Obituary: Joan Fontaine, Hollywood great spurred by rivalry with her sister

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 3:38am


Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine, whose film career was marked by a long-running rivalry with her sister, Olivia de Havilland, has died aged 96 at her home in Carmel, California.

The Hollywood Reporter said Fontaine's death from natural causes on Sunday was confirmed by the star's assistant, Susan Pfeiffer.

Among Fontaine's most memorable films was the Alfred Hitchcock picture Suspicion, co-starring Cary Grant, for which she won an Academy Award in 1942, beating her older sister in the competition.

The honour gave Fontaine the distinction of being the only performer, actor or actress, ever to win an Academy Award for a starring role in one of Hitchcock's many movies.

If I die first, [my sister] will undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it

De Havilland, who was nominated that year for Hold Back the Dawn, went on to win two Oscars of her own for her roles in the 1946 film To Each His Own and The Heiress in 1949. Now aged 97, De Havilland lives in Paris.

The feuding sisters remain the only two siblings ever to both win Academy Awards for acting.

Fontaine also earned Oscar nominations for her star turns in Hitchcock's 1940 American debut Rebecca - co-starring opposite Laurence Olivier as a young bride haunted by the memory of her husband's deceased first wife - and the 1943 romantic drama The Constant Nymph, in which she fell for a dashing composer played by Charles Boyer.

Fontaine was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland to British parents in Tokyo on October 22, 1917. Her childhood marked the beginning of an enduring rivalry with her older sister.

"I regret that I remember not one act of kindness from her all through my childhood," Fontaine wrote.

When De Havilland won her own Oscar for To Each His Own, she snubbed Fontaine by ignoring her congratulatory gesture at the ceremony. The sisters were said to have stopped speaking altogether in 1975 after their mother died of cancer.

"I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she'll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it," Fontaine was quoted as telling The Hollywood Reporter in 1978.

She was married four times - to British actor Brian Aherne, producer William Dozier, screenwriter-producer Collier Young and sports writer Alfred Wright Jnr - and had two daughters.

In her memoirs, Fontaine maintained she repeatedly turned down marriage proposals from multimillionaire Howard Hughes, as well as an offer to be the mistress of Joseph Kennedy.