Birth Date: October 22, 1917 / Age: 96
Birth Place: Tokyo, Japan
Also Credited as: Joan Burfield
Biography: Joan Fontaine (born October 22, 1917) is a British actress. Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland in Tokyo, Japan, the daughter of Walter de Havilland, a British patent attorney with a practice in Japan and Lillian (Ruse) de Havilland. She is the younger sister of actress Olivia de Havilland, both of whom attended Los Gatos High School.
At the age of two, Joan's parents divorced. Joan was a sickly child and had developed anemia following a combined attack of the measles and a streptococcic infection. Upon the advice of a physician, Joan's mother moved her and her sister to America where they settled in the town of Saratoga, California. Joan's health improved dramatically and she was soon taking diction lessons along with her sister. She was also an extremely bright child and scored 160 on an intelligence test when she was three. When she was fifteen, Joan returned to Japan and lived with her father for two years.
When she returned to America, she followed Olivia's lead and began to appear on stage and in films. Joan made her stage debut in the West Coast production of Call It A Day in 1935 and was soon signed to an RKO contract. Because Olivia was using the family name, Joan used the name Joan Burfield, but later took the name Fontaine from her stepfather and became known as Joan Fontaine. Her film debut was a small role in No More Ladies (1935). She continued appearing in small parts in about a dozen films but failed to make a strong impression and her contract was not renewed when it expired in 1939.
Her luck changed one night at a dinner party when she found herself seated next to producer David O. Selznick. She and Selznick began discussing the Daphne Du Maurier novel Rebecca, and Selznick asked her to audition for the part of the unnamed heroine. She endured a grueling six-month series of film tests, along with hundreds of other actresses, before securing the part. The film marked the American debut of British director Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940, the film was released to glowing reviews and Joan was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress. She didn't win that year (Ginger Rogers took home the award for Kitty Foyle) but she did win the following year for Best Actress in Suspicion (1941), which was also directed by Hitchcock.
Joan Fontaine with Cary Grant in SuspicionShe went on to continued success during the 1940s in which she excelled in romantic melodramas. Among her memorable films during this time was The Constant Nymph (1943), Jane Eyre (1944), Ivy (1947) and Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948). Her film successes slowed a bit during the 1950s and she also began appearing in television and on the stage. She won good reviews for her role on Broadway in 1954 as Laura in Tea and Sympathy opposite Anthony Perkins. During the 1960s, she continued her stage appearances in several productions, among them Private Lives, Cactus Flower and an Austrian production of The Lion in Winter. Her last theatrical film was The Witches (1966), which she also co-produced. She has made sporadic television appearances throughout the 1970s and 1980s and was nominated for an Emmy for the soap opera Ryan's Hope in 1980.
Among her other talents, Miss Fontaine has been a licensed pilot, a champion ballonist, an expert rider, a prize-winning tuna fisherman, and a hole-in-one golfer, a Cordon Bleu chef and a licensed interior decorator.
She published her autobiography No Bed of Roses in 1979.
Miss Fontaine has been married four times - to actors Brian Aherne (1939-1945), William Dozier (1946-1951), Collier Young (1952-1961) and magazine editor Alfred Wright, Jr. (1964-1969). She has one daughter from her union with Dozier.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1645 Vine Street.