Los Angeles: Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who rose to fame during Hollywood’s golden age as the star of several Alfred Hitchcock classics, died Sunday aged 96.
The Hollywood Reporter cited Fontaine’s assistant Susan Pfeiffer as saying the actress died from natural causes at her home in Carmel, northern California. Born in Japan to British parents, Fontaine moved in 1919 to California, where she and her elder sister screen idol Olivia de Havilland were to forge successful movie careers. Fontaine and de Havilland remain the only siblings to have won lead actress honors at the Academy Awards.
Fontaine began her acting career in her late teens with largely minor roles on the stage and later in mostly B-movies in the 1930s.
A year later, Fontaine finally won the long-sought golden statuette, for her role as leading lady in “Suspicion” opposite Cary Grant, becoming the first and only actress to earn the title for a Hitchock film. Although her sister, Olivia de Havilland, preceded her in gaining Hollywood fame, Fontaine was the first of the siblings to win an Oscar, trumping Olivia’s nomination as best actress in Mitchell Leisen’s “Hold Back The Dawn.” The animosity between the sisters was felt at the Oscars ceremony.
“I froze. I stared across the table, where Olivia was sitting. ‘Get up there!’ she whispered commandingly,” Fontaine said. “The entire animus we’d felt toward each other as children… all came rushing back in kaleidoscopic imagery… I felt Olivia would spring across the table and grab me by the hair.”
The sisters were also reportedly rivals in love. Eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes, who dated the elder de Havilland for a time, proposed to Fontaine several times.
“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 once quipped.
Wed four times, she divorced her last husband, Alfred Wright, in 1969 and once declared that “marriage, as an institution, is as dead as the dodo bird.”
Fontaine is survived by her daughter, Deborah. In 1952, she adopted a Peruvian girl, Martita, who ran away from home in 1963.