copy of the Golden Age program comes
to us from the collection of Steve Lewis. In it the Academy
actress recalls her career in radio and films.
Joan Fontaine was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland on October 22, 1917 in Tokyo. Her mother studied acting at the Royal London's Academy of Dramatic Arts and her father was a patent attorney. Her older sister, Olivia Mary, was born July 1, 1916. In 1919, due to the poor health of Joan and Olivia, their mother decided to move to the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California. Their parents were divorced shortly thereafter; Mrs. de Havilland later married George M. Fontaine that same year.
The California climate agreed with Olivia, but Joan remained a sickly child and often had to stay in bed for extended periods of time. When tested at an early age, Joan's IQ score was 160. In 1932 she went to Japan to live with her father and attended The American School in Japan. Upon her return to the United States in September of 1934, Joan was introduced to actress May Robson and her career began with the stage production of KIND LADY. Soon followed a similar role in CALL IT A DAY. It was on opening night of this play at the Duffy Theatre in Hollywood that Joan was seen by Jesse Lasky, a prominent movie producer, who immediately signed her to a long-term contract.
Joan Fontaine began her movie career in 1935 with a brief part in NO MORE LADIES which starred Joan Crawford. She was billed as Joan Burfield, but soon changed her name upon the advice of a fortune teller who advised that she take a name that ended with the letter "e." Joan adopted her stepfather's last name, and thus became Joan Fontaine.
At a dinner party at Charles Chaplin's house, Miss Fontaine sat next to David O. Selnick. He told her that he had just bought the rights to Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA and asked her if she would like to test for the role of the second Mrs. de Winter. After seven tests and many disappointments, she finally landed the coveted part. Others who were considered for the part included her sister, Olivia, Loretta Young, Vivien Leigh, and Anne Baxter. REBECCA won the Academy Award in 1940, giving Miss Fontaine her first Best Actress nomination and the Canadian Film Critics' Award. In her next film, SUSPICION, also directed by Alfred Hitchcock, she won the prized Oscar. At the time, she was the youngest leading lady to ever win an Oscar, a record which stood until Marlee Matlin won. She also received another Academy Award Nomination as Best Actress for her work in THE CONSTANT NYMPH.
In the early 1950's, Joan starred in BORN TO BE BAD, SEPTEMBER AFFAIR, DARLING! HOW COULD YOU?, SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR, IVANHOE, and THE BIGAMIST. SEPTEMBER AFFAIR and IVANHOE were especially successful. Her career started to slow down by the mid-1950's due to a lack of good roles for women. She then turned to television and starred in many episodes of successful series such as THE GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATRE and FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE. In 1954 she appeared on Broadway in TEA AND SYMPATHY with Anthony Perkins. She won critical acclaim for her role as Laura in that production. More films followed her triumph on Broadway. Miss Fontaine and Collier Young were married on November 12, 1952 and divorced January 2, 1961.
Miss Fontaine lived in New York City for many years. In 1964 she married Alfred Wright, Jr., a senior editor at "Sports Illustrated" but they divorced in 1969. In 1984, Joan moved to the Carmel Highlands in California where she still resides. She is now retired from public life and spends her time reading, writing, tending her rose and flower gardens, participating in many charitable causes, and enjoying a quiet life with her friends and several dogs.
At age 88, Joan Fontaine is no longer answering fan mail: letters, autographing photos or cards, and other types of memorabilia. She regrets she had to make that decision and agonized over her decision for months, but the volume of mail she receives is now too much for her to handle. She appreciates all the support her fans have given her in the past and hopes everyone will be understanding of her decision. She sends her best wishes to all her fans. Dated January 2, 2005.