I read an article a couple of days ago in People magazine regarding Joan Fontaine’s death. One comment that really struck me stated: “Did she die of an overdose or car accident?...NO...then why is E (Entertainment News) writing about her?!” It certainly troubled me that someone could say such a thing. I then started thinking about that question and I asked myself: “why exactly do we need to write about a 96 year old actress who has passed away?” What was so important about Joan Fontaine that gives purpose to a piece like this?

Joan Fontaine, known for her leading roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Suspicion, is part of what is known as the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. Rebecca is the only Hitchcock film to have won an Academy Award for Best Picture, while Suspicion is the only Hitchcock film to have received an Academy Award for Fontaine’s performance.  Though there may have been a number of reasons, Joan Fontaine’s performances were certainly a contributing factor for both Oscars.   

Hitchcock has had many leading ladies, but Joan Fontaine is definitely my favourite. What I personally love the most about her is not simply her beauty but also her ability to convey strong emotions. It is easy to say that this is exactly what actors are supposed to be doing, but in my opinion, Joan Fontaine is someone who mastered it and did it best.  

Her soft voice, graceful movements and beautiful looks helped Joan land many roles where she portrayed innocent women caught in a troubling situation. Other films such as Jane Eyre, The Constant Nymph (where Fontaine, 27 years old at the time, played a 14 year old in the movie) and Something to Live For (where she plays a troubled alcoholic actress) showcased Fontaine’s acting range.

Fontaine also starred in Letter from an Unknown Woman, a film that I do not believe did her justice. Fontaine plays a woman who falls in love with a musician. Later in the musician’s life, he receives a letter from a woman he had a romance with but does not remember at all. This leads me to ask, “HOW CAN YOU FORGET THAT YOU HAD A ROMANCE WITH SOMEONE LIKE JOAN FONTAINE!?”

Fontaine is also known for what may be the biggest sibling rivalry that Hollywood has ever had. From early on in their childhood, Fontaine and her sister, fellow actress Olivia De Havilland, have been in competition with one another, leading all the way into their adulthood and even to Fontaine’s death. There are, however, conflicting reports as to what exactly the siblings’ relationship had been like in their later years.  Some say that they have not spoken to each other since 1975, whereas there are other interviews where Joan has stated that she has been on good terms with Olivia.

“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!” Joan Fontaine got her wish as she passed away before Olivia at the age of 96 on December 15, 2013.

Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in Alfred Hitchcocks noir thriller Rebecca (1940).

Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in Alfred Hitchcocks noir thriller Rebecca (1940).