Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Visit From St. Nicholas

The Coming of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast, 1872
On 23 December 1823 the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas", now better known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", was published anonymously in The Troy Sentinel (of Troy, New York).  It would later be reprinted with no credit to an author. In fact, it was not until 1837 that credit for writing the poem would be given to Clement Clarke Moore in print. In 1844 Clement Clarke Moore included "A Visit From St. Nicholas" in his poetry anthology simply entitled Poems. While Clement Clarke Moore has traditionally been regarded as the author of the poem (indeed, before its appearance in Mr. Moore's anthology Poems at least seven other people other than himself had recognised him as the author), some have questioned if "A Visit From St. Nicholas" wasn't written by someone else.

Namely, even during the lifetime of Clement Clarke Moore there were those who believed it was actually written by artist and poet Henry Livingston, Jr. Mr. Livingston's sons as well as one of their neighbour's daughters claimed that Mr. Livingston had read the poem to them as far back as 1807. The family even claimed to have found Mr. Livingston's original handwritten copy, which they would later claim to have lost in a house fire. The dispute over authorship would be carried on by Harold Livingston, Jr. and Clement Clarke Moore's descendants well into the 20th Century.

Even the academic community has argued whether it was Clement Clarke Moore or Harold Livingston, Jr. who wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas". Donald Foster, professor of English at Vassar College in New York, analysed the text of the poem and concluded that Harold Livingston, Jr. was most likely the author of the poem. Historical document dealer Seth Kaller has disputed Professor Foster's claims, relying on work done by autograph appraiser James Lowe and historical document expert Dr. Joe Nickell.

While we might never be certain who actually wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas", we can be certain the poem helped shape the conception of Santa Claus in the United States. Much of the groundwork had already been done by Washington Irving, who established Santa Claus as a jolly, rosy cheeked figure who smokes a pipe, drives a sleigh guided by a reindeer,  and goes down chimneys to deliver his gifts. To this the author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" added a few other details. It is here that Santa Claus is first portrayed as dressed in fur and having "a little round belly". It is also in "A Visit From St. Nicholas" that we are first told the specific number of reindeer who guide his sleigh (eight of them) and we are told their names. Cartoonist Thomas Nast would later further refine the image of Santa Claus starting with cartoons in Harper's Weekly in 1862. Of course, since the image of Santa Claus would be further shaped by artists Fred Mizen and, more significantly, Haddon Sundblom in advertisements for Coca-Cola. Of course, since then there have been numerous songs, films, and even television specials that have added to the legend of Santa, but it all began with Washington Irving and whoever wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas".

Here is the original poem. Given the controversy over authorship, I am not giving credit except to say it was either Clement Clarke Moore or Harold Livingston, Jr. I will say it was not me (I'm not nearly that old).

 "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (AKA "'Twas the Night Before Christmas")

 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Underneath the Tree" by Kelly Clarkson

I was meaning to write a blog post on Scrooge (1935), the first talkie adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but my brother wanted to wait until tomorrow to watch it (I have never seen it). That left me with not blog post for today, so I will leave you with a brand new song just released this november. This is "Underneath the Tree" by Kelly Clarkson. I am not a huge fan of Kelly Clarkson's work. Some of her songs I like and others I do not. That having been said, "Underneath the Tree" is one of her songs I happen to like. It seems to me that it owes a good deal to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and, more specifically, to Darlene Love's classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" (which first appeared on the album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records in 1963).  While "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home" centres on someone who's lover is gone for the holiday, "Underneath the Tree" centres on someone whose lover has returned home for the holiday. Anyhow, without further ado, here is "Underneath the Tree" by Kelly Clarkson.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Christmas is All Around" from Love Actually

One of my favourite modern Christmas songs did not start out as a Christmas song. One of the many subplots in the film Love Actually (2003) centres around washed up rock star Billy Mack (played by Bill Nighy), who has recorded a cover of The Troggs' classic "Love is All Around" with  changes to the song to fit the holiday season right down to its title ("Christmas is All Around"). The song "Christmas is All Around" then serves as a bit of a leitmotif throughout Love Actually.

