the bank - $5,150, sold his stock, met friends at a restaurant for dinner and disappeared after getting into a taxi (or walking down the street - his friends' testimony later changed). His disappearance was reported to the police on September 3rd - almost a month later. His wife didn't know what happened, his fellow Justices had no idea, and his mistresses (he had several) said that they didn't know. While his disappearance was front page news, his fate was never discovered and after 40 years the case was closed, still without knowing if Crater was dead or alive.

In 1961, when she was 44 years old, on May 5th, Navy Cmdr. Alan B. Shepard, Jr., made the first manned Project Mercury flight, MR-3, in a spacecraft he named Freedom 7. He was the second man to go into space, the first was Yuri Gagarin - a Soviet cosmonaut.

In 1972, at the age of 55 years old, Joan was alive when on November 7th, Richard Nixon won re-election, amidst the dawning knowledge of the Watergate scandal, by 60.7% to anti-war candidate George McGovern's 37.5%.

In 1991, by the time she was 74 years old, on December 25th, the Soviet Union flag was lowered and replaced by the Russian tricolor flag. It was the end of the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as President of the Soviet Union and Boris Yeltsin became President of the Russian Republic.

Back to Top