Joan Fontaine Dies; Hollywood Legend Was 96

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Academy Award winner Joan Fontaine, a legendary Hollywood leading lady from what many consider the Golden Age of film, has died at age 96.

Fontaine died in her sleep Sunday morning at her home in Carmel, Calif., which overlooked the Pacific Ocean, after having been in failing health.


Noel Beutel, a longtime friend of the late actress, told Reuters, “She was an amazing woman, she had such a big heart and she will be missed."

Among Fontaine’s most memorable films in a career spanning four decades and some four dozen films was the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Suspicion.

Co-starring Cary Grant, that movie earned Joan Fontaine the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942, beating out her sister in the competition.

That was a recurring theme. In addition to acting, her career was marked by a storied and bitter rivalry with her older sister, Olivia de Havilland.

Nominated that year for Hold Back the Dawn, de Havilland went on to win Academy Awards for 1946's To Each His Own and 1969's The Heiress.

Now aged 97, de Havilland resides in Paris. Her wins established the sisters as 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, and for 1943's The Constant Nymph.

Fontaine appeared mousy and innocent in her early movies but later carefully selected her roles and went on to play worldly, sophisticated women/

She wrote in her 1978 autobiography, “No Bed of Roses,” that her sickly condition as a child actually helped develop her acting skills over the years.

In her sickbed fantasies - pillow dreams, she called them - Joan Fontaine created “endless scenes of romance, passion, jealousy, rejection, death.

De Havilland, for her part, reportedly saw her younger sister as a sneaky attention-getter, melodramatically playing sick and trying to outdo her.

According to various media reports, the sisters were said to have stopped speaking altogether in 1975 after their mother passed away from cancer.

Fontaine said that de Havilland had not invited her to the memorial service but her sister claimed Fontaine had said she was too busy to attend.

“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 saying.

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