Funny thing about Joan Fontaine... we couldn't really stand her; she seemed so snivelly and annoying in her earliest films. We couldn't wait for Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. to tell her off in Gunga Din (1939) and ride off into the sunset with Cary Grant; and her blubbering in The Women (also 1939) made us want to just smack her silly. We rooted for Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca (1940), and wished that glass of milk had been poisoned in Suspicion (1941). In short, we were not fans of Ms. Fontaine. But a funny thing happened on the way to the mid-century: Joan Fontaine suddenly became a bitch, and we suddenly became interested. Born to Be Bad (1950), Serenade (1956), A Certain Smile (1958) - they may not be classics on a par with Fontaine's first flush of successes, but her surprising switch to brittle, spit-polished glamour and hauteur was thrilling to behold.
In the years since, Fontaine's ice queen demeanor has not thawed one whit; some of her television interviews are so chilly, one needs scarf and gloves simply to watch. She and estranged sibling Olivia de Havilland have participated in the longest-running feud in Hollywood history, and neither grande dame seems particularly inclined to be the first to offer an olive branch. Joan Fontaine turns 92 today; sister Olivia is 93. One hopes that both are not too old to remember that time is short, even for Hollywood legends.
MISS JOAN FONTAINE
October 22, 1917