The original song was written by The Troggs' lead vocalist and composer Reg Presley in 1967 It was released in October 1967 in the United Kingdom and peaked on the singles chart there at #5 on 22 November 1967. It was released a little later in the United States, where it proved to be The Troggs' only huge hit besides "Wild Thing". It entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #98 on 24 February 1968 and peaked at #7 on 18 May 1968. In all it spent a phenomenal 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Love is All Around" would be covered several over the years, with versions by as R.E.M. and Sort Sol among many other bands covering the song. By far the most successful cover of "Love is All Around" would be the version recorded by Wet Wet Wet in January 1994 and released on 9 May 1994.  It reached the #1 spot on 29 May 1994, only three weeks after its release. It remained at #1 for a phenomenal 15 weeks, making it the second longest song to do so. Wet Wet Wet's version of "Love is All Around" also hit #1 on singles charts in Australia, Austria, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden. Strangely enough, it only managed to hit #41 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.

It would be Wet Wet Wet's cover of "Love is All Around" that would lead to the creation of "Christmas is All Around" for Love Actually. Richard Curtis had written the screenplay for Four Weddings and a Funeral (2004), in which Wet Wet Wet's version is featured prominently. For Love Actually, which he directed and wrote the screenplay for, Mr Curtis thought it would be funny to start the film by making them listen to essentially the same song again. Of course, lyrically the song was substantially changed, with many of the lines altered so the song had a Yuletide theme. For instance, the lines "So if you really love me/Come on and let it show" were changed to "So if you really love Christmas/Come on and let it snow".

"Christmas is All Around" was included on the Love Actually soundtrack, which not only broke the top 40 of Billboard 200 chart in the United States, but went to #2 on the Billboard soundtracks chart as well. Ironically, while the Wet Wet Wet version of "Love is All Around' is now largely forgotten in the United States, the song "Christmas is All Around" has developed a rather substantial cult following!

Without further ado, then, here is Billy Mack's cover of The Troggs'  "Love is All Around","Christmas is All Around".

Christmas Is All Around from Clips on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Merry Christmas Will Do" by Material Issue

One of my favourite songs for the holidays is one that is not exactly well known. "Merry Christmas Will Do" is a song by power pop trio Material Issue, perhaps best known for the songs "Valerie Loves Me" and "What Girls Want" "Merry Christmas Will Do" was included on the Christmas compilation album Yuletunes - A Collection of Alternative Pop Christmas Songs, which was released on 3 December 1991. Since there isn't a proper video for the song I decided to make my own using clips from my two favourite Yuletide films, Christmas in Connecticut and It's a Wonderful Life. Without further ado, then, here is Material Issue with "Merry Christmas Will Do".

Merry Christmas Will Do by Material Issue from Terence Towles Canote on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Review of The Mitford Society (Volume 1)

For siblings the Mitford sisters, the famous daughters of  David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale and Sydney Bowles, were a diverse lot. They consisted of a renowned novelist and biographer, a devotee of rural life, a celebrated beauty who would become the wife of British Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, a Nazi sympathiser, a Communist who became a celebrated author and activist in the United States, and a duchess who would save one of England's great houses. While the Mitford sisters were very different from each other, they also had several things in common. They were all beautiful, intelligent, articulate, and possessed a wicked sense of humour. They may well have been the most famous set of sisters of the 20th Century, alternately celebrated and vilified. One thing for certain could be said of the Mitford girls--they were never boring.

Given the fame and notoriety of the Mitford sisters, it should come as no surprise that there are a large number of people who continue to be fascinated by them to this day. Indeed, it was around 1979 that the the London Evening Standard coined the term "the Mitford industry" to describe the ongoing creation of books, documentary films, and even works of fiction centred on the Mitford girls.  Today there is even an online community dedicated to the study of the Mitford sisters and their lives. The Mitford Society recently published their first annual, The Mitford Society (Volume 1). The annual was edited by Lyndsy Spence, author of The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life.

Like the Mitford sisters themselves, The Mitford Society (Volume 1) cannot easily be described in a few words. It is perhaps simplest to describe it as a compilation of Mitford related articles, features, personal reminiscences,  interviews, photographs, and even a mystery short story. Miss Spence assembled an impressive array of writers for the Mitford Society's first annual, including Meredith Whitford (author of Jessica Mitford: Churchill's Rebel), Rebecca McWattie (who has had articles published in both Best of British Magazine, Vintage Life, and other publications), Victor Olliver (astrologer for The Lady Magazine and author of the novel Curtains), Willie Orr (author of Deer Forests, Landlords and Crofters as well as Discovering Argyll, Mull and Iona), and others.

Given its contributors it should come as no surprise there is a good deal of truly great material to be found in The Mitford Society (Volume 1).  Meredith Whitford's article on Jessica Mitford's first husband, Esmond Romilly, is a particularly revealing piece that explodes the myth that he was merely "a wastrel nephew of Winston Churchill". In "Understanding Unity" Meems Ellenberg offers a good deal of insight into the most controversial of the Mitford sisters. In "Laying the Foundations of the Mitford Industry" by David Ronneburg examines the question of whether the Mitford Industry developed through circumstance or it was created by design. The editor of The Mtiford Society (Volume 1), Lyndsy Spence, also contributed pieces to the book, including one of interest to classic film fans. "In The Pursuit of Love: The perils of a would-be film" Miss Spence reveals how The Pursuit of Love was almost made into a Hollywood movie in the Forties. What makes The Mitford Society (Volume 1) a much more remarkable book is the sheer variety of its contents. In addition to serious articles there are also pieces of a lighter and even more humorous nature. Written by Madame Arcati in séance with Victor Olliver, "Stargazing with the Mifords" gives the horoscopes of each of the Mitford sisters in Madame Arcati's humorous fashion. As mentioned earlier, there is even a murder mystery, "Murder in the Hons Cupboard" by Meredith Whitford and Lyndsy Spence. In the interest of full disclosure, I am obligated to mention that I contributed an article to The Mitford Society (Volume 1) on the impact of Jessica Mitford's book The American Way of Death on American pop culture.

There is very little with regards to the Mitford sisters that is not covered in The Mitford Society (Volume 1). The various articles deal with such subjects as their books, their fashion sense, their relationships, and their lives. There are interviews with authors Meredith Whitford,  Deanna Raybourn, Tessa Arlen, and  Judith Kinghorn, as well as pieces on those with a connection to the Mitfords, such as Mariga Guinness and Diana Skeffington. While The Mitford Society (Volume 1) is not a long book, it is certainly a comprehensive one.

The variety of pieces in The Mitford Society (Volume 1) and the detail with which they are written makes it a great addition to the library of anyone interested in the Mitford girls and must read for those positively obsessed with them. If the high quality of The Mitford Society (Volume 1) is any indication, one can hope that there are many more similar annuals in the years to come.

The Mitford Society (Volume 1) is available at Amazon and other places where fine books are sold. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Late, Great Peter O'Toole

Legendary actor Peter O'Toole died Saturday, 14 December 2013, at the age of 81 after an extended illness. He played T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), King Henry II in Becket (1964), and King Henry II in The Lion in Winter among many other great roles. He was nominated 8 times for Oscars in the acting categories, but did not win any other them, although he was given an Honorary Award in 2003.

Even Peter O'Toole was uncertain of his birth date or his place of birth. While he knew he was born in 1932 and he accepted 2 August 1932 as his birthday, an Irish birth certificate gave his month of birth as June. As to where he was born, it was either Connemara, County Galway, the Republic of Ireland or Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. Regardless, he grew up in Leeds. His father was an Irish metal plater, racecourse bookmaker, and football player. His mother was a Scottish nurse. During World War II he was evacuated from Leeds. He attended St Joseph's Secondary School in  Holbeck, Leeds. After leaving school he took work at the Yorkshire Evening News, where he worked as a warehouseman, a copy boy, a photographer's assistant, and finally a reporter and photographer. Eventually his editor told him, "You'll never make a reporter--try something else." Mr. O'Toole then took up acting. He made his debut in Aloma of the South Seas. At Leeds' Civic Theatre he was cast in the lead role in an adaptation of  Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers and Sons.

