It’s been a tough week for Robert Taylor’s leading ladies: first Eleanor Parker then Audrey Totter died. Now Joan Fontaine has passed away at the age of 96.
The following is adapted from a mini-bio Ms. Fontaine by Denny Jackson on the IMDb:
Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born on October 22, 1917, in Tokyo, Japan. Her father was a British patent attorney with a practice in Japan. Due to Joan and her sister Olivia de Havilland’s health problems, the family moved to California. The De Havillands divorced soon afterward. Joan went back to Tokyo, where she attended the American School. In 1934 she came back to California, where Olivia was already working on the stage. Ms. Fontaine tested at MGM as Joan Burfield (to avoid confusion with Olivia), but she was scarcely noticed and was idle for a year and a half. In 1937, this time calling herself Joan Fontaine, she began to land better roles In 1940 she was nominated for an Oscar for Rebecca (1940). Although she didn’t win, she was now an established star. She would win an Oscar for her role in Suspicion (1941). Ms. Fontaine was making one film a year but choosing her roles well. In 1942 she starred in the well-received This Above All (1942). The following year she appeared in The Constant Nymph (1943) for which she was again Oscar nominated. Ms. Fontaine took the year of 1949 off before coming back in 1950. In 1952 she starred opposite Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor in the highly successful Ivanhoe. Leaving the big screen for a while, she took parts in television and dinner theaters. She also starred in many Broadway plays such as “Forty Carats” and “The Lion in Winter.’ Her last film appearance was The Witches (1966) and her last acting job was a TV movie, Good King Wenceslas (1994). Joan Fontaine was married four times and is survived by two daughters. She is, without a doubt, a lasting movie icon.
In Ivanhoe, 1952, Ms. Fontaine was somewhat overshadowed by her more flamboyant co-star, Elizabeth Taylor. Nonetheless, she gave a moving and believable performance as the Saxon Princess Rowena. She and Robert Taylor were compatible as lovers separated by war and family enmity. Joan Fontaine even got her man in the end, despite the exotic temptations of Ms. Taylor. The film was hugely successful, one of the top ten grossing films of 1952 and winner of a Film Daily award. Ivanhoe was nominated for six Academy
Awards, including best picture.
Joan Fontaine was a beautiful and talented actress, an Oscar winner and a credit to her profession.