Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Pictorial Tribtue on Joan Fontaine's Centenary

It was 100 years ago today that Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, better known as Joan Fontaine, was born in Tokyo, Japan. Like her older sister, Olivia de Havilland, Miss Fontaine would become one of the major actresses of 20th Century Hollywood. Her film career began in 1935 and her last appearance was in the television movie Good King Wenceslas in 1994. She made 46 feature films and several appearances on television. A number of her movies are now considered classics.

Joan Fontaine has always been one of my favourite actresses. I wrote a lengthy post in honour of her upon the occasion of her death, so I will not go in depth on her career here. You can ready my eulogy of Miss Fontaine here. Instead here I will offer you a pictorial tribute to, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest actresses in American film history.

Joan Fontaine made her film debut in 1935 in the movie No More Ladies, in which she billed as "Joan Burfield". She would not remain Joan Burfield for long, as by her next film, A Million to One (1937), she was billed as Joan Fontaine. She took her stage name from her stepfather's surname. It was also in 1937 that Joan Fontaine had her first starring role. It was in the film The Man Who Found Himself, in which she played Nurse Doris King. Above is a promotional picture from the film of Joan with her male lead, John Beal. Signed to RKO, she would spend the next few years making films for the studio.

Sadly, most of the films Joan Fontaine made at RKO did poorly at the box office. A notable exception was Gunga Din (1939), which was her final film for the studio. Miss Fontaine played the female lead in Gunga Din. Above is a picture from the film of Joan Fontaine and one of the film's male leads, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

After RKO released Joan Fontaine from her contract, she appeared in the Richard Dix Western Man of Conquest (1939).  She then appeared in a minor role in the MGM classic The Women (1939). Fortunately, Joan Fontaine's luck would change. She was cast in the lead role as the second Mrs. de Winter in Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca. Rebecca (1940) would establish Joan Fontaine as a movie star, and she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the film. The above still is from Rebecca.

Arguably the height of Joan Fontaine's career was in the Forties. She followed Rebecca with another film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Suspicion. For her role in the film she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Above is a still from the film.

Joan Fontaine would be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress a third time for her role in The Constant Nymph (1943).  Above is a still from the film featuring Miss Fontaine and Charles Boyer.

Through the years Joan Fontaine appeared in several period pieces. Perhaps the best known period drama in which she starred was Robert Stevenson's adaption of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre.

Although it may not be as famous as Rebecca, Suspicion, or Jane Eyre, among the best of Joan Fontaine's films is Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Today it is among the most highly regarded of her films, and is one of the very few films to have 100% approval among critics on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

Sadly, Joan Fontaine's career would begin to go into decline in the Fifties. While she continued making movies, none of them reached the heights of Rebecca or Suspicion or her other early films. Among the movies she made in the Fifties was Ivanhoe (1952) with Robert Taylor.

From the Fifties into the Sixties, Miss Fontaine increasingly appeared on television as opposed to feature films. Her final feature would be Hammer Films' The Witches (1966), released in the United States as The Devil's Own.

While Joan Fontaine's last appearance in a feature film was in 1966, she would continue to appear on television well into the Nineties. Like many classic film stars, she even made a guest appearance on the long running show The Love Boat. Here she is pictured with Gavin MacLeod as Captain Merrill Stubing.

Joan Fontaine retired following her last television appearance in 1994 in the TV movie Good King Wenceslas. She died on December 15 2013 a the age of 96 from natural causes.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

A very nice reminder of some of the highlights of a laudable career.

I love the smile on Gavin MacLeod's face. He must have been thrilled to be working with many of the guests on The Love Boat.