Joan Fontaine.  Cary Grant’s frightened wife in Suspicion, a repressed second wife in Rebecca, the na├»ve young bride in The Women.
Joan Fontaine died Sunday at age 96 in her Carmel, California home, leaving behind a gallery of characters falling within her range as a shy porcelain rose, with occasional forays into glamour parts.  Like many actresses of her age, she finished her career in horror films and television soaps.  And like many of them, she was oft-married and divorced – four times.
I met Fontaine years ago and was struck dumb by her silky beauty and presence.  She wore beige; her hair and her makeup were beige, highlighting her beautiful hazel eyes. Fontaine was charming but cool, perhaps a cautious hangover from early family life.
Fontaine was born in Tokyo but raised in the US by her single stage mother, who incidentally, she claims fostered her lifelong feud with her sister Olivia De Havilland.  Joan says Olivia broke her collarbone in one of their many fist fights.  In Hollywood they competed for men, roles and awards and both won Oscars.  They never reunited.  Fontaine quipped “I married first, won the Oscar (for Suspicion in 1941) before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!”
Fontaine was estranged from her daughters for a time because they kept in contact with their aunt.  It’s a shame she is known best for family turmoil.  She did so many other interesting things:  becoming a pilot, an award winning hot air balloonist, a Cordon Bleu chef, licensed interior decorator, hole-in-one golfer, radio host, gardener, philanthropist and author.
The Joan Fontaine Heirloom Rose created in 1996 reflects the English rose roles she often played.  Her acting range wasn’t broad, and her appeal lies largely in her vivid depiction of vulnerability, hesitation and a strong interior life.
Rest in Peace, beautiful lady.
Anne Brodie’s Top 3 Joan Fontaine films:
Suspicion – Alfred Hitchcock, 1941
Just three people, one interior set, a cliff and a car, not much but it’s all Hitchcock needed to create a riveting study in terror.
Letter From an Unknown Woman – Max Ophuls, 1948
A melodramatic but beautifully made “womans picture” about love, missed opportunities and regret in 1900 Vienna.
Rebecca – Alfred Hitchcock, 1940
The star in Fontaine’s crown as she battles for selfhood in her new marriage, suspecting her husband is still in love with his late wife. Fontaine’s vulnerability at it’s prettiest.