His acting career was interrupted by his National Service, which he completed  in the Royal Navy where he served as a signaller. After leaving the Navy he hitch-hiked to London where he eventually made his way to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. By chance he met acting legend Sir Kenneth Barnes there, who encouraged him to audition. As a result Mr. O'Toole received a full scholarship at RADA. Among his fellow students were . Albert Finney and Alan Bates. After graduating he joined the Bristol Old Vic's repertory company. He remained there for three and a half years. Afterwards he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company.

It was in 1956 that Peter O'Toole made his television debut in an episode of The Scarlet Pimpernel. He made his film debut in Kidnapped in 1960. Later in the same year he appeared in the films The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960) and The Savage Innocents (1960). He also appeared in episodes of the television show Rendezvous . He was then cast in his breakthrough role as T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in the film. He followed Lawrence of Arabia with Becket (1964) in which he played King Henry II, for which he received his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Over the next several years Peter O'Toole appeared in such films as Lord Jim (1965), What's New Pussycat (1965), How to Steal a Million (1966), The Bible: In the Beginning (1966), The Night of the Generals (1967) , and Casino Royale (1967). He appeared in an episode of ITV Play of the Week.In 1968 he starred in The Lion in Winter, for which he received another Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role. It was one of the few times an actor would be nominated twice for an Academy Award for playing the same role (Mr. O'Toole having previously played King Henry II in Becket). He close the Sixties starring in Great Catherine (1968), the ill fated musical Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), and Country Dance (1970). He appeared on stage in Waiting for Godot at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1970.

The Seventies would turn out to be a mixed bag for Peter O'Toole. He appeared in The Ruling Class (1972), for which he received another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role, in addition to the well received Man Friday (1975). He also received another Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Stunt Man (1980). Unfortunately he also appeared in several films that fared poorly at the box office, fared poorly with critics, or both, including the notorious Man of La Mancha (1972), Rosebud (1975), Foxtrot (1976), Zulu Dawn (1979), and Caligula (1980). He appeared on the TV series Strumpet City (1980) as well as the mini-series Masada.

The Eighties would see Mr. O'Toole receive yet another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for My Favourite Year (1982). He appeared in the ill fated film Supergirl (1984) as well as the films Creator (1985), Club Paradise (1986), High Spirits (1988), Up to Date (1989), Wings of Fame (1990), and The Rainbow Thief (1990). He had a major role in the 1988 winner for the Oscar for Best Picture (as well as several others) The Last Emperor (1987). On television he provided the voice of Sherlock Holmes in a series of animated adventures of the legendary detective. He appeared in the TV adaptations of Man and Superman, Pygmalion, and Kim. He also appeared on the TV series Uncle Silas. In 1987 he appeared on Broadway in a revival of Pygmalion.

The Nineties saw Mr. O'Toole do a good deal of television. He appeared in the TV show Civvies, as well as the mini-series Heaven and Hell: North and South Book III and the TV films Gulliver's Travels, Heavy Weather, and Coming Home. He appeared in the films King Ralph (1991), Isabelle Eberhardt (1991), Rebecca's Daughters (1992), The Seventh Coin (1993), FairyTale: A True Story (1997), Phantoms (1998), and Molokai (1999).

In the Naughts Peter O'Toole received one last Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Venus (2006). He provided the voice of Anton Ego in the Pixar film Ratatouille (2007). He also appeared in the films Global Heresy (2002), The Final Curtain (2002), Bright Young Things (2003), Troy (2004), Lassie (2005), One Night with the King (2006), Stardust (2007), Dean Spanley (2008), Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage (2008), and Eager to Die (2010). He appeared in the TV series The Education of Max Bickford, Casanova, The Tudors, and The Iron Road. In the Teens he appeared in the films For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada (2012) and The Whole World at Our Feet (2013). His last film, Katherine of Alexandria, will be released next year.

Peter O'Toole was a remarkable actor. In fact, he holds the record as the male actor to be nominated the most times for the Oscar for Best Actor in Lead Role without ever having won. Given the quality of his work, Mr. O'Toole should have won the Oscar many times over. Such was his skill as an actor that he could deliver a good performance even in the worst of films. A perfect example of this is 1969's musical Goodbye, Mr. Chips. The script was so dull that the film could have been used as a soporific. For the most part the songs were absolutely horrible. And yet Peter O'Toole delivered a great performance in the lead role of Arthur Chipping (not surprisingly, he received another Oscar nomination for the role). Quite simply, even when the film was beneath him, Mr. O'Toole delivered a great performance.

