Joan Fontaine death: Academy Award-winning actress dies aged 96

Fontaine, the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, died in her sleep in her Carmel, California, home yesterday

The Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who starred in the Alfred Hitchcock thrillers Suspicion and Rebecca, has died aged 96.

Fontaine was the only actor ever to receive an Academy Award for a lead part in a Hitchcock film, and as a major star of the 1940s was a formative figure in women’s roles in early cinema.

Her long-time friend Noel Beutel said she died “peacefully” in her sleep yesterday morning at her home in Carmel, California.

Fontaine’s real name was Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, and she was the sister of fellow Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland.

Appearing in more than 30 movies, as well as on Broadway and in TV roles, Fontaine once said: “You know, I've had a helluva life.

“Not just the acting part. I've flown in an international balloon race. I've piloted my own plane. I've ridden to the hounds. I've done a lot of exciting things.”

Fontaine had early roles in The Women and Gunga Din, the title part in Jane Eyre and in Max Ophuls' historical drama Letter from an Unknown Woman.

She was also in films directed by Billy Wilder (The Emperor Waltz), Fritz Lang (Beyond a Reasonable Doubt) and, wised up and dangerous, in Nicholas Ray's Born to be Bad.

She starred on Broadway in 1954 in Tea and Sympathy and in 1980 received an Emmy nomination for her cameo on the daytime soap Ryan's Hope.

Fontaine, the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, died in her sleep in her Carmel, California, home yesterday Fontaine, the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, died in her sleep in her Carmel, California, home yesterday Just as seemingly every actress had tried out for Scarlett O'Hara, hundreds applied for the lead female role in Rebecca, based on Daphne du Maurier's gothic best-seller about haunted Maxim de Winter and the dead first wife - the title character - he obsesses over. With Laurence Olivier as Maxim, Fontaine as the unsuspecting second wife and Judith Anderson as the dastardly housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca won the Academy Award for best picture and got Fontaine the first of her three Oscar nominations.

Rebecca made her a star, and Hitchcock's Suspicion, released in 1941, brought her a best actress Oscar and dramatised one of Hollywood's legendary feuds, between Fontaine and de Havilland, a losing nominee for Hold Back the Dawn.

While Fontaine topped her sister in 1941, and picked up a third nomination for the 1943 film The Constant Nymph, de Havilland went on to win two Oscars and was nominated three other times.

Fontaine said she left Hollywood because she was asked to play Elvis Presley's mother. “Not that I had anything against Elvis Presley. But that just wasn't my cup of tea,” she said.

While making New York her home for 25 years, she appeared in about 30 dinner theatre plays, and in 1966 starred in The Devil's Own. In 1978, she played a socialite in the made-for-TV movie based on Joyce Haber's steamy novel The Users. In the Seventies and Eighties she appeared on the television series such as The Love Boat, Cannon, and in Ryan's Hope.

Fontaine married four times, and had one daughter, Deborah Leslie. She later adopted a child from Peru, Maritita Pareja.

Despite her divorces, Fontaine remained philosophical about love and marriage. “Goodness knows, I tried,” she said after her second marriage failed. “But I think it's virtually impossible for the right kind of man to be married to a movie star.”

Additional reporting by AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor