Joan Fontaine died Sunday at age 96 after a brief illness, never having reconciled with her sister and one-time Oscar rival Olivia De Havilland.
The girls had never been particularly close and when pitted against each other in the 1941 Best Actress race, each was determined to take home the Oscar. Fontaine prevailed for her performance as a newlywed distrustful of her playboy husband (Cary Grant) in Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Suspicion.”
Her win meant the loss of what little love there was left between the siblings.
De Havilland, older by a year, had been a star first, paired with Errol Flynn in a series of pictures before landing the plum role of Melanie in 1939’s Best Picture champ “Gone With the Wind.” She lost the Supporting Actress Oscar to co-star Hattie McDaniel. (Read about the mysterious disappearance of McDaniels’ Oscar here.)
Fontaine had first contended at the Oscars in 1940 for her starring role in the Best Picture winner “Rebecca,” losing to Ginger Rogers (“Kitty Foyle”). She went on to be nominated again in 1943 for “The Constant Nymph” but was bested by Jennifer Jones (“The Song of Bernadette”)
De Havilland, who had vied in 1941 for the romance “Hold Back the Dawn,” had to wait five years to get her revenge. She finally claimed the Best Actress Oscar for the tearjerker “To Each His Own.” Her victory established them as the only siblings to have both won Academy Awards for acting. (Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave were nominated for Best Actress in 1966 for “Georgy Girl” and “Morgan!” respectively but lost to Elizabeth Taylor for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” — they remained close till Lynn’s death in 2010.)
De Havilland went on to win a bookend Academy Award in 1949 for her powerful turn in “The Heiress.” While her career thrived throughout the 1950s, Fontaine’s faded and she retreated to television, with the occasional role on Broadway and in touring productions. The tart-tongued actress always told it like it was, turning a cynical eye on Hollywood and De Havilland in her 1978 autobiography “No Bed of Roses.”
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