Of course, Peter O'Toole was at his best in truly great films, and he made quite a few. What is more, he played a variety of roles in those films. He may be best known for having played T. E. Lawrence, but he also played such diverse roles as King Henry II (twice, once in Becket and once in The Lion in Winter), art expert Simon Dermott in How to Steal a Million,  General Tanz in Night of the Generals, ageing actor Alan Swann in My Favourite Year, and the voice of egotistical food critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille. Despite the fact that these roles were each very different, Mr. O'Toole performed every one of the them convincingly and with conviction. Few actors had his track record for great performances and few actor had Mr. O'Toole's talent.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Late Great Joan Fontaine: More Than The 2nd Winter

Joan de Havilland, better known by her stage name Joan Fontaine, had a truly singular career. At age 24 she became the youngest winner of the Oscar for Best Actress at the time when she took home the award for her performance in Suspicion. Her win for her performance in Suspicion would make her the only actor to ever win an Academy Award for acting in an Alfred Hitchcock film. She and her sister Olivia de Havilland are the only siblings to have both won Oscars for Best Actress. Over the years she appeared in some truly legendary films, including The Women (1939), Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Jane Eyre (1943), and many others. Sadly, Joan Fontaine died today, 15 December 2013, at the age of 96.

Joan Fontaine was born Joan de Havilland on 22 October 1917 to English parents in Tokyo, Japan. Her father, Walter de Havilland, was a patent attorney. Her mother, Lilian (born Lilian Augusta Ruse) had trained in acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and performed on stage before giving up her career to go to Japan with her husband. She would later return to acting under the name Lillian Fontaine, appearing in such films as The Lost Weekend (1945) and The Bigamist (1954). Her older sister, Olivia de Havilland, was born a little over a year before she was. The de Havilland sisters' parents separated in 1919, although their divorce would not be finalised until 1925. Neither Olivia nor Joan were particularly healthy children and so Lilian de Havilland moved to Saratoga, California in hope that the climate would be better for them. There Joan de Havilland attended Los Gatos High School. When she was 16 years old she went to Japan to be with her father. There she attended the American School in Japan, from which she graduated in 1935.

After graduating from the American School in Japan, Joan de Havilland returned to California. She made her stage debut in a production of the play Call It a Day.  She was soon signed to a contract with RKO and made her screen debut in the film No More Ladies using the screen name "Joan Burfield". She did not remain "Joan Burfield" long as she soon took the stage name "Joan Fontaine," taking her stepfather's surname. She appeared in the films A Million to One (1937) and Quality Street (1937) before receiving her first starring role in The Man Who Found Himself (1937).  Thereafter she was the female lead in You Can't Beat Love (1937) and Music for Madame (1937). She appeared in Damsel in Distress in 1937 alongside Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but sadly the film did poorly at the box office. She starred in the films Maid's Night Out (1938), Blond Cheat (1938), Sky Giant (1938), and The Duke of West Point (1938), and played the female lead in Gunga Din (1939). Unfortunately, given the poor box office performance of Miss Fontaine's films (except for Gunga Din), RKO decided not to renew her contract in 1939.

Fortunately, Joan Fontaine's luck was about to change. In 1939 she appeared in MGM's adaptation of the play The Women. While it was a small role, it was a significant one. What is more The Women would lead Miss Fontaine being cast in what would become her best known role. Alfred Hitchcock saw her performance in The Women and as a result she was cast in the lead role of the second Mrs. de Winter in his adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1940). It was a star making role and Miss Fontaine was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Alfred Hitchcock would call upon Joan Fontaine's services again, casting her as the female lead in Suspicion (1941). For her role in the film she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She starred in the film This Above All (1942) before playing the lead role in The Constant Nymph (1943), for which she was once again nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Lead Role.

Joan Fontaine played the lead role in the 1942 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre and it would be followed by the adaptation of another Daphne du Maurier novel, Frenchman's Creek. Thereafter Miss Fontaine was cast in more costume melodramas, including Ivy (1947), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and The Emperor Waltz (1948). She also appeared in the comedies, The Affairs of Susan (1945) and You Gotta Stay Happy (1948), as well as the drama From This Day Forward (1946). Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) marked Miss Fontaine's first film noir, a genre in which she would visit again in such films as Born to Be Bad (1950), The Bigamist, and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).  The Fifties would see Miss Fontaine appear in a variety of genres of film. She returned to costume drama with Ivanhoe (1952) and Decameron Nights (1953). She appeared in the comedies Darling, How Could You! (1951) and Casanova's Big Night (1954) She also appeared in such dramas as Something to Live For (1952), Serenade (1956), Island in the Sun (1957), Until They Sail (1957), and A Certain Smile (1958).

In 1953 Joan Fontaine made her television debut in an episode of Four Star Playhouse. As the Fifties progressed she appeared more and more on television, making guest appearances on The Ford Television Theatre, Star Stage, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Startime, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, and G.E. Theatre. She also appeared on Broadway in Tea and Sympathy. The Sixties would see Miss Fontaine make her final feature films: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), Tender Is the Night (1962), and her very last feature film, Hammer Films' The Witches (1966). She guest starred on such shows as Checkmate, The Dick Powell Show, Kraft Mystery Theatre, Wagon Train, and The Bing Crosby Show. In 1970 she appeared on Broadway in the play Forty Carats.

Following Joan Fontaine's last feature film, The Witches she made only a few more appearances. She guest starred on the TV shows Cannon, Aloha Paradise, The Love Boat, Bare Essence, and Hotel. She appeared in four episodes of the daytime soap opera Ryan's Hope, as well as the 1986 mini-series Crossings. Her last appearance was in the TV film Good King Wenceslas in 1994.

Just as Vivien Leigh remains forever identified with Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind and Margaret Lockwood with Barbara Worth in The Wicked Lady, there can be no doubt that Joan Fontaine will be forever identified with the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca.  That having been said, like Miss Leigh and Miss Lockwood, Joan Fontaine's career was much more than a single role She was a versatile actress who could and did play a wide variety of roles. She was well know for her portrayals of frail and often neurotic women. These were roles that she played very well, and there can be no doubt that her performance in Suspicion numbers among the best performance sin film history. At the same time, many of Miss Fontaine's heroines, although they may have had low self esteem, often revealed the hidden steel in their veins in the very end. This is certainly the case with her most famous role, that of the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca, as well as her roles in Jane Eyre and in her final feature film The Witches.

Of course, Joan Fontaine played more than timid and often neurotic heroines in her career. She played a beautiful and headstrong English lady in love with a French pirate in Frenchman's Creek. She played femmes fatales in both Ivy and Born to Be Bad. At 26 years of age Miss Fontaine could be convincing even as a lovestruck teenager in The Constant Nymph. Such was the talent of Joan Fontaine that she could often excel in roles that lesser actresses might find daunting. In Letter from an Unknown Woman she convincingly portrayed the lead character of Lisa from a teenager to a married adult woman. She played the difficult role of an alcoholic actress in Something to Live For and did it very well. Miss Fontaine was as adept at comedy as she was drama. She was one of the best things about the Bob Hope film Casanova's Big Night and was hilarious in The Affairs of Susan. Miss Fontaine could give great performances even when the material was beneath her. She was easily the best thing about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in her role as Dr. Susan Hiller.

On a personal note I have to say that Joan Fontaine was always one of my favourite actresses and I considered her one of the last true film stars. Never mind that she was beautiful and extremely talented, she also had a magnetism on the screen that impelled one to watch her. Even in the worst of her films Joan Fontaine remained a delight to watch. Of course, what is not widely known is that Joan Fontaine was more than an actress. She was a licensed pilot, a skilled horsewoman, a Cordon Bleu chef, a  licensed interior decorator, an accomplished golfer, and even a champion balloonist. And while I never had the opportunity to interact with her, from those I know who have I know that Miss Fontaine was one of the sweetest, kindest, and most considerate women one could ever hope to know. An immensely talented actress and a woman of many skills, Joan Fontaine was a truly great lady of the silver screen.